18 Common Sleep Mistakes Keeping You Up at Night

Your brain repairs itself and creates new cells while you sleep. Make sure you aren’t making any of these common sleep mistakes.

woman reaching for alarm clock

Are you one of the millions of people who has insomnia?

If so, you aren’t alone.

60 million Americans report regularly having trouble sleeping. (1)

Sleep is essential to the health and function of your brain.

Even one bad night can leave you feeling irritable and in a mental fog the next day.

You consolidate memories while you sleep, so lack of sleep will affect your ability to remember what you learned the previous day. (2)

It’s during sleep that your brain washes away toxins. (3)

A restless night and you miss the opportunity to clear out metabolic debris. (4)

Every day you lose brain cells, but every night you have the opportunity to create new brain cells provided you are getting enough uninterrupted sleep. (5)

Some reasons people can’t sleep are largely out of their hands, such as being in pain or having a health condition that contributes to insomnia. 

But most of us can’t sleep because of lifestyle choices we make during the day.

Here are 18 reasons you can’t sleep that are largely under your control.

Drinking Caffeine

The average half-life of caffeine is around 5 hours, so even if you stop drinking hours before bedtime, there is still some lingering in your system. (6)

Few people realize the effects of caffeine can last as long as 14 hours! (7)

So if you drink caffeine, drink it early and experiment with your cut-off time. 

glass of red wineDrinking Alcohol

A nightcap might relax you before you go to bed, but it won’t help you sleep.

Alcohol causes nighttime arousals — up to 15 – 25 per night. (8)

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You probably won’t remember them since they are so short.

But these mini-awakenings will prevent you from getting the deep sleep you need for brain repair and for feeling fully alert the next day.

Smoking Cigarettes

Smokers also awaken many times per night that they don’t remember.

Smokers spend more time in light sleep and less time in restorative deep sleep than their nonsmoking counterparts. (9)

Most smokers will tell you they find smoking relaxing, but nicotine is in fact a stimulant.

Taking Over-the-Counter Medications

Many over-the-counter medications can cause insomnia especially if they contain alcohol or caffeine.

Read the labels of all your OTC meds carefully and take accordingly.

woman raiding the fridgeGoing to Bed Hungry

The usual advice is to not eat a few hours before going to bed, but some people (such as moi) can’t sleep if they are hungry.

If you must snack, try to do it at least 2 hours before you go to bed. 

The best evening snacks should include some healthy carbs and a little protein. 

Going to Bed Full

Conversely, going to bed on an overly full stomach can lead to heartburn and indigestion which are not conducive for a good night’s sleep.

Drinking Too Late

Having to get up in the night to go to the bathroom is a common problem.

Nearly two-thirds of adults over 55 report this disturbance, called nocturia, at least a few nights per week. (10)

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Watch your fluid intake from dinner on, especially avoiding alcohol and caffeine which exacerbate this tendency. 

Being Stressed Out

Being stressed during the day is one of the biggest reasons people can’t sleep at night.

It’s a mean trick of the brain that as soon as your head hits the pillow, worrying thoughts immediately get moved to the forefront.

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Stress reduction techniques like yoga, tai chi and meditation can help. 

Exercising in the Evening

One of the metabolic triggers that helps you get to sleep is the slight lowering of body temperature.

But exercise in the evening elevates it for a few hours.

This leads to insomnia in some people.

Take temperate (not hot) showers after exercising. and keeping your bedroom cooler can help.

Keeping Your Bedroom Too Warm

Your body temperature slightly lowers in preparation for sleep.

Having your bedroom too warm will thwart that process leaving you too warm to readily fall asleep.

The ideal temperature for sleeping?

The National Sleep Foundation says the perfect temperature for sleeping is 65 degrees F (18.3 C). (11)

Keeping Irregular Hours

Not going to bed and getting up roughly the same time every day can lead to disrupted sleeping patterns.

While this is a choice for most people, for others like shift workers or travelers who frequently change time zones, this is an ongoing challenge.

Being a Couch Potato

The less you do during the day, the harder it can be to fall asleep.

Your body was meant for motion.

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A day of being a couch potato will leave you lethargic but not genuinely tired for sleep.

Sleeping with a Partner

A partner with insomnia who tosses and turns will keep you awake, too.

If they snore, they keep you awake while they snooze soundly. It’s so unfair.  :-( 

Help them get their snoring under control.

