Consuming large, heavy mealsTPM-FOTO/ShutterstockLate-night eating might be a favorite pastime, but guess what? Your digestive tract was meant to be at rest when you sleep—not hard at work. In fact, the process of digestion (peristalsis) is at its lowest ebb during sleep, says Robert S. Rosenberg, MD, board-certified sleep medicine physician and author of The Doctor's Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety, so, when you just wolfed down a couple tacos or slices of pizza, it's not prepared to handle the volume. If you're hungry before bedtime, a small amount of food may be helpful, suggests Mark Buchfuhrer, MD, medical director of the Comprehensive Sleep Center at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, but for those dealing with bladder control issues or prostate problems, avoid liquids after dinner time (or for five to six hours before bedtime). Doing so can decrease the need to get up and go to the bathroom, which often significantly disrupts sleep.
Evening cocktailsoneinchpunch/ShutterstockKnocking back a few drinks might make you feel sleepy, but later on, as in the early morning, it may trigger your sympathetic (fight or flight) system and make it near-impossible for you stay asleep, says Dr. Rosenberg. "It can also trigger disturbing dreams, as, at first, it suppresses dream sleep, but then you may develop increasingly vivid and disturbing dreams as the alcohol wears off." This is sometimes referred to as REM rebound. It takes the average human body about one hour to digest one alcoholic beverage, says Dr. Breus, so if you have two glasses of wine with dinner, aim to enjoy your last sip by at least three hours before lights out.
SmokingI-love-coffee/ShutterstockYou probably already know the countless reasons you should quit smoking, but here's another one to add to the list: Smoking. Specifically, it's the nicotine cigarettes contain that significantly impacts your ability to fall asleep. "Nicotine stimulates the production of the wake-promoting neurotransmitter, acetylcholine," says Dr. Rosenberg. "If you are using a nicotine 24/7 patch and cannot sleep, talk to your health-care provider about removing it before bedtime."
AYA-images/ShutterstockLate at night might be your only opportunity to sneak in a workout and, by all means, you should try to sneak in a workout whenever possible; however, it's important to note that revving up your energy and heart rate that late at night may prevent you from falling asleep easily. "The best time to exercise is three to four hours prior to going to sleep," says Robert Oexman, MD, a chiropractor, and director of The Sleep to Live Institute. "The increase in core body temperature followed by a decrease in core body temperature mimics the natural drop in body temperature needed to fall asleep and maintain sleep." He suggests taking a hot bath or shower at bedtime instead, as hot water increases blood flow to the skin, which decreases core body temperature when you get out.
Watching exciting moviesLopolo/ShutterstockWinding down with a movie at the end of a long day might sound like a smart idea, but be wise in your choice of genres. Scary or frightening movies cause the "stress hormone," cortisol, to rocket, which can keep you alert and awake far past bedtime. "Try not to watch horror, action, or violent movies, or read thrillers, or play video games for at least a few hours before bedtime," suggests Dr. Buchfuhrer. "Instead, choose calmer, possibly even boring flicks, such as documentaries, and relaxing activities such as reading and practicing meditation." Another don't: anything work-related as it can make you anxious or stressed.
Use electronic devicesDean-Drobot/ShutterstockThis includes computers, laptops, cellphones and just about any other electronic device that emits a blue light. "Blue light upon striking your retina will shut down your normal production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, not only impairing your ability to fall asleep, but also leaving you sleepy in the morning," says Dr. Rosenberg. Once your in bed, sleep experts advise not watching TV, but instead reading, stretching, meditating or praying, if that's your preference. "Keep up this routine for three weeks and most people begin falling asleep without the TV and experience the uninterrupted sleep they deserve," says Dr. Oexman.
Having a serious conversationSG-SHOT/ShutterstockWhether it's a solemn phone call with a friend, a late-night tiff with your significant other or a pesky neighbor that's cranking his music up too loud, fighting or talking about serious subjects before bed is not a good idea. "Confrontations lead to a stress response, with your adrenal glands producing cortisol and adrenaline," says Dr. Rosenberg. "This is the exact opposite of what you want if you're trying to fall asleep easily. In fact, once your body starts producing these stress hormones, you cannot wave a magic wand and get them to return to normal levels."
Taking certain medications
Tibor-Duris/ShutterstockSome prescription and over-the-counter medications can keep you from falling asleep. "These include stimulating medications such as Ritalin and Adderall, which elevate the levels of wake promoting neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine," Dr. Rosenberg. In fact, even some of the popular antidepressants, such as Prozac, Cymbalta, and Zoloft, can cause trouble falling asleep. The same goes for those over-the-counter allergy meds, especially if their name includes the letter D. "Zyrtec D, Allegra D, etc. all contain the decongestant phenylephrine, which can be stimulating and keep you awake," Dr. Rosenberg explains. Find out questions you should ask your doctor or pharmacist before you take that pill.