It’s no secret many of us suffer from moderate to severe daytime sleepiness.
“While a short-term lack of sleep can increase the risk of accidents on the job or behind the wheel, long-term sleep deprivation is linked to serious medical conditions including heart disease, stroke and diabetes,” said Kent Smith, a sleep expert and president of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy.
But getting a full eight hours isn’t always as easy as we’d like it to be. Hitting our sleep goals depends on many factors. Some things ― like avoiding the use of our phones several hours before bedtime ― are in our control. Others ― such as certain medications that may cause insomnia or health conditions like menopause ― can be out of our hands.
But did you know that getting a good night’s sleep can be heavily correlated with what you allow into your bedroom at night? Sleep experts say that when it comes to catching some proper z’s, keeping a few things out of the room can make a massive difference. Here’s what they banned:
While you’re undeniably attached to your dogs and cats, it’s best that they sleep in their own beds at the end of the day.
“Pets can disrupt your sleep at night by jumping on the bed, begging to play or begging for food. Next to that, they might worsen any allergy and bring fleas to your bedding,” said Roy Raymann, the vice president of sleep science and scientific affairs at SleepScore Labs.
According to Mariana Szklo-Coxe, an associate professor in the School of Community and Environmental Health at Old Dominion University in Virginia, keeping your phone outside of your bedroom is not enough. It’s best to have no electronic devices in the bedroom if you can.
“Blue light emitted from screens can impact your sleep, so I would suggest avoiding having computer monitors, laptops and any other electronic devices in the room,” Szklo-Coe said.
She added that if possible, she’d recommend having no fluorescent or LED lighting anywhere in the room either. “Essentially, light disrupts our circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that lets our bodies know when to sleep or when to wake up,” she explained, noting that something like a “LED reading lamp presents the same problem as it emits blue light.”
In addition to giving you an unwanted dose of nighttime blue light exposure, having a television in your bedroom can cause you to stay up late, which throws off your entire sleep cycle.
“TV is just too distracting. There is so much content out there to get caught up in. When I’m in a hotel with the TV right at my feet, I end up watching those guilty pleasure shows to the point where I start dozing before the show is over,” said Thanuja Hamilton, a sleep doctor and advisory board member for Reverie, a sleep systems company.
She added that many people think television helps them fall asleep, “but if you’re dozing while watching TV, it means your body has cried mercy for sleep and it gave in.”
Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm’s sleep expert, added that the excitement of a TV show promotes chemicals in your brain that are not conducive to sleep.
“When you are watching, your brain is secreting chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine, which stimulate the ‘wake centers’ of your brain, thus making it harder to fall asleep,” Kansagra said.
“When I’m in my bedroom ready for sleep, the last thing I want to think of is work,” Hamilton said. She added that the bedroom should be merely “a room for your bed, not your office,” and that you don’t want work related thoughts distracting you from relaxing.
“Shut off the outside world for 30 minutes before bed. Set a bedtime alarm and turn off the TV, computer, paperwork or anything that isn’t calming so you can wind down,” she said.
“No outside shoes are allowed in my bedroom,” Hamilton said.
“Have you ever felt that sigh of relief when you narrowly avoided stepping in dog poop on the sidewalk? Guess what? You don’t always miss it,” she joked, noting that when she steps onto her clean bedroom floor and rugs, she feels free and comfortable. “Not to mention it makes me feel better getting into my sheets knowing I have clean feet.”
It’s smart to ban food from the bedroom, especially right before you hit the pillow. Hamilton noted that if you’re eating around bedtime, it’s probably too late.
“I would avoid eating within three hours of bedtime to avoid indigestion, acid reflux and even nightmares,” she said. “If you need a snack, try yogurt with tart cherries and pistachios since they are sources of melatonin. Keep the portions small to avoid needing to digest too much during sleep.”
“Beer, liquor or wine are not ideal wind-down beverages right before bed,” Smith said.
Although alcohol may make you sleepy, too many drinks at night can cause sweating, headaches or nightmares. “In addition, drinking any liquid too close to bedtime may cause you to wake up several times during the night to use the restroom.”
“Studies have shown that general clutter in the bedroom can lead to delayed sleep and tiredness,” said Karin Sun, founder of bedding company Crane & Canopy. This, she said, is because a disorganized bedroom is registered by our minds as a distraction or uncompleted task, even if it’s on a subconscious level.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, a clean, comfortable and orderly bedroom is a good basis for a healthy sleep routine. “Make your bedroom as comforting and inviting as possible by clearing the space of clutter and freshening up your sheets, pillows and blankets,” Smith said.
Sleep experts make it a point to keep disruptive temperatures at bay in their bedrooms. Excessively high or low bedroom temperature can affect sleep, according to Abdulghani Sankari, fellowship program director in the pulmonary and critical care and sleep medicine division at Wayne State University medical center.
“High temperature in particular increases wakefulness and decreases slow wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep. Therefore, it is recommended to keep room temperature lower at night to allow natural body thermoregulation, which is very important for the sleep regulation and natural transition to deep stages of sleep,” Sankari said, adding that wearing light pajamas and having a fan in the room may help with this.
Alarm clocks can be harmful to sleep, according to Christopher Lindholst, CEO of MetroNaps, a sleep product company.
“Ideally you want to complete as many full sleep cycles during the course of a night as possible. If you wake up to an alarm clock, that means you are asleep, which means you are still in a sleep cycle,” he said, adding that it can be a shock to your system to wake up to the adrenaline rush that accompanies an alarm.
He recommended using an alarm clock as a backup method, but to try to adhere to a consistent bedtime to allow your body to wake up naturally.
“Jump out of bed at 6:45am and have the satisfaction of turning off the alarm before it has even gone off,” Lindholst said. “You’ll have a much better morning than if you go back to sleep for an extra 15 minutes and then have to drag yourself out of bed because man’s worst invention for healthy sleep has startled you back to reality.”
Falling asleep with lights on isn’t the best thing for a good night’s sleep and even a tiny amount can be a problem. A night light, especially blue in color, will disrupt sleep rhythms and your circadian rhythm, explained Dr. Abhinav Singh, facility director of the Indiana Sleep Center in Greenwood, Indiana.
Good sleep starts with good bedding, according to Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and sleep expert with the Better Sleep Council. Cralle views every aspect of the sleep surface as an important investment and recommends springing for comfortable bedding.
“The mattress is the vehicle for sleep and I consider it square one in the pursuit of a healthy sleep lifestyle,” Cralle said. “In fact, I think the mattress is easily is the most important piece of furniture in a home, given how sleep impacts virtually every aspect of our functioning and the quality of our waking hours.”
Letting your child sleep in bed with you doesn’t let them develop their own skills in falling asleep, explained Luis Ortiz, a sleep medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. An extra body in the bed can also disrupt your sleep.
Ortiz suggested keeping infants in a crib in the same bedroom as you for at least first six months, but older children should be encouraged to sleep in their own bedrooms at night.