Or invest in a good pair of earplugs. 

Sleeping With Pets

Pets toss and turn, scratch, shed, and snore.

They can be even more disruptive than sleeping with another person! 

Get them their own bed. They will get used to it.

Besides, they don’t want a grumpy owner. 

Watching TV

A late-night action movie can leave you too stimulated to sleep.

It takes awhile for your brain and body to calm back down to its normal pre-sleep state.

But even if you are trying to bore yourself to sleep with infomercials, the act of watching any TV will keep you awake.

The kind of light emitted by TVs reduces your production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Having Electronics in the Bedroom

Light disrupts sleep by halting melatonin production, but the blue light emitted from electronics is particularly disruptive to sleep. (12)

Get all electronics out of the bedroom, or at least turn them all off.

woman sleeping with phoneSleeping With Your Cell Phone

Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted by mobile phones delay your ability to reach the deeper stages of sleep.

One survey found that 44% of those who sleep near their cell phone check for messages in the middle of the night! (13)

If you find your mobile phone this tempting, move it out of your bedroom. 

Using Your iPad

Two hours of iPad use before you go to bed can reduce your melatonin levels by 22%. (14)

Tablets are even worse than big screen TVs or computer monitors because they emit shorter wavelength radiation and are held closer to the eyes. (15)

Recharge Your Batteries: Take a Nap

Even if you do all the right things there will still be times when you won’t get much sleep. 

The best thing you can do in that case is to take a nap the next day.

If you already like to take naps, you’re in good company!

Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, John D. Rockefeller, Albert Einstein, and Leonardo DaVinci are all said to have taken naps.

John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Lyndon B. Johnson took naps while in office, as did first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

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If you don’t currently take naps, there are some excellent reasons you should. 

Taking a nap can:

  • Reduce stress
  • Help you learn new information
  • Improve memory
  • Increase alertness and productivity
  • Improve accuracy
  • Increase creativity
  • Lift your mood by increasing serotonin
  • Minimize the need for caffeine to get through the day

A Harvard study proved that taking a nap can make you more productive for the rest of the day. (16)

A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance 34% and alertness 100%.

Naps reduced mistakes and accidents. (17)

Sleeping on the Job

Today, in part because of the NASA study, pilots on international flights take turns enjoying “NASA naps” to refresh and stay alert.

Other companies have begun to institute mid-day sleeping as well.

You might expect that alternative companies like Rodale Press or Ben & Jerry’s would provide nap rooms for their employees.

But you would be surprised at some of the other companies that encourage napping.

Google, Zappos, Nike, British Airways, Viacom, and Pizza Hut have nap rooms for their employees.

Huffington Post reportedly has “energy pods” for napping that awaken you gently with vibration and light.

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These forward-thinking companies realize that providing napping facilities is a win-win move that makes for a happier, healthier, more productive workforce.

Some businesses outsource employee naps to salons like Yelo Spa in New York.

Yelo offers napping as part of its menu of day spa services where clients pay $1.00 per minute to take a nap.

The idea of sleep or nap salons, as you might guess, originated in sleep-deprived Japan.

According to CareerBuilder.com, half of Fortune 500 companies will fire you if you nap on the job, so you need to know where your employer stands before you put the “do not disturb” sign on your door. (18)

This is a short-sighted policy because sleep deprivation is a national epidemic estimated to cause $150 billion per year in lost productivity. (19)

How to Nap Correctly

Napping can backfire.

It can leave you feeling groggy. It can also keep you up at night. 

According to sleep researcher Sara Mednick, PhD, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, follow these simple guidelines:

  • Keep your nap short, ideally 20-30 minutes. Sleep longer and you’ll wake up feeling groggy.
  • Prime time for feeling tired is after lunch, so nap between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Napping later could make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  • If you can’t fall asleep in the middle of the day, that’s OK. Getting rest is as good as taking a nap.

If you’ve ever found that taking naps leave you groggy, this video by ASAP Science explains the four cycles of sleep and why sleeping beyond 30 minutes can leave you feeling worse than better.

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You've probably heard that fish is brain food. That's because it's the main dietary source of omega-3 fats, essential building blocks of every cell in your brain.

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One solution is to take a fish oil supplement. But only around 10% of the fish oil you take is absorbed.

Some people take krill oil instead. But it's low in DHA, the omega-3 your brain really thrives on.

Here's a solution we found to this dilemma:

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