PHOTOGRAPH BY SHUTTERSTOCK
Not to panic, getting 8 hours a night won’t kill you. However, it does bring into focus what’s really important: Your sleep quality. A lack of the right kind of sleep can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer, cause weight gain, and even increase your risk of death.
It’s just as important to avoid doing the wrong things before going to bed as it is doing the right ones. Here are the 6 most important things to avoid at night for the best sleep possible, adapted from The Bulletproof Diet.
This article was originally published by our partners atRodaleWellness.com.
For at least a half hour before going to bed, try to avoid bright lights. Dim your office lights if you absolutely must be working this close to bedtime, and kill the unhealthy flourescent ones. This includes all those devices, too, including your phone, iPad, and even television. Why? Because even 5 minutes of white light from a screen suppresses melatonin levels by more than 50%. Translation: Levels of melatonin, otherwise known as the sleep hormone, in the blood rise sharply, and you begin to feel less alert in the evening, and sleep becomes more inviting. If light is around, you’ll have less of a natural inclination to hit the hay and stay sleeping.
Not all that surprising, scary things can mess with your mind before hitting the sheets. Watching graphic violence on TV might make it harder for you to fall and stay asleep.
You should not exercise for at least 2 hours before going to bed, unless you count restorative yoga and breathing exercises as exercise, says Asprey. Exercising in general, however, definitely helps sleep. A 2013 Sleep in America poll found that people who exercise at any time of day report sleeping better and feeling more rested than those who don’t exercise.
In general, don’t drink coffee after 2 PM or at least 8 hours before bedtime, whichever comes first. This will make sure you get all of the cognitive benefits of caffeine without sacrificing your sleep. Researchers at Michigan’s Henry Ford Hospital’s Sleep Disorders & Research Center and Wayne State College of Medicine found that caffeine consumed even 6 hours before bedtime resulted in significantly diminished sleep quality and sleep quantity. The best thing you can do? Keep track of your caffeine intake and sleep patterns to see how it affects you.
There is a window from 10:45 to 11 PM or so, when you naturally get tired, that fluctuates based on season. According to Bulletproof Diet author Dave Asprey, if you don’t go to sleep then and choose to stay awake, you’ll get a cortisol-driven “second wind” that can keep you awake until 2 AM. For some, that can be majorly detrimental to their overall productivity.
So what’s the golden amount of sleep? Well, that’s up for debate. One recent study found that sleeping 9 hours or more was just as harmful as sleeping 5 or less. Whereas cognitive performance peaked at about 7 hours of sleep, according to data from Lumosity.
Perhaps the most common reason people report not being able to sleep is that they don’t know how to clear their minds and stop worrying. For that, Asprey suggests deep-breathing exercises like Art of Living, pranayama yoga, and meditation, which can do wonders for helping your brain shut down, recuperate, and prepare for the next day.