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10 Things You Should NEVER Do Before Bed

July 02, 2015 3 min read

Getting a good night's sleep is essential for your health. There are no two ways about it. Michael Grandner, PhD, a psychiatry instructor and member of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania, says, "when people suffer from insomnia or other sleep issues, it's often because of something they're doing, probably unintentionally, when they should be preparing for rest." With that in mind, here are 10 things you may be doing that prevent you from getting the sleep you need.

1. Use an e-reader or smartphone.

Robert Rosenberg, DO, author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day, recommends avoiding any light-emitting technology for at least one hour before bedtime. "The blue light given off by computers, smartphones, tablets, and TV prevents the production of melatonin which helps the body become sleepy," he says. If you HAVE to read your Kindle before bed, follow this advice from the Mayo Clinic: keep the device at least 14 inches from your face and turn down the brightness settings.

2. Take certain medications.

If are taking supplements or medications and experiencing sleep trouble, you should ask your doctor if the time of day your taking your pills is keeping you awake. "The effects may be subtle, but some medicines can make you alert for several hours after taking them," says Grandner. For example, antidepressants can have strong effects on sleep in either direction, and some pain medications may upset your stomach and make sleep more difficult.

3. Text a friend.

Texting is less disturbing then a phone call, right? Maybe not. If you get involved in a text or group conversation right before bed, and sleep with your phone nearby, you could be disturbed by replies after you've already fallen asleep. Put your phone in another room.

4. Drink coffee or tea

Coffee contains 80-120 milligrams of caffeine per cup. Most people know to avoid it right before bed but may enjoy one after dinner. What people don't always realize is that caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours. Decaf may not be much better. Some consumer reports have found up to 20 milligrams of caffeine in cups of decaf. Don't drink tea either, including the herbal ones. Peppermint and chamomile varieties are probably caffeine free but ones that have black, green or white tea leaves likely contain caffeine.

5. Eat chocolate

Chocolate (especially dark chocolate) is a hidden source of caffeine. "People might not think about ice cream that contains chocolate or coffee as something that might potentially keep them awake, but if they're sensitive to caffeine that could definitely do the trick," says Grandner. Chocolate also contains the stimulant theobromine, which has been shown to increase heart rate and sleeplessness.

6. Check your work email

Aside from the fact that you are supposed to be avoiding your electronics, checking in with work can make you more stressed and agitated meaning you'll have a more difficult time sleeping. "Unless you're waiting for a specific email that's going to put you at ease and help you sleep better, I would advise against it," says Grandner.

7. Eat spicy or fatty foods

Ideally, your last meal should  be eaten at least 2 hours before you go to bed. Spicy and fatty foods are especially risky as they are associated with acid reflux that can come on when a person lies down for the night.

8. Drink booze

"Alcohol tricks you into thinking you will sleep better, because it often makes you drowsy and makes it easier to fall asleep," says Dr. Rosenberg. "But as your body begins to metabolize the alcohol, REM sleep, the period where our sleep is most restorative, is reduced." It is also a diuretic, so it could have you running to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It is okay to have a drink or two with dinner but skip the nightcap.

9. Smoke

You know you shouldn't smoke in general but you definitely shouldn't smoke before bed. Nicotine is a stimulant, so its not such a good pre-sleep routine. And it isn't just cigarettes. E-cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco and smoking cessation patches can all keep you awake.

10. Work out too intensely

The good news is that exercise before bed doesn't keep you awake and in fact helps with insomnia and promotes good sleeping habits. But there is evidence that prolonged and intense exercise late at night might give you difficulties at bed time. If you suspect this is the case for you, switch your workout time to one earlier in the day and see if your sleep improves. Are any of these the culprit in your inability to get sound asleep? Fess up in a comment.

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