Despite hectic days full of work and household chores, for many of us trying to fall asleep still proves a struggle.
Lying in bed for hours, tossing and turning, the mind running at a million miles a minute, makes for a difficult journey into the land of nod.
Emails, text messages float through our thoughts, and instead of counting sheep it is all to easy to end up counting up the next day’s ‘to do’ list.
So, what can we do to avoid falling into this frustrating trap?
Daily Mail Online spoke to three sleep experts to find out what they’d never do before bed.
Dr Eric Kezirian, of the University of Southern California, told Daily Mail Online: ‘Getting ready for bed and then going to bed should be a time to relax without the stimulation that is everywhere in our busy lives.’
- NEVER EXERCISE BEFORE BED
Many of us have jobs that dominate every waking hour.
As a result exercise tends to be pushed into the evenings, when work is done for the day – but crucially, just hours before bed.
However, according to New York City sleep expert Dr Janet Kennedy, our nocturnal workout habits may be keeping us up at night.
‘I would avoid rigorous aerobic exercise at night,’ Dr Kennedy explained.
Running five miles – or lifting heavy weights – right before diving into bed will often lead to an inability to fall asleep.
Dr Kennedy said: ‘It can take a long time for the body to cool down and the heart rate and breathing to return to normal.’
But, while Dr Kennedy avoids exercising before bed, she noted that a relaxing activity, such as yoga, or even sex is ‘fine’.
‘Sex is different, because it releases good endorphins and you get a calming benefit,’ she added.
‘It’s not the same sort of sustained exercise that you would have in terms of high intensity aerobics.’
- NEVER EAT A BIG MEAL BEFORE BED
In this day and age, where most people have demanding careers that often require late hours, it is common to end up eating dinner just an hour or two before bed.
But, while an 8pm bedtime may be convenient, experts warn eating a big meal before bed can negatively affect a person’s ability to sleep.
Sleep expert Dr Maurice Ohayon, of Stanford University, said: ‘Eating before going to bed is not recommended at all.’
When you’re sleep, your digestive system isn’t working as well – because you are lying down, he warned.
According to Dr Ohayon, the most effective way to digest your food is by standing up.
Dr Kennedy added that eating a big meal – particularly anything spicy – can trigger acid reflux.
She said: ‘When your body is digesting – when your metabolism is active at night – your sleep is not as deep.’
It’s vital to give your body some time to digest food before laying horizontal in bed, she explained.
‘If I’m out late and having dinner after a movie or a show, I try to be more careful about what I eat,’ Dr Kennedy said.
- NEVER CHECK THEIR EMAIL OR TEXTS BEFORE BED
For many, their smartphone, tablet or laptop can appear an extension of themselves, seemingly attached to their hip.
Getting into bed at night can signal the last chance to obsessively check text messages, emails and social media profiles.
But, sleep experts told Daily Mail Online that they would never use technology before getting some shut eye.
Dr Kezirian said: ‘Good sleep hygiene includes avoiding reading or watching television or using electronic devices in bed.
‘We want your mind and body to understand that the bed is for sleeping and sex only. ‘
Furthermore, electronic devices give off a certain amount of light – especially in an otherwise dark room.
‘Their use in the evening can interfere with the body’s awareness of night and day, making it more difficult to fall asleep when people have been using them right before going to bed too,’ said Dr Kezirian.
On top of that, checking messages before bed can cause anxiety that keeps a person up at night.
Dr Kennedy said: ‘If you’re lying in bed with unfinished business, it’s likely to keep you awake. It’s like a trigger for ruminating.
‘It’s better to wrap things up before you’re going to go to bed – so if you can’t even do that, you shouldn’t even open that door.’
- NEVER WATCH DISTRESSING SHOWS BEFORE BED
Since most addictive shows air late in the evening on week nights, it’s common for people to watch television right before bed.
That may be fine for lighthearted, comedy shows – but when it comes to intense programs, sleep experts suggest steering clear before turning in for the night.
Dr Kennedy said: ‘I wouldn’t watch shows that are too distressing or agitating before bed.
‘I learned that lesson when I watching Breaking Bad; it was not a good nighttime show for me.’
Watching an intense program can cause a person to lie awake thinking about the latest episode.
Additionally, it can also increase a person’s physiological arousal.
They become more physically tense and their heart rate is elevated – indicating that their body is in a state of physical stress.
Dr Kennedy noted: ‘What happens when your body is in that state is that your body releases adrenalin to help you deal with the problem at hand.
‘It takes longer to settle down, to fall asleep – and your sleep isn’t going to be as restful.’
- NEVER DRINK A LOT OF ALCOHOL BEFORE BED
After a long, stressful day at work a glass of wine before bed may feel like the perfect antidote to help you unwind.
But Dr Ohayon warned that consuming alcohol before bed can lead to disrupted sleep.
On the one hand, drinking alcohol increases the likelihood that a person will snore.
Dr Ohayon said: ‘It induces sedation and relaxation of the muscles inside the throat and nose that are responsible for snoring.’
Alcohol can also make a person wake up more often during the night, experts cautioned.
Furthermore, passing out after downing a few too many drinks does not lead to the same sort of restful sleep a person would otherwise experience.
Dr Kennedy explained: ‘It keeps your sleep in a lighter state – you don’t get as much deep sleep.’
- NEVER HAVE CAFFEINE BEFORE BED
We all know the score, that first hit of caffeine in the morning to shock start the brain into work mode.
And while more habitual than not, for most, a regular cup of coffee or tea throughout the day helps boost productivity.
But, the advise from the sleep experts is clear.
Avoid all caffeine later in the day, restricting intake after lunchtime, or risk lying in bed unable to sleep.
Dr Kennedy said: ‘You want to avoid caffeine at night – and often a lot of people need to avoid it in the afternoon, too.’
The body takes a long time to metabolize caffeine, so your 4pm cup of coffee could lead to a restless night.
‘Even if it doesn’t keep you awake, it compromises sleep quality, so you’re not going to be getting the deep sleep you otherwise would,’ Dr Kennedy said.
7. NEVER LEAVE THE LIGHTS ON BEFORE BED
Sleep experts agree that a small nightlight is perfectly harmless.
However, falling asleep with all of the lights on is a major sleep no-no.
Dr Ohayon said: ‘Sleeping with the light on around you is not recommended.’
Studies have shown that a small amount of light will have no big impact on your sleep.
But, sleeping in an overly lit room can confuse the body – which needs darkness to usher in rest.
‘More and more, we have seen that 10 to 15 per cent of the general population in America is sleeping in front of the TV or in bed in front of the TV – with all of the lights on,’ Dr Ohayon said.
‘Having all that light around them is not the proper environment for sleep.’