Too many of us are guilty of a prime sleep mistake: underestimating its importance. Whereas nutrition and exercise are widely acknowledged as so-called "pillars of health," sleep, while well-deserving of such high praise, is often maligned as something that's "for the weak."
But even those of us who have learned to value sufficient shut-eye aren't necessarily sleep saints. In fact, there are a number of myths that derail us and mistakes that prevent us from peacefully drifting off to the Land of Nod. Some of the biggest ones are in the slideshow below.
Falling Asleep With The TV On
One of the principle rules of a sleep-inducing bedroom is to create a sanctuary that is cool, calm, quiet -- <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20306887,00.html" target="_blank">and dark</a>. The absence of light triggers the body's natural sleepiness mechanisms to kick in, and exposing yourself to too much light too late in the day can confuse that system. That goes for more than just lamps, but also light-emitting screens, like televisions, tablets, laptops and smartphones. These constantly-blaring electronic devices interfere with our natural melatonin production, thanks to the blue-green light they emit, says Dr. Matthew Mingrone, lead physician for <a href="http://www.eossleep.com/" target="_blank">EOS Sleep Centers</a> in California. "Artificial light can actually inhibit the release of melatonin," he says. "It's more than just the stimulation of the light, it's some physiological changes that are going on." Leave the TV and the laptop and the smartphone out of the bedroom, which should be reserved for sleep and sex.
Sleeping Late On The Weekend
We know what you're thinking when Friday night rolls around: Finally, the weekend! Time to sleep in! Not so fast, experts caution. Staying up later than usual on Friday and Saturday -- and indulging in a little extra morning shut-eye Saturday and Sunday -- can throw off your biological clock as if you had traveled cross country. Experts deems this phenomenon <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/social-jet-lag-weekend-harm-health_n_1507396.html" target="_blank">social jet lag</a>. This resetting of your internal rhythms sets you up for a less-than-productive Monday, but also seems to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/social-jet-lag-weekend-harm-health_n_1507396.html" target="_blank">increase chances of being overweight</a> and other health concerns, Health.com reported. As tempting as it is to sleep in over the weekend, try as much as possible to stick to a regular sleep routine. If you must stay up late, at least try to wake up around the same time, experts say, as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/election-night-affects-sleep_n_2079015.html" target="_blank">changing wake up times is what will throw you off the most</a>.
Having A Drink To Help You Sleep
It's one of the most common "sleep aids", and yet a drink before bed likely does more bad than good. A 2013 review of studies found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/25/alcohol-sleep-rem-nonrem-deep-sleep_n_2537405.html" target="_blank">alcohol seems to rob people of REM sleep while increasing the time they spend in deep sleep</a>. While that might seem like it would be a good thing, REM sleep is a phase crucial for memory and learning, HuffPost reported. The first cycle of REM sleep may also be delayed by alcohol, meaning a post-drinking night's sleep will feel less restful, one of the study's researchers said in a statement. "It might help you initially get to sleep faster," says Mingrone, "but the quality of sleep is not going to be as good as it would be without it."
Staying In Bed When You Can't Sleep
It sounds counterproductive, but experts recommend climbing <em>out</em> of bed if you've been lying there for too long counting sheep. The longer you stay there willing yourself to drift off, the more anxious you'll become about getting your seven to nine hours. "Rather than getting more stressed out about the sleep you're losing, get up and get out of the bedroom," says Mingrone. Do something else relaxing and low-key, like reading or taking a slow walk around the house, for about half an hour, then get back into bed when you're feeling truly tired.
Relying On Prescription Sleep Meds
Consider a sleeping pill like a Band-Aid. It may mask a problem, but it won't solve it -- and the welcome sleep it brings <a href="http://www.care2.com/greenliving/top-10-sleep-mistakes-and-their-solutions.html?page=6\" target="_blank">can lead to dependency</a>, not to mention other <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/29/sleeping-pills-risks-death-hypnotics_n_1307097.html" target="_blank">serious health risks, including death</a>. "We really try our best to get patients into a good sleep hygiene routine" before using a sleep medication, says Mingrone.
Drinking Coffee Too Late In The Day
If you're drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day it's probably because you're trying <em>not</em> to fall asleep. But if you find yourself having unexpected trouble sleeping, caffeine could be a sneaky culprit. That's because the stimulant has a surprisingly long half-life, experts say, meaning you might feel the effects of that afternoon pick-me-up long into the evening. Instead, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/24/midday-energy-boost_n_3319654.html" target="_blank">when you hit that afternoon slump</a>, consider eating an energy-boosting snack, taking a short nap or getting outside for some exercise or just some sun.
Sharing The Bed With Pets
Yes, a cuddle buddy can be nice, but when your furry friend is tired of snuggling and starts to squirm or kick or purr or bark, yours is the sleep that's going to suffer. Plus, the animal dander or pollen Fido drags into the bed could trigger your <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/seasonal-allergies-sleep_n_3149119.html" target="_blank">allergies</a>, further disrupting your sleep, says Mingrone.
Having A Protein-Heavy Dinner
So you serve up a hearty grilled steak for a late dinner on the patio and then retire to bed hoping to drift off in summery slumber. No such luck? That could be because protein is harder to digest, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/26/worst-foods-for-sleep_n_2760746.html" target="_blank">your body isn't meant to be digesting when it's supposed to be asleep</a>, Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., M.P.H, told HuffPost in February. Whole grains <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/best-food-for-sleep-snacks_n_2083752.html" target="_blank">may help promote sleep</a>, so considering swapping them into your late-night dinners.
Just seven more minutes! The idea behind the snooze button is a nice one, in theory, but forcing yourself to drift in and out of sleep in such short increments disrupts the natural cycle through the various <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/sleep-stages-what-happens-during-sleep_n_1297941.html" target="_blank">phases of sleep</a>. That means all those snooze sessions don't add up to quality sleep, says Mingrone. You're better off <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/19/sleep-better-snooze-button_n_1348718.html" target="_blank">setting the alarm for later</a> and getting deeper sleep throughout those last minutes. Keep in mind, however, that there may be a health reason for your urge to snooze, says Mingrone. If you've been in bed for a solid night's rest but still wake up so tired you can't function in the morning, it could be a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/18/sneaky-sleep-apnea-symptoms-signs_n_3103531.html" target="_blank">sign of an underlying sleep disorder, like sleep apnea</a>, he says.
Worrying About Sleep
While it's certainly smart to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/13/sleep-advice-experts_n_3428857.html" target="_blank">schedule enough time for sleep</a> into your day, you also don't want to treat bedtime like an appointment. The more anxiety we foster around sleeping, the harder we make it to doze. Instead, prepare yourself for a good night's sleep with a calming and centering ritual or routine, says Mingrone. Deep breathing exercises can help, as can aromatherapy or a warm bath with candles, he says.