6 Things You Should Never Do Before Bed
Bedtime behavior is a big deal. Science consistently shows that what you do in the hours and minutes before hitting the hay can have a profound effect not just on the rest you get that night, but on your overall physical and emotional well being. Of course, you may already be hip to this—that’s why you order decaf after dinner. Maybe you’ve also trained yourself to log out after dark, understanding that if the light-emitting diodes don’t get you, the social media might. A University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study found that people who obsessively check online accounts are twice as likely to have sleep disturbance than those who can put their devices down.
Trouble is, sometimes you think you’re taking a healthy course of action when in fact you could be sabotaging your slumber—not to mention your stress level, romantic relationship, appearance, and more. So to avoid common bedtime blunders, we’ve come up with six simple rules. Never go to bed:
Angry at your partner
If you and your mate get into an evening argument, your inclination may be to flee the room and serve up the silent treatment till you calm down. But avoidance isn’t the best course of action, says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a Southern California clinical psychologist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together. “You’re likely to continue the argument in your mind, telling yourself why you’re right and your partner is wrong, making things worse,” she says.
Instead of stewing, Tessina counsels calling a truce before bed. “Say, ‘We’re both tired. Let’s drop this for now and talk about it in the morning when we’re rested.'” Add an “I love you” or at least a “good night.” Don’t act as if the spat never happened. “Make sure to resolve the issue the next day, or it’s bound to arise again,” Tessina says.
On a full stomach
We’ve written about the sleepytime drawbacks of pizza and doughnuts. An American Academy of Sleep Medicine study determined that greater saturated fat and sugar intake is linked to disrupted sleep. But surely a healthy meal before bed can’t hurt, right? Not so fast: Research suggests that the body “knows” when it’s supposed to be sleeping, not eating, so chowing down at the wrong time could spell trouble if you are trying to lose weight.
As Kristin Eckel-Mahan, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston who studies sleep and metabolism, explains in Prevention: “The enzymes involved in fatty acid oxidation [are] highly circadian. They know when they’re supposed to be metabolizing glucose.” So dine early if you can (ideally, no food within two hours of sacking out) and, when you must sup on the late side, make it a lighter meal.
Without washing your face
It’s been a long day, you’re exhausted—in fact, you may have conked out on the couch already. So you think: Why waste time washing up when you could be catching quality Z’s? Think again. “Products left on the skin overnight will plug pores, potentially causing breakouts,” cautions Sandra Johnson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Johnson Dermatology in Fort Smith, Arkansas. “Slept-in makeup can also cause inflammation, which can result in the collagen breakdown that leads to wrinkles.”
While certain products, like foundation and powder, are the worst overnight offenders, Johnson points out that it’s not just cosmetics but also pollutants, irritants, and sweat that must be banished before bed. “It’s similar to brushing your teeth to remove the food particles and sugar residue that cause cavities and gum problems,” she says. (Here are eight ways to wake up looking more refreshed.)
If you’ve been drinking
Winding down at day’s end with beer, wine, or cocktails is common practice, but potentially problematic for sleep. “Regular use of alcohol as a sleep aid may result in dependence and pose other health risks,” warns Deni Carise, PhD, chief scientific officer for Recovery Centers of America. Besides, booze before bed often backfires, short-circuiting your shuteye. “Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but it actually disrupts sleep patterns, diminishing both the amount and the quality of sleep,” Carise says.
A study by the University of Melbourne’s Sleep Research Laboratory bears this out, finding that while imbibing caused participants to fall asleep fast, they experienced frequent waking and failed to get adequate REM sleep. The reason: Alcohol sedates you so you zonk right out, but your sympathetic nervous system remains active. Your heart rate stays elevated, and as the night wears on, you toss, turn, and miss out on restorative dream sleep. (Here’s a closer look at the myriad ways alcohol messes with your sleep—and how to sleep better if you do imbibe.)
With a worried mind
Some ongoing problem or upcoming event has you stressed out, so you decide to “sleep on it,” hoping the worry will ease. Unfortunately, the last thing you’ll get is sleep and, as your anxiety only increases, you’ll spend the next day in a cranky mood and possibly prone to poor decisions. “Sleeping on it works wonders if you need inspiration or have a half-formed idea you hope to bring to fruition,” Tessina explains. “But when you’re concerned about something, your brain will obsessively remind you about it, over and over.”
The fix? Write out your worries before turning in, whether that means making a to-do list, journaling, even free writing. “Once it’s on paper,” Tessina says, “your mind can let it go.”
Without a request to your subconscious
Ugh, you’re bushed—and this sounds complicated! Nah, it’s pretty common-sensible, and it comes from one of the most inventive minds the world has ever known: Thomas Alva Edison. While the subconscious controls automatic functions like heartbeat, circulation, and digestion, it’s also involved with bringing intuitive creative solutions forward. Edison’s maxim simply refers to asking for a bit of help with whatever goal(s) you hope to achieve.
Take 10 minutes at bedtime to meditate on your goals. Even better, write down specific questions, the answers to which have been eluding you. Then trust that your subconscious will deliver. To harness the results, keep that pad and paper handy to note the “Eureka!” moments in the morning. This may well be the light bulb you’ve been searching for.
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