Can't sleep? Doing these 3 things before bed might be to blame

·4 min read

It's almost summertime, which means the weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer. But some of the most enjoyable parts of the summer months can mess with your sleep cycle, according to experts.

"Summertime presents unique obstacles that we don't have a tendency to see during other seasons," Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist known as the "sleep doctor" and fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, told TODAY in a segment that aired April 28. Some of these include:

  • More light

  • More heat

  • More socializing

In the summer when the days are longer, this means we are exposed to more light, Breus explains. On top of this, daylight saving time is in effect in most of the U.S. during summer which adds another hour of evening sunshine. "Light exposure affects our circadian rhythm, the internal clock that makes us active during the day and sleepy at night," says Breus.

Similarly, the summer heat can also impact how we snooze. "Sleep follows our core body temperature cycle," says Breus, adding that it can be harder to sleep well if the body can't cool down at night.

The warmer weather and longer days also mean more fun. People are often more active and social during the summer months and stay up or out later compared to other seasons, says Breus.

Fortunately, there are some simple strategies to combat these obstacles and help you get a better night of sleep. Breus shares some of the biggest sleep mistakes he sees people making and how to avoid them to sleep better and longer.

Mistake #1: Nighttime skincare in bright bathroom lights

Since we're already getting increased sunlight exposure from longer summer days, says Breus, additional exposure to light in the evening can lead to later bedtimes and less hours of sleep.

Light inhibits the production of melatonin, says Breus, which is "the key that starts the engine for sleep." Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body which is released in response to darkness, TODAY previously reported.

Breus recommends trying to get most of your light exposure earlier in the day and limiting exposure in the evening from things like indoor lights, lamps or screens. This may also mean altering your nightly skincare routine, he adds.

"A lot of people take off makeup or do a skincare routine right before bed in this tremendously brightly lit mirror," says Breus. Depending on the brightness of your bathroom or mirror lights and the length of your skincare routine, this can really mess with your sleep.

"That super bright environment is basically telling your brain it’s morning time and it’s not going to be producing that melatonin," says Breus. You don't need to do your skincare routine in the dark, but you may want to time it earlier in the night, he adds. "Right after dinner or around six or seven o'clock, do your skincare routine and give yourself some time so that way you don’t get that tremendous light (before bed)," says Breus.

In addition to avoiding indoor light exposure right before bed, Breus recommends trying blackout curtains and eye masks.

Mistake #2: Exercising within 2-3 hours of bedtime

Our core body temperature varies, but tends to be higher later in the day. "It rises until about 10:30 pm at night then it falls, and when it falls, that’s a signal to your brain to release melatonin," Breus explains. Being outdoors in summer weather and hot indoor environments (like that sweaty group fitness room at the gym) can make it harder for us to cool down.

Exercising also raises the body’s core temperature and it can remain raised for hours after our workout ends, says Breus. "If you're too hot, you don’t get the melatonin release and that can inhibit your sleep," he explains.

"Avoid exercising too close to bedtime, probably about two and a half to three hours before bed," says Breus.

Breus also recommends keeping your bedroom temperature at about 65 to 68 degrees at night, which is optimal for sleeping. During the summer, use air conditioning, fans and window shades to keep the bedroom cooler, says Breus.

Mistake #3: Drinking alcohol right before you go to sleep

Summer is typically the season where we stay up later and out longer. "People’s social lives are livelier in summer, leading to them drink more alcohol, eat later and socialize a little later," says Breus. In addition to this, summer is a more popular time for vacationing.

While it's important to enjoy yourself and have fun, people should be aware of how certain summertime activities can disrupt their sleep routine, Breus adds.

One of these activities is drinking late at night. Since alcohol can interfere with sleep, says Breus, it's never a good idea to imbibe too close to your bedtime. "While this pertains to all times of the year, some people may find they drink alcohol more commonly in the summer, so it's best to avoid it for several hours before bed," says Breus.

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