If you’re having trouble sleeping, your instinct will be to turn your attention to your stress levels, your screen time, or other obvious causes of late-night restlessness and insomnia.
You might not, however, have thought about some of your healthy habits that might be affecting your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep.
The idea that your healthy habits could be sabotaging your sleep is surprising at first, but the truth is, not every wellness practice works the same way for everyone. For example, someone might benefit from a certain supplement or nighttime ritual and the next person might not.
So without further adieu, these are the healthy habits that might be sabotaging your sleep:
Your Supplement Regimens
A quick internet search produces a very long list of sleep supplements, including magnesium, melatonin, chamomile, l-theanine, CBD, and GABA — just to name a few. But as with all supplements, you should exercise caution and it’s best to work with an expert, especially if you’re taking them for extended periods of time. Many of these supplements are controversial and haven’t been studied extensively for long-term side effects. For example, Johns Hopkins does not recommend taking melatonin for more than a couple of months at a time.
Sleep is a very delicate thing, and while many of these sleep supplements will help you fall asleep quicker, they have the potential to cause side effects like anxiety, interfere with your sleep cycle, and even make you feel groggy and unrested in the morning. In some cases, like with CBD, certain doses can actually keep you awake.
When it comes to supporting healthy sleep, start by focusing on simple sleep tips like decreasing caffeine consumption in the afternoons and eliminating late-night screen time, and only turning to supplements after you’ve exhausted all other options.
Your Workout Routine
There’s no questioning the fact that moving your body is amazing for your health; in fact, exercise is one of the absolute best things you can do to improve your sleep. Study after study has shown that exercise can raise your core temperature, release endorphins, and help relieve stress to get you to sleep fast. In fact, according to Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital, just 30 minutes of exercise today could improve your sleep quality significantly as early as tonight. “It’s generally not going to take months or years to see a benefit…And patients don’t need to feel like they have to train for the Boston Marathon to become a better sleeper,” she says.
So what’s the problem, then? A potential issue can arise if you work out too vigorously or too late in the day. Exercise triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol. And while this is typically only short-term, if you exercise too late in the day, the waking effects of exercise might still be present when you lay your head down on your pillow.
You can still move your body before bed, but avoid anything too intense. For example, a study published in Sports Medicine suggests avoiding vigorous activity at least one hour before bed. Instead, try a short yoga sequence or some stretching.
Your Healthy Eating Swaps
Improving your diet is a great way to support optimal sleep. Avoiding ingredients like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can lead to better sleep and certain foods — like bananas, peanut butter, squash, and lentils — may actually help you sleep better. That said, there are some ‘healthy’ foods that might be sabotaging your sleep without you realizing it.
For example, switching from milk chocolate to dark chocolate is an all-around healthy move, but dark chocolate contains higher levels of cacao — a natural source of caffeine. That means enjoying some dark chocolate or a Raw Cacao Hot Chocolate after dinner isn’t the wisest choice, however healthy they may be in theory.
Another common offender is tea, which can be hiding in places you might expect. There are a ton of green-tea-infused recipes and matcha, which is a highly concentrated form of green tea (and caffeine!), is often added to snacks, baked goods, and desserts. Another one is kombucha, which is a form of fermented tea that is great for your gut — but still contains caffeine.
If you suspect any of these healthy habits are interfering with your sleep, don’t be discouraged! Nailing down a wellness routine that truly serves you takes time and requires a willingness to constantly question and change your habits — even the “healthy” ones.