An inspirational poster, hand-drawn by my roommate, hung by my bed my freshman year of college. “Never give up on your dreams,” it said. “Keep sleeping.”
College students are notorious for their bad sleeping habits, but you don’t have to be a coed to know that sometimes chasing your dreams looks a lot like staying in bed. We’ve all felt the magnetic allure of falling into bed after a long day.
In America, 40 percent of us are sleep-deprived. We spend $41 billion on products to help us sleep better and about $12 billion on coffee each year. There are many negative effects of sleep loss: lower mental performance, poor memory, anxiety, and even a shorter life span. These side effects are serious; in fact, scientists have equated driving drowsy with driving drunk. Yet, we’re always bragging about how little sleep we get, and we never seem to catch up on the sleep we know we need.
“There’s a lack of real education about the importance of sleep,” says Martin Rawls-Meehan, CEO of the sleep technology brand OSO. “If you don’t sleep well, you’re at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and you can just go down a list of negative health effects associated with poor sleep.”
Before you concede to the dangers of running on empty, see if you’re making one of these seven common sleep mistakes. By changing a few habits, you’ll be well on your way to a good night’s rest and a healthier life.
01. Sleeping on the Wrong Surface
Rachel Wong, sleep research specialist at OSO, says that when it comes to falling asleep, temperature often plays a larger role than many realize. “The ‘go to sleep’ mechanisms in the body are initiated by a drop in the body’s core temperature,” Wong notes. “A University of Pittsburgh study found that insomniacs who wore a cooling cap at night fell asleep more quickly. Ironically, one of the most popular sleep surfaces on the market—memory foam—molds to the body in response to body heat and pressure. While this results in a comfortable surface, it actually traps heat the longer you sit in it.”
OSO engineers designed their mattress using premium Talalay latex and specialized RevTech™ foam to promote optimal temperature regulation, and that includes lots of breathability—which means a cool sleep. Wong advises, “Look for mattresses and bedding that promote airflow, and try cranking down the thermostat if you’re having a hard time falling asleep.”
02. Getting Too Much Sleep
We all know we need to get enough sleep, but your fatigue could come from getting too much of it. Getting more than seven to nine hours of sleep each night can contribute to diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease and is linked to higher death rates—just like lack of sleep. How much sleep you need varies from person to person. You’ll know that a certain amount works for you when you go to bed tired and wake up feeling refreshed.
03. Assuming Naps Are Just for Kids
Nap time was either the best or the worst part of childhood, depending on what kind of kid you were. But they’re not just for children. Short daily naps can increase alertness and productivity and can benefit you more than trying to catch up on missed sleep at night, according to the Wall Street Journal. Short naps signal to your body to relax without going into a deep sleep that leaves you groggy.
Set a daily nap routine so that your body anticipates it, but don’t snooze for more than twenty-five minutes. Napping for half an hour or longer can keep you from sleeping soundly that night. Power naps as short as ten to twenty-five minutes can give an energy boost lasting up to three hours. So the next time you’re penciling in that much-needed nod-off, remember that prime napping hours are between noon and 4 p.m.
04. Overlooking Your Sleeping Environment
If you’re not sleeping well, the usual culprits include stress, caffeine, or an underlying sleep disorder. While these often play a large part in poor sleep, your bedroom environment matters more than you may think. “When it comes to buying decisions, think about the comfort principle: Spend your money where you spend your time,” Wong says. “We spend an inordinate amount of our lives in bed. Give yourself some freedom to splurge on the mattress, sheets, and pillows that are going to make you incredibly comfortable—it could be the difference between OK sleep and great sleep.”
05. Making Bad Daytime Choices
The decisions you make throughout the day will affect your ability to get a good night’s rest come twilight. Avoid drinking caffeine at least six hours before bed. Caffeine blocks the chemical adenosine, which calms you down and helps you sleep. Another way to a better night’s rest is regular exercise. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Mental Health and Physical Activity found that people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. Lastly, maintain your bedroom as a sleep-ready environment. Keep it clean, organized, and cool. Drown out distracting sounds with white noise.
06. Spending Time on a Screen
It’s best to switch off all tech at least thirty minutes before you sleep. Numerous studies conclude that blue light on smartphones and tablets not only makes it difficult to fall asleep, but it could also contribute to health problems or even risk of cancer. But let’s be honest, your phone will probably stay glued to your hands, so to lessen this problem, change your screen settings using Night Shift on iPhone or the Twilight app on Android. These apps aren’t perfect (it’ll take some getting used to seeing a yellow or reddish light), but at least it will help your body produce melatonin for a deeper sleep.
07. Hitting the Snooze Button
Drifting fretfully in and out of sleep until a sense of urgency finally pushes you out of bed is not a good way to begin your day. The few extra minutes of shuteye you catch by hitting snooze result in low-quality sleep. If you rely on them, you'll end up feeling drowsier throughout the day.
For one, you’re throwing off your consistent sleep schedule by waking up at a different period during that half-hour window each morning. And when you turn off your alarm, your body relaxes and settles back into a new sleep cycle. The beginning of the sleep cycle is the worst time to wake up; when you do, your body feels betrayed and your mind stays cloudy.
Even for the time-crunched woman, setting aside seven to nine hours for sleep each night is crucial. A long (but not too long) slumber on a comfortable bed could be the difference between feeling groggy and coffee-fueled rather than energized and motivated.
“A recent study showed that people who slept for eight or more hours per night were three times less likely to develop cold symptoms than those who had slept for less than seven hours,” Wong notes. “What’s more, the body restores itself at night: repairing tissue, building muscle, and synthesizing proteins—processes that are almost exclusively carried out while sleeping. Studies have shown time and time again the incredible health benefits of sleeping well and on the flip side, the health risks of sleeping poorly.”
Once you recognize the common sleep mistakes we all make, it’s not hard to rearrange your priorities and make better decisions. Your health and well-being are worth it. You’ll get a good night’s rest and wake up each morning revitalized and ready to carpe diem.
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