We surveyed many sleep experts and asked them a few pointed questions regarding sleep. We highlighted some of these answers below, and discussed what seemed to be the consensus answers. You can find the names and websites of a few of the sleep experts in the reference section below.
What are the most common causes of sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation is a serious thing, which is the condition of not getting enough sleep. Depending on the level, sleep deprivation can cause severe cognitive impairment, fatigue, weight loss or gain, achiness irritability, headaches, and possibly hallucinations. We asked our sleep experts to list 3 of the most common reasons behind sleep deprivation. The bulk of the answers referenced mental aspects of why people have trouble falling asleep at night, with stress and busy lives being the main factor. External factors do have a role, but ultimately it was the mental aspect which causes the root of sleep deprivation. And even though a stressful day can sometimes be unavoidable, it is ideal for one to try and create time and space between stressful events and sleep. This is why a downtime of 1-2 hours is ideal before heading to bed.
- Debbie – Use of electronics too close before bed. Improper sleep environment. Poor sleep habits & bedtime routine.
- James – Pain, anxiety, and bad habits.
- Jenn – Our lives are too busy. Sleep isn’t made a priority. Too many electronics in the bedroom.
- Jordan – Social/work/family pressures — the difficult balance of a long work day, tending to family, and trying to juggle social demands can lead to people staying up late while still having to set their alarm early for work in the morning.
- Inell – Caffeine, screen time, shift work, sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep hygiene.
How many hours before bed should one stop drinking coffee?
Coffee is said to be the most popular drug in the world, with the reason for this being that caffeine is a major stimulant found in coffee. Unsurprisingly, sleep experts were fairly cautious here and recommended not drinking coffee anywhere near bedtime. This is because caffeine can stay in one’s body for up to 16 hours after consumption (depending on the amount ingested), and although one can fall asleep before that, the sleep will be disrupted and is not ideal. The smallest time frame offered by two sleep experts was 4 hours before bed, with the majority of them recommending to wait at least 8 hours, with some going as high as 12 hours. The exact average was 6:40 before bed.
- Jenn – Depends on how it affects you, but should stop drinking coffee after lunch (8 hrs).
- Jordan – Caffeine has a half-life of about 4 hours, meaning it takes 4 hours for half of the caffeine you ingest to metabolize. So even 12 hours after a cup of coffee, you’ve still got some caffeine pumping through your veins. It varies from person-to-person, but limiting coffee to before lunchtime (if you go to bed at night) is best.
- Inell – No coffee or caffeine after lunch.
- Shannon – For adults, usually 6 hours, but for people who are really sensitive to caffeine, nothing after 12pm.
How many hours before bed should one stop eating?
Eating before bed is an obvious weight gain issue, as nutritionists across the board advise meals to be finished at least 3 hours prior to bedtime. However, sleep experts advice against pre-bedtime food for different reasons. Eating a lot of food will increase blood flow to one’s digestive tract, causing the stomach to secrete extra gastric acid which makes the intestinal muscles work harder. This will stimulate one’s metabolism at a point when it should be slowing down. Experts tended to agree on this one; 2 or 3 hours before bed was the recommended time between eating a meal and sleeping. Laura pointed out that children have no issue, and can eat just before bed. Experts also allowed pre-bedtime snacks, so long as the portions were not huge.
- Helene – Large dinners late at night interfere with sleep, but a light snack at bedtime might be necessary for some people.
- Laura – I’ve never seen a child sleep poorly based on when their last meal is. Many children need to go to bed very early, which means they eat dinner and go to bed immediately. I have never seen this negatively impact their sleep.
What are the worst foods to eat before going to sleep?
Eating before bedtime, depending on when you partake, can have an immense effect on one’s ability to fall asleep as well as quality. The most consistent answer from all experts was a combination of spicy, sugar, and caffeinated foods. There were a few experts who also recommended avoiding meat and chicken, which takes longer for the digestive system to break down. One expert recommended avoiding celery.
- Andrea – Meat, chocolate, heavy foods.
- Angelique – Spicy food, alcohol, caffeine, foods that are difficult to digest.
- Hannah – Anything with caffeine (chocolate, tea coffee, coke) or high sugar foods which can cause a surge in blood sugar. Also high protein foods such as meat or cheese.
- James – Spice and caffeinated.
- Jenn – Heavy, fatty foods like steak dinner. Makes the digestive system work harder right before bed and can cause heartburn.
Can a full moon affect one’s sleep?
