MISTAKE: Keeping it light & bright
It’s not just the blue light emitted by your devices that can be problematic – there are plenty of other bright light sources which may pose a problem to a restful night’s sleep. “Being exposed to blue light from devices and bright light from things like bedroom spotlighting tricks the brain into thinking it needs to be awake,” says Dr Guy Meadows, sleep specialist and co-founder of Sleep School. “This inhibits the production of melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone, increasing the time taken to fall asleep.” His advice? Turn off your bright overhead lights in favour of dim side lamps and limit time spent on devices in the evening. “Research tells us we should start to darken our environment two hours before completely turning out the lights. Ideally, we should stop using our digital device 30 minutes before bed,” he suggests. “Always reduce screen brightness, and schedule blue light filters on devices, or wear blue light filter glasses.”
MISTAKE: Not logging off in the evening
The rise of WFH comes with plenty of perks, but an extended work day — according to data by NordVPN many of us have added two and a half hours onto the expected eight — is not one of them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has a ripple effect. “Working on screens keeps our minds occupied in the build-up to bedtime rather than helping it wind down,” says Kathryn Pinkham, founder of The Insomnia Clinic. “We don’t need long wind-down routines or complex methods to fall asleep, but if you can unplug for a while, it’s easier to relax your mind and body. If we’re working late, checking emails or even just looking on social media, we’re vulnerable to seeing something which triggers either anxiety or frustration. We then go to bed with this on our mind, which can lead to disrupted sleep.”
MISTAKE: A late afternoon coffee
It’s an obvious one, but too much of a potential pitfall not to make this list. “Caffeine takes a while to leave the system,” Guy explains. “Drinking it just six hours before bed reduces total sleep time by one hour. It also affects how long you sleep, the quality of sleep and the time spent in deep sleep. Plus, it blocks adenosine (the sleepy brain chemical). This masks feelings of sleepiness and delays the release of melatonin.” Of course, that’s not to say you should swear off your beloved oat milk latte forevermore. Guy recommends no more than two to three caffeinated beverages per day, preferably before midday.
MISTAKE: Not knowing your sleep type
One of the most common problems that ‘The Sleep Geek’ James Wilson sees is people trying to stick to bedtimes that are at odds with their sleep type. “Either you’re early to bed, early to rise, or late to bed, late to rise,” he says. “Night owls will often go to bed too early, toss and turn, get anxious, and end up with five hours of fitful sleep.” People are driven more by the quantity of sleep they think they need – the golden eight hours – rather than the quality, he adds. “So, if night owls need to be up at 6am for work, they’ll fixate on a 10pm bedtime, and then lie awake for hours. They’d be much better off going to bed at 11.30pm, when they’re more likely to go to sleep, and have good quality sleep. Sleep is not just about how much you get, but how good that sleep actually is. One of the biggest pieces of sleep advice is to try to go to bed a little later.” Paying attention to those first sleepy cues is key to figuring out your type, he adds.
MISTAKE: Indulging in a weekend lie-in
The truth is, if you need to catch up on sleep at the weekends, you're not getting enough sleep during the week. “While a lengthy sleep might feel divine, it would be even better if you woke up every morning of the week without an alarm, feeling well rested,” says Dr Sophie Bostock, founder of TheSleepScientist.com. “Research shows that 'social jetlag' caused by living at odds with our internal sleep-wake cycle can increase the risks of weight gain and heart disease. Waking up at the same time every day anchors the body clocks, giving us more energy during the day and helping the body run more efficiently.” Yup, that means weekends too.
MISTAKE: Obsessing over data
You might think closing your rings or a new high sleep score might motivate you to hit the hay – but a sleep-tracking device may have the opposite effect. “Orthosomnia is a condition among people who are seeking perfect sleep,” Kathryn says. “I always advise my clients to avoid tracking sleep – if you have insomnia you already know that you don’t sleep well, you don’t need to know any further detail. Cancelling plans or feeling low or anxious because you can see you didn’t get enough good sleep leads to further mental health issues and more poor sleep. Move away from over analysing – we can’t micromanage sleep stages and often sleep trackers can be very inaccurate anyway.
MISTAKE: Not taking time-out during the day
Living life in the fast lane comes at a cost. “People squeeze as much as they can into the day, and probably the night as well,” Sophie says. “And when they switch out the light, they wonder why they can't fall asleep. The odds are they have been running on adrenaline all day long.” A deep sleep requires switching off that flight or fight response, she says. “If you're a constant do-er, you might have forgotten how. I recommend building in a bit of time during the day to pause, and just be.” How do you do that, exactly? You can practise mindfulness or breathing techniques, go for a walk, or just switch off from screens and rest,” Sophie says. “The idea is not to sleep, but to remind your brain that it's OK to do nothing. If you're OK with doing nothing, you'll find it easier to fall asleep.”