Mistakes That Can Keep You Up at Night

Mistakes That Can Keep You Up at Night

Instead of spending countless hours lying in bed counting sheep at night, take control of your sleep by learning about the common mistakes people make.


Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D., Contributor to HuffPost

Psychologist, Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Instead of spending countless hours lying in bed counting sheep at night, take control of your sleep by learning about the common mistakes people make that sabotage their sleep cycles. There are many mistakes that people make when trying to get a good night’s sleep. Instead of helping you to sleep better, these mistakes can actually decrease your chances of sleeping well and may even cause you to have more trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.

Mistake 1: Taking a sleeping pill before trying to improve your sleep in a natural way

People often believe that taking sleeping pills is the answer to their sleep problem. But sleeping is something that should typically come naturally. Sleeping pills can have negative side effects, including psychological and physical dependency, daytime drowsiness and other health consequences. Plus if you try to stop taking a sedative hypnotic, you will typically have worse insomnia for several days, which makes you more likely to pop a pill again when you are feeling frustrated and annoyed in the middle of the night. Research shows that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is usually the best treatment for insomnia and it doesn’t carry the negative side effects that sleeping pills do.

Mistake 2: You spend more time in bed at night with the hope that it will give you a better chance of falling asleep

The more time you spend in bed each night without sleeping, the more you will associate your bed with being wide awake, instead of a restful, sleep-promoting place. This is due to conditioning, and it can actually make it harder for you to fall asleep because your mind and body will think that you are supposed to be awake in bed, instead of relaxed and sleeping. It is really important to only get into bed when you are feeling sleepy and to get up out of bed when you are awake for 20 minutes or more. By spending less time in bed, you can eliminate the frustration of trying to fall asleep when you are not yet ready and develop a more positive association with the bed.

Mistake 3: You believe that you need exactly eight hours of sleep each night to be healthy.

Although it is very important for your health to get enough sleep each night, there is no “golden number” of hours of sleep that everyone must achieve each night in order to be healthy, both physically and mentally. The number of hours of sleep that you need depends on how you feel during the day. That number is different for every person. For example, do you feel fine during the day after six hours of sleep? Are you still able to function well at work, enjoy your free time and not feel sleepy all day long? If so, then six hours may be all that you need and trying to get eight hours of sleep could be futile. However, if you feel like you are dragging throughout the day, have trouble focusing on work and lack the desire to do the things you normally enjoy, then you may be sleep deprived and need eight hours or even more. Try making sleep a priority and keep track of how many hours of sleep you get for one week. Write down how you feel during the day (energetic, rested, sleepy, etc.) so that you can figure out how many hours of sleep you need in order to keep your energy at a good level during the day. And remember, drinking lots of caffeine can affect how you feel, so don’t substitute coffee for getting an extra hour of sleep.

Mistake 4: Taking the wrong kinds of naps.

If you have insomnia, napping too long is a mistake that can sabotage your sleep at night. The amount of sleep you need is added up across a 24-hour period, not just at night. So if you usually need about eight hours of sleep at night to feel rested and refreshed the next day, taking a long nap during the day can reduce the amount you need that night. Since everyone has different sleep needs, it is important to remember that you may need less (or more) sleep than your neighbor, but that you should judge how much you need by how you feel during the day. If you are having difficulties sleeping at night, taking a nap can actually worsen your problems. Falling asleep easily is dependent not only on how sleepy you are, but also on how many hours you’ve been awake since you last slept. Taking a nap during the day can make it harder for someone with insomnia to fall asleep at night because it’s less time since you last slept. If you don’t have any trouble falling asleep at night, napping may be beneficial to both your mind and body. Resting for 15 or 20 minutes can help you feel rejuvenated. Just be careful that you don’t nap for too long or you might end up feeling more sleepy than when you started! Another way to calm your mind and recharge your body is to find time to relax each day, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes. You can sit quietly with a good book, turn on some music you like, eat a healthy snack, or go for a walk. If you’re feeling stressed out, try doing some deep breathing exercises, stretches or taking a hot bath. By incorporating relaxing activities into your daily life, your body will feel rejuvenated and you’ll increase your energy levels.

Mistake 5: You have a few drinks before bed to help you sleep better at night.

This is not a good idea. Although at first you may feel drowsy after drinking alcohol and find that you fall asleep easily, alcohol can disrupt your sleep architecture (the stages of sleep) and actually cause your sleep to be less restorative. When you drink alcohol before bedtime, it can cause you to toss and turn in the latter parts of the night, making your sleep more restless or fitful. Plus you may need to make a few extra trips to the bathroom, which also disrupts your sleep. Don’t make the mistake of using alcohol to aid in sleep; it can have more harmful effects than helpful ones.

Mistake 6: You read and watch TV in bed at night.

This is a common mistake that is easy to fix. Watching TV and/or reading in bed activates your mind, assuming that you are paying attention to what you’re watching or reading. When watching TV, you have both auditory and visual stimulation, neither of which tells your brain that it’s time to shut down. Similarly, turning the pages of a book and actively thinking about what you are reading can keep you awake. Perhaps you remember a time in the past when you didn’t have a sleep problem and you always read or watched TV in bed. That may be the case, but if you do have trouble sleeping at night, you want to do everything you can to help yourself fall asleep easier. So if you want to read or watch TV at night, do it in another room instead of lying in bed.

Original Post on Huff Post: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/insomnia-cures_b_865824