8 Harmful Habits to Avoid if You Want Better Sleep, According to a Sleep Consultant

If you want to get more sleep, here's what *not* to do.

Espresso in hand, tray with white ceramic espresso coffee maker on trendy macrame pad. Sleep mask on crumpled bed sheets. Cup of espresso. Good morning Simple minimal top view
Photo: Anya Ivanova/Getty Images

Before I gave Eight Sleep's innovative, temperature-regulating mattress a one-night trial, I had a chance to ask a sleep consultant about the most likely factors and behaviors negatively affecting my sleep quality. I met with Andrea López-Yianilos, PsyD, a New York City-based licensed psychologist specializing in sleep, who walked me through some of the worst sleep mistakes that many people, including me, are guilty of. From eating too close to bedtime to scrolling Instagram late at night, here are eight habits that can really hurt your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and actually sleep well.

Not sure which factors may be sabotaging your sleep, and which you can keep without losing Zs? López-Yianilos recommends eliminating all of these sleep-eroding habits to start, then slowly reintroduce one-by-one any habits that you feel you can't live without. By adding back one habit at a time, you'll be able to determine if that behavior is harming your sleep or not. And remember, proper sleep fitness and hygiene takes training and practice, so don't worry if you take a misstep every now and then.

01 of 08

Waking up at a different time every day.

Here's a trick: To help you establish a consistent bedtime—and the ability to fall asleep more quickly at said bedtime—start by working on your wake-up habits. If you wake up at 7 a.m. on weekdays and let yourself sleep in until 11 a.m. on weekends, it will be near impossible to stick to a consistent bedtime all week long. Instead, commit to the same wake up time all seven days of the week—yes, even over the weekend! "Your bedtime will shift to where it needs to be," López-Yianilos says.

02 of 08

Looking at screens too close to bedtime.

You've probably heard it before, but the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, or tablet screen may be making it harder for you to fall asleep. López-Yianilos says the best solution is to power down all devices and do something else (read a book, listen to music, take a warm bath, journal, stretch) during the hour leading up to bed (at least). But if duty calls or you really can't bear to put the phone down, try turning on the "Night Shift" mode (on iPhone), which shifts the colors of your display to the warmer end of the color spectrum—colors less likely to disrupt your internal clock. There are also removable blue-light-blocking filters for computer monitors or laptop screens. Finally, you can invest in a pair of stylish blue-light-blocking glasses.

03 of 08

Drinking and eating too late at night.

We all know that drinking caffeine before bed can result in a restless night, but alcohol can too. That's right, in terms of sleep impact, a night cap is actually one of the worst ways to wind down. Sure, that glass of wine can make you feel drowsy and help you drift off, but if you drink it right before bed, it will mess with the quality of your sleep by disrupting your deep (and very important) REM sleep. For one thing, "when alcohol metabolizes, you get dehydrated," López-Yianilos explains, "So you'll have more fitful sleep."

Similarly, eating a large meal right before bed can affect your gastrointestinal activity and metabolism, in turn impacting your sleep quality. Instead, try to schedule meals to be at least three hours before bedtime, and if you get hungry late at night, stick to a small yet filling snack, like nut butter on crackers, López-Yianilos says.

Here are a few of our favorite healthy midnight snack ideas.

04 of 08

Using your bed for anything other than the three S's.

As much as possible, only use your bed for the three S's: sleeping, sex, and when you're sick. This way, your brain will associate your bed with sleeping, and sleeping only. When you do work, eat, or watch TV in bed, you start to associate it as a place where you're awake, engaged, stressed, and/or entertained, rather than being asleep. This can make it harder to shut down and fall asleep when bedtime rolls around.

05 of 08

Not exercising during the day.

If you've ever had an intense cardio workout in the afternoon and fallen asleep the moment your head hit the pillow that night, then you already know the positive effect exercise can have on your sleep. Thirty minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per day can help you get better sleep. Anything you enjoy doing that raises your heart rate and breaks a sweat is great.

One caveat: Avoid working out too close to bedtime. This is because exercise raises your body temperature, López-Yianilos explains, and your body temperature should naturally dip as you get ready to sleep.

06 of 08

Trying to sleep with too much ambient light.

Some folks prefer to wake up with the natural light of the morning and have no trouble falling or staying asleep. But if you're struggling with poor sleep, do an audit of the light situation in your sleep environment. Especially if you live in a city, have a streetlight outside your window, or fall asleep in front of the TV, light pollution and ambient light exposure could be hindering your sleep without you even knowing it (which can lead to bad health consequences down the line). One excellent solution is to get yourself some blackout curtains or pair blackout roller shades with stylish curtains that match your decor style. You can always get yourself a cute and comfortable sleep mask, too.

07 of 08

Refusing to invest in a good mattress.

Mattresses are pricey, but if you're sleeping on an old mattress that keeps you up at night, you're not investing in your sleep or health. Look for a mattress that not only feels comfortable, but that offers features to support your best sleep possible. Nowadays, there are even temperature-regulating mattresses designed for those who sleep hot and chemical-free options ideal for those with allergies.

08 of 08

Not dealing with noise pollution.

Have noisy neighbors, chirping birds outside your window, or construction next door? If you can't control the noises outside, getting in the habit of wearing ear plugs or using a soothing, ambient-noise-blocking sound machine can help (a fan works too).

Was this page helpful?
Real Simple is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. Ebrahim IO, Shapiro CM, Williams AJ, Fenwick PB. Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleepAlcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013;37(4):539-549. doi:10.1111/acer.12006

  2. Mason IC, Grimaldi D, Reid KJ, et al. Light exposure during sleep impairs cardiometabolic functionProc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2022;119(12):e2113290119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2113290119

Related Articles