Scientifically speaking, few of the experts wished to state unequivocally that a full moon can affect sleep, though many were quick to qualify that information, by offering anecdotal information. The sleep experts sang a familiar tune: a full moon should not affect sleep (according to scientific research), however, from both patients and continued anecdotal evidence, it seems to experts that a full moon certainly does disrupt sleep. Only two experts stated clear no’s, but even then they seemed to qualify their responses: “no definitive proof” and “not that I’m aware of”, thereby indicating some level of doubt as to fully ruling it out.
- Andrea – Yes. We do at times get extra complaints of child sleep disruptions on a full moon.
- Hannah – Yes most definitely- from working with families for years I always know when the full moon is as the babies suddenly wake up much more!
- Jordan – Likely not in the sense that it makes people “crazy,” but if the extra light is shining through your bedroom window, it has potential to disrupt your ability to fall asleep.
- Laura – Yes, I’ve seen this many times with my own children and with my clients!
- Niamh – My head says no, but I know lots of people who feel this way.
- Shannon – People often report poorer sleep on full moon nights and parents will say the same about their children. Research seems to be a bit inconclusive on the topic.
Does not wearing socks make it harder to fall asleep?
Wearing socks to sleep has been the source of debate between people who maintain that it is an absolutely necessity, to those who claim that the question doesn’t even hold weight. That’s why we asked the sleep experts, and they gave conflicting reports here. Some reported that patients often feel hot (perhaps due to the stress of not being able to fall asleep), in which case socks would not be recommended. Other experts reported patients preferring socks as it keeps them warm. A few experts abstained from this question, as they noted that it completely depends on the patient. There were also a few experts who did touch on the scientific reasons, in that socks keep the blood circulating, perhaps lowering the chances of waking up in the night. Ultimately, however, this really came down to personal preference.
- Bea – Not necessarily, but research does suggest that wearing socks can make it easier for people to fall asleep in that blood is better circulated this way; you can also get a similar effect by putting a hot water bottle by your feet.
- Helene – Not specifically, but finding a comfortable temperature is important for sleep and temperature can affect different people in different ways.
- Kathryn – People who sleep poorly report feeling hotter so in my opinion socks would make you more likely to get hot and have disturbed sleep.
- Shannon – That completely matters on the person however it is something recommended for adults who are having difficulty falling asleep.
Can bedding material affect one’s sleep? (Cotton, satin, & silk)
The type of bedding one uses for sleep can definitely have an effect. The most important element to sleeping well is having soft sheets- abrasive or itchy sheets will cause one to remain awake. Satin sheets are considered the baseline for any soft and comfortable sheets, as they give off a silk-like soft and smooth feel. Silk is a preferred option though, as it allows air to travel through, and won’t cause one to wake up hot and sweaty. Sleep experts across the board agreed that breathability was the biggest factor for having the right bedding to sleep. In that case, cotton and silk are the two recommended sheets.
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- Andrea – Yes of course, particularly for children who snuggle in to the sheets as part of self-soothing.
- Bea – Yes – materials affect heat (e.g. Cotton can keep us cooler, which can help us sleep better).
- Kathryn –The more comfortable and cool your bed can be, the better your chances of sleeping well.
- Laura – Definitely. Materials that don’t breathe leave moisture on the skin from sweat (which we do in certain stages of sleep).
- Niamh – Of course. Comfort is key to good quality sleep. But it’s down to preferences. I’m a cotton girl!
Pre-Bedtime Activities & Sleep Disruption
We asked experts to rank the following activities in order of least conducive to most conducive toward falling asleep. One point was given for least disruptive, and 7 points were given for most disruptive.
Analysis: There were some interesting results: cigarettes were ranked as more disruptive than alcohol. Generally alcohol is considered a big no-no in terms of getting a proper night’s sleep, but it seems that experts judged the nicotine content of to be more damaging than the potential caffeine and sugars found in alcohol. Most shocking was that email and Facebook (social media) scored as more disruptive than exercise, alcohol, and TV. This is a sign that experts understand that the never-ending train of social media truly never sleeps, and will affect one’s ability to fall asleep. Some experts also made sure to differentiate between falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Bea – (Regarding exercise) yoga is okay, aerobic is probably higher on the list than logging into email.
- Jordan – It depends on the person (i.e. how their body handles exercise close to bedtime, how much they typically drink/smoke, etc). Also note that while something like reading e-mail will make you fall asleep later, something like alcohol will help you fall asleep faster, but will also disrupt your sleep halfway through the night, so all of these things have different mechanisms.
- Hannah – Newspaper/TV/Email depends on content and stress levels.
Sleep Expert References:
Below are the names of a portion of the sleep experts that participated in the study (in alphabetical order), as well as Twitter handles and website names: