At the end of a busy day, you're looking forward to climbing into your bed and getting some shut-eye, right? Unfortunately, a good night of sleep doesn't always happen: as the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion notes, an estimated 25 percent of adults in the U.S. report that they're not getting enough sleep at least 50 percent of the time.
Your nighttime habits can definitely impact your sleep health, which can in turn impact your whole health, so we looked at some of the best habits healthy people have before they go to bed to get a primer on how to hit the sack healthy and happy.
Don't eat right before you go to bed
Leaving a buffer of time between your last bite and your head hitting the pillow is an excellent idea, emergency medicine physician Dr. Chirag Shah tells SheKnows.
"If your stomach is full and you lie down, you no longer have the benefit of gravity to help you push your stomach contents in the right direction in your body," he explains. "The result? The stomach contents and gases can leak backwards into your esophagus and even your mouth, causing symptoms of heartburn, a chronic cough and/or a stuffy nose."
Take a deep breath — or 20
Shah also recommends doing some deep breathing before bedtime. "Deep-breathing can stimulate your vagus nerve — a major nerve that helps activate parts of the nervous system that are focused on lowering stress in our bodies," he notes.
While you improve your upcoming sleepfest, you can also spend time focusing on your inner self as well — win-win!
Put your phone away
Don't just keep it by the bedside table in airplane mode, either — literally take it out of your room overnight.
"When our device is next to our bed, it is easy to grab it in the middle of the night when we are having trouble sleeping," says Shah. "How many people have done this and ended up wasting hours looking at social media or searching the web instead of sleeping?"
On top of that, spending time staring at your phone before you try to go to sleep can actually interfere with your ability to sleep well.
Cut the lights
You probably don't sleep with a lamp on, but even a little bit of ambient light sneaking in to your bedroom can negatively impact a good night of sleep. Shah recommends trying blackout shades if your bedroom windows are the culprits.
"Even a small amount of light can stimulate our bodies to wake up when we are not physiologically ready to do so," he says. "Do your body a favor and let it sleep as long as it can without being woken up by accidental light exposure."
Wash your face
Dermatologist Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse tells SheKnows that nighttime is when your skin has a chance to de-stress and repair itself. "It is important to wash off pore-clogging makeup, sunscreen, sweat and excess oils as well as oxidizing air pollution particles that contribute to free radical damage of the DNA and collagen fibers in the dermis," she says.
Shainhouse suggests choosing a gentle cleaner that is strong enough to remove your daily makeup without stripping your skin of its natural protective layer. Also, can we say that a freshly washed face just feels fantastic?!
Don't set an alarm
When you wake up naturally, your body is coming out of a bout of REM sleep — sleep you need at the end of the night to finish hardening your memories and refresh your emotions for the new day, Dr. Benjamin Smarr, a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley and Reverie sleep advisory board, tells SheKnows.
"When you use an alarm clock, you break that REM sleep and give yourself a jolt of stress instead of a peaceful awakening," he explains.
In other words, this can get your day off to a bad start, which is the opposite of what you want. "Waking up naturally is more healthy because you let your body and brain finish doing maintenance before putting yourself back on the road," he says.
Don't rely on OTC supplements for a good night of sleep
If you're someone who pops a Benadryl to help you drift off, even if you're not having an allergic reaction, you may want to think again. But what about something natural, like melatonin?
"Melatonin is clearly associated with sleep function, so you might think more must be better, but there still needs to be experimental verification that the dose and method of application allow the right amount to reach the right part of the brain at the right time to be meaningfully active," Smarr explains. So while it's easy to take some melatonin before bed, that's not always the best idea.
Bedding down and getting a good night of sleep doesn't just make you ready to face tomorrow's challenges — it can keep your stress down and can improve your overall health as well. Shut out the light, put the phone away and keep eating to a minimum at nighttime, and you'll be in far better shape.