The 10 Worst Habits That Ruin Sleep and Cause Insomnia


Eating a Large Meal Before Bed

Man eating a large meal

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There’s nothing like a full bladder or stomach to disrupt your sleep. Getting up to urinate will interrupt sound rest, so drinking too much before bed may mean multiple trips to the bathroom during the night. Eating a large meal near bedtime may provoke heartburn symptoms when you lie down that can make you uncomfortable. Obstructive sleep apnea can also cause both nocturia and heartburn at night.


Lying Awake in Bed

If you are having trouble getting to sleep, the last thing you need to do is lie there awake. If this happens chronically, as may occur in insomnia, you may learn to associate your bed with anxiety and not being asleep. Rather than tossing and turning, try a relaxing activity like reading. If you continue to struggle, get out of bed to reset your sleep.


Sleeping Somewhere Too Cold, Too Warm, or Too Noisy

It’s no use trying to sleep somewhere that is stimulating to our senses. If the stereo is blaring, the lights are on, and it’s stifling, how can you expect to sleep? Subtle variations on this theme will likewise make it hard to catch a few winks. Keep the bedroom comfortable with low lighting, noise, and temperature.


Taking Long Naps

This one may be a little controversial. Some cultures promote the midday nap, and many people swear by them. If you sleep well at night, it may not be a problem. However, if you are having trouble sleeping then, the last thing you need to do is to add fuel to the fire by sleeping some during the day. Naps diminish your ability to sleep at night, and excessive daytime sleepiness may suggest a sleep disorder like sleep apnea.


Using Your Bedroom as a Multipurpose Room

Filling your bedroom with televisions, gaming systems, computers, telephones, and other gadgets will ensure a plethora of stimulation will be at hand. Unfortunately, none of these will help you to sleep better. The light off screens may be harmful to sleep. Using them just prior to bed will prompt your brain to be active, and this is the last thing you need to fall asleep. Charge your phone in the kitchen and clear out technology from your sleep sanctuary.


Drinking Alcohol, Coffee, or Smoking a Cigarette Before Bed

Though grandpa may have always enjoyed an alcoholic “nightcap” to get to sleep, this is actually not helpful. Alcohol may cause you to feel a little drowsy, but it fragments the stages of your sleep and makes it more disrupted as it wears off. It may worsen snoring and sleep apnea if consumed near your bedtime. Caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, soda pop, and foods like chocolate work as stimulants to keep you awake for hours. Caffeine should be avoided in the 4 to 6 hours before bed or earlier if you are sensitive to its effects. Likewise, the nicotine from a cigarette will ruin your ability to sleep, and the craving associated with withdrawal may wake you during the night.


Sleeping Less When You're Busy

We all get busy for different reasons, and it’s easy to find extra time in the day by sleeping less. Why waste 8 hours in bed? Wouldn’t you rather be watching television, playing on the internet, or spending time with your friends or family? Unfortunately, the quality of the time we spend awake is significantly impacted by not getting enough rest. If you cut back on sleep, you may find that you aren’t gaining much if you spend the day bleary-eyed and befuddled. Get enough time in bed to meet your sleep needs every night.


Staying Active Until the Moment Before Hopping Into Bed

Sleep is a quiet, relaxing activity, so it doesn’t make much sense to try to transition to that directly from something that is quite the opposite. Our bodies don’t do well with abrupt changes. The same is true for getting ready to sleep. Quiet sleep rituals such as reading, listening to calming music or taking a nice bath help to prepare us mentally and physically for sleep. Spend the 30 to 60 minutes before your bedtime preparing your body and mind for sleep.


Exercising Vigorously Before Bed

Although it is ideal to exercise for 30 minutes every day—and this will likely ensure a good night’s sleep—doing it right before bed is probably a bad idea. It causes difficulties as your body will be revved up when you should be winding down. It may raise your body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Don't go to bed sweaty from your workout. Try to minimize aerobic exercise right before bedtime, unless it is the only time of the day that you can find to get your exercising done.


Varying Your Sleep Time From One Day to the Next

We are creatures of habit, and our sleep is no exception. If you go to bed and get up at different times every day, your body will have no sense of when it is supposed to feel tired and sleepy. This ultimately depends on our natural clock called the circadian rhythm, and varying the times we are asleep can negatively influence it. By keeping a consistent schedule, we are able to sleep better. Start by fixing your wake time with an alarm and go to bed when you feel sleepy, ensuring you get enough hours on a consistent basis to meet your sleep needs.

A Word From Verywell

If you have ruined your sleep, seek help to get back on track by consulting with a board-certified sleep physician. Simple interventions and, as needed, a formal cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) program may help you to resolve your difficulty sleeping.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Sleep Foundation. Caffeine and Sleep.

  3. Kline CE. The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2014;8(6):375-379. doi:10.1177/1559827614544437

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.