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Lifestyle & Life Moments

11 Sneaky Sleep Stealers That Will Leave You Feeling Exhausted the Next Day

Young sad woman lying in bed late at night trying to sleep suffering insomnia. Girl in bed scared on nightmares looking worried and stressed. Sleeping disorder and insomnia concept.
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Sleep is essential to your health; however, it can be easily disrupted. In fact, 42 million Americans suffer from insomnia, according to The American Journal of Managed Care. Chances are, you’ve heard of the top culprits—consuming alcohol in the evening, drinking caffeine too late in the day, being exposed to blue light from cell phones and other screens, feeling stressed, and sleeping with a partner who snores—each of which can cause periods of wakefulness throughout the night and prevent you from falling into a deep, restorative sleep. But what about those habits we have that affect our sleep without us even knowing it? We talked to two sleep specialists to uncover these secret sleep stealers and learned their tips for combating each issue. Read on for their best advice.

1. Background Noise

All types of noise—a creaky house, restless pet or honking horns—may disrupt your sleep, boost the production of adrenaline and cortisol, and increase your heart rate and blood pressure, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. By turning on a white noise machine before you go to bed, you reduce your sensitivity to noise (and even block some sounds out) and, therefore, have a better chance of staying asleep throughout the night, says Dr. Chester Wu, a board-certified psychiatrist and sleep specialist in Houston, Texas.

2. Sharing a Blanket With Your Partner

After Swedish influencer Cecilia Blomdahl introduced the Scandinavian Sleep Method on  TikTok last October, it went viral for a reason: It really works for some couples, says Wu. Unlike in a sleep divorce, where couples sleep in separate rooms or beds at night to avoid disturbing each other, this sleep method still allows you to enjoy the benefits of co-sleeping, which Psychology Today notes include falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer. Instead of sleeping under one big blanket together, which can lead to bedding tug-of-war or overheating, you and your partner each have your own single blanket. Sleeping this way can minimize sleep disruptions and allow each person to regulate their own temperature, Wu adds.

3. Children (Beyond the Baby Days)

Many people associate sleep deprivation with newborns, but the needs of older kids can affect your sleep as well. “My fifth grader’s classes have become more demanding, and I’m up later helping her study for a test or finish homework,” says Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology and director of the Johns Hopkins Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, in Baltimore, Maryland. That type of interruption to your nightly wind-down routine can force you to stay up later and get less sleep, he adds. If possible, prioritize homework before dinner so it doesn’t creep into wind-down time in the evenings. If it does stretch into later hours, Buenaver suggests going to bed once the homework or studying is over instead of staying up even later to read, watch TV, or do whatever else you’d normally do to unwind at night.

4. Going Out With Friends

“There's this term called social jetlag, which refers to a difference in the timing of when you sleep during your workdays compared to work-free days,” says Buenaver. “For example, you might have a regular routine during the week, such as going to bed at 11 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m., but on weekends, you may go to bed at 2 a.m. and wake up [as late as] noon. This usually occurs because people are engaging in activities such as watching a movie or going out to socialize.” While a night out with friends can help relieve stress and make you feel good, try not to schedule back-to-back nights out, which can build sleep debt. Prioritize sleep in the same way you might prioritize exercising and eating three meals per day, Buenaver suggests.

5. Working Late at Night

Late nights at work can be doubly dangerous to sleep. For one thing, they can wind you up when you should be relaxing for sleep. For others, pre-bed screen time can delay sleep onset. “We have competing demands and obligations with work and extracurricular activities, and sometimes we don't get a chance to come back to finish work for the day until later on,” Buenaver points out. When we work late, we get less wind-down time, not to mention the blue light from screens is notoriously disruptive to a good night’s rest.

Although blue-light-blocking glasses can be a helpful foil to this sleep blocker, they’re not a necessary investment, says Buenaver. “I encourage people to go to their night-light settings [in their device’s settings menu] to automatically activate from sunset to sunrise,” he explains. “Set the intensity/strength/color strength to greater than or equal to 75%, which will help to filter out blue and green light. You can also download a blue-light-filtering app such as f.lux.”

6. Streaming Your Favorite TV Show

Many of us unwind from a busy day by watching a show we enjoy, but it can be difficult to stop after just one episode. A 2019 study found that binge-watching can lead to poor sleep quality, fatigue and insomnia.

“The way the streaming platforms are designed, it just goes to the very next episode without any intervention on the part of the viewer,” says Buenaver. “Before you know it, it's been 90 minutes, and you realize, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to get to bed.’” It’s tough to do, but set a bedtime and stick to it–no matter how good the TV you’re watching is.

7. Dozing Off on the Couch

A lazy Sunday can offer well-deserved downtime, but if you’re lounging for long periods of time (say, to watch a movie marathon), you may experience “microsleeps,” or brief periods of being asleep, which can interfere with a good night’s sleep, says Buenaver. “Adenosine is this neurochemical that's produced when we're awake, and the longer you’re awake, the more adenosine accumulates in your brain,” he explains. “But every time you doze off, some adenosine clears from the brain and weakens your sleep drive.” As a result, you’ll feel less drowsy at bedtime, which can affect how well you sleep that night.

8. Taking Certain Medications

“Almost all antidepressants can cause insomnia,” says Wu. “Blood pressure medications such as [beta-blockers] can affect sleep by potentially impacting melatonin production. Asthma medications and steroids can also be stimulating and cause insomnia.” If you start a new med and notice that your sleep patterns change, Wu advises talking to your doctor about switching medications. If you’re still struggling to sleep at night, he suggests seeing a sleep doctor who can offer additional suggestions for getting your sleep back on track.

9. Snoozing on an Old Mattress

Sometimes, the reason you’re not getting your best rest really lies in your mattress itself. “A lot of times people think, ‘My mattress is fine,’ but when they get a new one, it really makes a world of difference,” says Wu. Over time, not only does your mattress lose its ability to support you, but your body—and corresponding needs from a mattress—evolve, too. As a general rule, we recommend replacing your mattress every six to eight years—or sooner if you’re noticing issues.

Believe it or not, finding the right mattress can help alleviate disruptors such as muscle aches, joint stiffness, sleeping too hot or too cold, snoring, and being woken up by a partner moving at night. If you think your mattress may be the source of your poor sleep, consider trying out our MattressMatcher® tool or going in person to get a personalized recommendation from one of our Sleep Experts®.

10. Eating the Wrong Thing at Night or Snacking Too Close to Bedtime

In general, doctors recommend that you avoid eating two to three hours before bed to prevent acid reflux, says Wu. “But heavier foods and citric foods can aggravate more reflux as well.” If you wind up getting hungry in the evenings, he suggests a small, high-protein snack such as nuts or Greek yogurt to help keep you satiated throughout the night.

11. Failing To Prioritize Sleep

The best defense against sleeplessness is being intentional about your actions at night, says Buenaver. “For me, that translates into either I’m not going to drink, or I'm just going to limit myself to one glass of wine,” he adds. “And I'll be in bed by 10:30 at the latest.” While disruptions happen—such as your child getting sick in the middle of the night or you can’t resist streaming an extra hour of TV—making a plan and trying to stick to it can help you get a better night’s sleep overall.

The bottom line? While it’s important to be aware of the things that keep you from sleeping well and avoid them when you can, you will have nights where you don’t rest as well as you’d like to—and that’s okay. “Don’t worry about getting a perfect night’s sleep every night,” confirms Buenaver. “If one of your nights or a couple of nights gets derailed, don't get hung up on it. Instead, strive for consistently getting the right amount of sleep and best quality of sleep as often as possible.”

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