A woman sits up in bed in a dark room, looking at her cell phone.

Sleep is not just a luxury; it's a fundamental aspect of health and well-being. Yet, many struggle to get the quality sleep needed, while common sleep habits easily sabotage restful nights.

“One of the most pervasive and detrimental habits I see in my practice is the tendency for individuals to linger in bed while awake,” says Nathaniel Gordon, M.D. (M.D. ’15), Assistant Professor of Medicine and Sleep Medicine specialist at Eastern Virginia Medical School, part of Macon & Joan Brock Virginia Health Sciences at Old Dominion University. “They do this while either trying to fall asleep initially or when waking up during the night.” 

The pitfall of waiting in bed

Imagine your body as a finely tuned instrument. Dr. Gordon says if you repeatedly associate your bed with being awake—whether it's due to restlessness, anxiety or just difficulty falling asleep—it becomes conditioned to stay awake in that environment. This phenomenon, akin to muscle memory in sports, can seriously disrupt your ability to achieve restful sleep.

To combat this issue, Dr. Gordon often recommends a technique known as stimulus control. When you find yourself unable to sleep, get out of bed and engage in a calming activity elsewhere in your bedroom, like reading or listening to soothing music. Return to bed only when sleep is imminent and when your eyes are struggling to stay open. Over time, this practice helps reinforce your body’s association with your bed and restful sleep, breaking the cycle of wakefulness. Dr. Gordon also recommends waiting to enter bed until the last possible moment.

How screens wreck sleep

“Like many,” Dr. Gordon said, “I am guilty of scrolling through my phone before bed, which can derail the rhythm of falling asleep. Some studies suggest blue light from screens and stimulating content can disrupt melatonin production, potentially impacting the sleep onset timing and quality of sleep. To counteract this, I strive to limit screen time before bed and refrain from engaging with work-related emails. Leave it on unread status and table it until morning when you get back to the office.”

Improving sleep hygiene involves recognizing detrimental habits and replacing them with healthier practices. Small changes can lead to significant improvements in sleep quality and overall well-being.

To learn how you can improve the quality of your sleep, or to make an appointment with a Sleep Medicine provider at the EVMS Medical Group Department of Medicine at Macon & Joan Brock Virginia Health Sciences at Old Dominion University, contact our office at 757-446-5908.