6 Habits To Give Up If You Want To Sleep Better This Year
While getting better sleep may not be a New Year's resolution you hear too often, it can support a number of our more popular goals—from exercising more1 to eating healthier2.
As an essential part of overall well-being, sleep is something we'd all benefit from prioritizing this year. Unfortunately, fixtures of daily life—from phone screens to overhead lighting—don't make it easy to do. Here are six habits you may have slipped into that are impacting your sleep and how to move beyond them in 2023 for the sake of shut-eye:
Checking your phone right before bed.
Looking at the bright, blue-tinted light of screens can negatively impact sleep quality3 by suppressing the production of melatonin—the "hormone of darkness" that signals bedtime.
Since we hold cellphones so close to our faces, they can be even more stimulating than other devices. "Even though the amount of light coming out of [phones] isn't huge, it's all going right into our eyes," Michael Grandner, Ph.D., the director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, previously told mindbodygreen. Not to mention, phones are tiny portals to distressing news, urgent emails, and other triggers that can raise our stress levels before bed.
What to do instead: Aim to turn off your phone and other electronics at least an hour before you want to be asleep in the new year. Setting a recurring "bedtime alarm" might help you adopt this new habit. Replace scrolling with journaling, reading a book that isn't too stimulating, or writing down your to-do's for the next day (a sleep psychologist-approved ritual!).
Using bright lights at night.
Speaking of squashed melatonin production, phones aren't the only thing that can mess with levels of this hormone. Exposure to any kind of bright light at night can disrupt our circadian rhythms (internal clocks) and melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep in the process.
What to do instead: To keep your internal clock running on time, aim to get plenty of light during the day and darkness at night. Get outside or sit in front of a sunlamp first thing in the morning to send a wake-up signal to your body and limit your exposure to bright lights at night when possible. Splitting your home's lighting into bright "daytime lights" and dark, warm, dimmable "nighttime lights" is one way to do so that Steven Lockley, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Brigham & Women's Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, recommends.
Taking supplemental melatonin.
Many people are in the habit of taking supplemental melatonin to "hack" their circadian rhythms and fall asleep faster. But ultimately, research suggests that this habit is not doing us much good—and could actually be harmful.
Taking melatonin regularly—especially in high doses like those found in some supplements—could impact your endogenous, natural production of melatonin and negatively affect the function of other hormones like estrogen and growth hormone4. It's also not very effective, as melatonin does nothing to enhance your overall sleep quality; it just tells your body it's bedtime.
What to do instead: There are a few use cases where melatonin can be helpful for getting your sleep-wake cycle back on track, like when you're traveling to a new time zone. But if you're looking for a supplement to take nightly to help you sleep, you'll want to opt for a safer, nonhormonal option like mindbodygreen's sleep support+. Reviewers rave that the gentle yet powerful supplement helps them fall asleep noticeably faster (even when compared to melatonin), and the combination of magnesium bisglycinate, jujube, and PharmaGABA® promotes longer, deeper sleep and more refreshed mornings, too.*
Stressing about mid-evening wakeups.
Waking up in the middle of the night is no fun, but the mental panic that follows only makes it worse. Somewhere in between worrying that you won't be able to fall back asleep and running through every last thing on your to-do list, you'll raise your body's stress alarms and rile yourself up further.
What to do instead: Instead of stressing about a mid-snooze wake-up (also called "middle sleep"), psychiatrist, author, and sleep expert Ellen Vora, M.D., recommends reassuring yourself that it's normal to wake up in between sleep phases and that your body knows what to do to fall back asleep. All you have to do is relax and resist the temptation to turn on the lights or check what time it is on your phone.
Eating too much too late at night.
Most of us have had the experience of eating a decadent meal late at night and felt our sleep suffer as a result. It's because eating too close to bedtime (especially if the meal is spicy, fried, fatty, sweet, or boozy) can cause digestive processes to keep us awake.
What to do instead: Aim to wrap up your dinner at least three hours before you plan to go to bed; bonus if it includes sleep-supporting nutrients like magnesium. This doesn't have to mean going to bed hungry—which can also mess with sleep quality. If you feel peckish closer to bedtime, just reach for a healthy, low-sugar dessert like the ones on this list.
Sleeping in on weekends.
If there's one thing your body craves for deeper sleep, it's consistency. Unfortunately, your circadian rhythm doesn't care that it's Friday night and you've had a long week. The tendency to shift your sleep schedule later on the weekend, also called social jet lag, can have serious consequences on your shut-eye. Think of it this way: Sleep researcher Till Roenneberg, Ph.D., previously likened it to flying from Europe to the United States every Friday evening and then flying back to Europe every Monday morning... Not a recipe for tiptop energy levels.
What to do instead: Find a bedtime and wake-up time that you can realistically stick with all week long. Figuring out your sleep chronotype—or your body's ideal natural sleep-wake timing—can help. Here's a quiz to get you started.
The world would be a better place if we all slept a little more. Put deep, restorative rest—and the mental sharpness, energy, and better mood that follow—at the top of your resolution list this year with these six tweaks. Looking for more pro tips on how to improve sleep? We've got you covered.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.