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5 Bad Habits That Are Interfering With Your Sleep

The following small changes to your bedtime routine could make a big difference in the quality of your slumber.

  • I will not stare at a screen before bed

  • I will cut off my caffeine intake at least four hours before I intend to go to sleep

  • I will have short, well-timed naps

  • I will go to bed and get up around the same time every day

  • I will maintain a relaxing bedtime routine

Sleep is essential for every human — especially essential care workers. But job stress combined with inconsistent schedules can make self-care a challenge for professional care workers.

Lack of sleep is a serious problem in the United States. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 70 percent of adults say they get insufficient sleep (defined as less than 6 hours) at least once a month, while 11 percent have difficulty obtaining enough sleep every night. Additionally, professionals who work outside of a 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. window — including nighttime, early morning, or rotating shifts — can suffer from shift work disorder, which means you find it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep and, as a result, feel tired when you’re working.

Regardless of what’s causing your sleep problems, a few small changes to your routine and your environment can make a big difference in your sleep quality and your overall health. Here are five bad habits to break that could help you get more restful sleep.

Bad habit #1: Focusing on a screen an hour before your bedtime

Change #1: I will not stare at a screen before bed

A dark room is the ideal sleep environment, especially if you’re trying to rest while it’s light outside; consider blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out any unwanted light. In fact, exposure to any type of light an hour before bedtime — including the blue light from phone screens — can disrupt your sleep.

While it can be tempting to fall asleep while scrolling through social media or catching up on texts, looking at a screen is one of the worst things you can do before bed. Not only can reading the internet be an emotional and stressful experience, but the blue light from screens confuses your circadian rhythms, making your brain think it’s time to be awake when you want to be asleep.

Bad habit #2: Consuming too much caffeine

Change #2: I will cut off my caffeine intake at least four hours before I intend to go to sleep

A kick of caffeine can be a great way to get your body and your brain firing before work. But try not to consume caffeine too close to when you’re planning to sleep, and drink caffeinated beverages in moderation.

The Sleep Foundation recommends one cup of coffee before your shift starts (or soda or tea, whatever you prefer), which will take around 20 minutes to kick in. It’s better to consume a small amount of caffeine every few hours, rather than a whole bunch at once. And whatever you do, cut off your caffeine intake at least four hours before you intend to go to sleep.

Bad habit #3: Napping for too long

Change #3: I will have short, well-timed naps

Napping isn’t just for kids; adults can also benefit greatly from naps. A well-timed nap can be just what you need to reset your energy level. But as with caffeine, it’s about when and how much when it comes to napping.

As the Mayo Clinic warns, naps can interfere with nighttime sleep if you nap for too long. Ideally, you should nap for no more than one hour and make sure the nap is well in advance of your bedtime. If you work during the day, experts recommend a lunchtime or mid-afternoon nap if possible. If you work nights, you might consider a nap late in the day before you leave for work.

Some experts swear by the “coffee nap,” when you drink caffeine right before a nap. Since it takes a cup of coffee about 20 minutes to kick in, you’ll wake up from your brief nap right as the caffeine hits, making you alert rather than groggy.

Bad habit #4: Having inconsistent wake times

Change #4: I will go to bed and get up around the same time every day

One of the most sacred rules of sleep is one of the hardest to embrace: having a consistent wake time and bedtime every day, even on your days off. According to the Mayo Clinic, adults should ideally go to bed and get up at the same time every day, because consistency helps train your body’s sleep-wake cycle.

Of course, a regular sleep time isn’t possible for everyone, especially if you work rotating shifts. Even if your work schedule is the same every day, the idea of sleeping later on your days off is hard to resist. But if you really want to improve your sleep hygiene, the ugly truth is that it’s better for your body if you wake up at roughly the same time every day and put yourself to bed at a regular time.

Bad habit #5: Not having a bedtime routine

Change #5: I will maintain a relaxing bedtime routine

Parents often enforce bedtime routines for kids, but a routine can also benefit adults. Repeating a relaxing routine helps train your brain that it’s time to sleep. While it might be tempting — and sometimes necessary — to engage in stimulating activities up until the moment you lay down, experts recommend creating a “buffer time” of 30 minutes or more leading up to your desired bedtime.

Your buffer-time routine should include any activities that relax you, such as journaling, reading a book, stretching, taking a bath, listening to chill music, or meditating. Pretty much any activity that makes you feel relaxed is up for grabs as long as you’re avoiding electronic screens. Wind down by dimming the lights and darkening your room as much as possible, because bright lights can hinder the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. (Taking a melatonin supplement may also be helpful, especially for shift workers, but talk to a healthcare professional before introducing any new supplement.)

We know that some of these bad habits may be easier to break than others, and not everyone’s lifestyle or schedule allows for strategies like consistent wake times and bedtime routines. But if you’re struggling to get quality sleep, enacting just one of these small changes could make a noticeable difference.

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