If you have 99 problems, make sure sleep isn’t one of them.
by Reem Khaleel April 14, 2023
If you’re a part of the lucky percent who lie awake at night wondering why you’re losing out on precious sleep time, welcome. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), nearly 35% of adults average less than seven hours of sleep per night (the recommended amount is seven to nine hours). If this doesn’t sound like a big deal, a recent study discovered that just one night of inadequate sleep can age the appearance of the brain by one to two years. Thankfully, this is reversible with a good night’s rest, but consistently missing out on sleep can affect your mood, appetite, and ability to function. It could also potentially signal a sleep disorder, which affects nearly 70 million people in the United States, according to Cleveland Clinic. (More on that later.)
Whether you’re a reluctant sleep owl or completely unsure of what’s keeping you awake, the good news is you have options. From learning to ignore the ever-enticing blue light emission from your smartphone to managing your seasonal allergies, simple adjustments to your daily routine could mean more sleep and better sleep quality
What is Sleep Quality?
According to NSF, even if you get enough hours of sleep, you might not be getting restful sleep. “Sleep quality refers to the subjective experience of sleep's effectiveness and restorative value,” Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Boca Raton, Florida, tells Intrigue.
Sleep quality can be measured with this simple formula: Your total time in bed (in minutes) minus how many minutes it took you to fall asleep, subtracted by how many minutes you spent awake during the night. This value represents the actual time you spent sleeping. Divide that number by your total time in bed (in minutes). Lastly, multiply that number by 100 for your sleep efficiency percentage. To put this into perspective, if you were in bed for a total of seven hours and it took you 10 minutes to fall asleep, but you woke up for 20 minutes during the night, your sleep quality calculates to 92.8%.
Ideally, you should spend 85% or more of the night sleeping to ensure adequate sleep quality. NSF classifies poor sleep quality as taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep (sleep latency), waking up more than once during the night (sleep waking), or taking longer than 20 minutes to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night (wakefulness).
Why is My Sleep Getting Worse?
One common reason why your sleep could be getting worse is an underlying sleep disorder. According to Cleveland Clinic, there are nearly 80 different types of sleep disorders, the most common being insomnia (when you aren’t sleeping as well as you should), narcolepsy (when you can’t resist the urge to fall asleep suddenly during the day), restless legs syndrome (when you have the consistent urge to move while lying down), and sleep apnea (when you temporarily stop breathing while sleeping, snoring being a common symptom).
If you don’t have symptoms of a sleep disorder or signify poor sleep quality but occasionally lie awake at night, here are some external factors that could be preventing you from getting much-needed rest.
Whether you’re overly hydrated or not hydrated enough, the impact on your body could mean less quality sleep. Dehydration can cause increased feelings of tiredness, lethargy, and fatigue, according to Mayo Clinic. Alternately, overhydration can cause you to wake up too often to pee, which can just as well keep you from getting a good night’s rest. To prevent the former, sip fluids regularly throughout the day to stay hydrated. Shortly before bedtime, reduce that amount to avoid waking up throughout the night to use the bathroom, suggests the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), which recommends also emptying your bladder before bed. Additionally, limiting caffeine after noon and alcohol consumption to one drink several hours before bedtime can help with falling and staying asleep. Caffeine and alcohol have diuretic effects, which cause dehydration and add to your need for late-night urination, per Mayo Clinic.
Caffeine and alcohol
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the effects of caffeine begin about 30 minutes after consumption and can last up to five hours or longer. Since caffeine is often used to boost cognitive function and the effects take some time to wear off, drinking caffeine too close to bedtime can keep you awake. “That surplus adenosine from excessive caffeine consumption is not always fully flushed from the body during a standard sleep cycle and can therefore contribute to the morning grogginess that many of us suffer from,” Stuart Sandeman, breathwork expert, author of Breathe in, Breathe Out, and the founder of Breathpod, tells Intrigue. “This often encourages people to load up on more caffeine. It’s a vicious cycle that results in even poorer quality of sleep — and tiredness all day.” If you have to have your daily brew, Sandeman suggests limiting it to one cup before 3 p.m., so that your body has time to flush out the adenosine when you sleep.
Similarly, alcohol can also negatively affect your sleep cycle. A 2018 study, published in JMIR Mental Health, found that consuming low amounts of alcohol can decrease your sleep quality by 9.3% (Moderate: 24%, High: 39.2%). Studies show that alcohol might make you fall asleep quickly, but it suppresses the first stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — the stage in the sleep cycle responsible for dreams, which usually occurs 60 to 90 minutes after falling asleep — and immediately pushes you into a deeper sleep stage, per Cleveland Clinic. If sleep continues, REM rebounds and reduces the overall amount of deep sleep, resulting in an overall decrease in both types of sleep. This overall imbalance can decrease sleep quality.
Stress and anxiety
“If you’re stressed or anxious, your body and mind are on high alert,” says Sandeman. “It's like there is a tiger in the room. If you are in this state, [your brain] will struggle to switch off and [you won’t] fall asleep.” Anxiety and stress are often factors in why your sleep problems persist because they affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. “Racing thoughts and worries can keep your mind active and prevent you from relaxing enough to fall asleep,” Dr. Rubenstein adds.
If you find yourself lying awake due to unending worries, a 2017 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, found that writing down to-do lists in a journal can help alleviate stress about incomplete future tasks. NSF also recommends keeping a daily sleep diary to track your sleep cycle, which can also help you determine whether you’re getting the rest you need.
Your subconscious decision to scroll through social media before falling asleep could further aggravate your sleep problems. According to a 2022 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, smartphones, and other electronic devices emit blue light, which stimulates parts of the brain that make you alert. Blue light also suppresses melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel drowsy. Simply turning off electronics one to two hours before bedtime can help improve sleep issues caused by blue light. Another option, if you have to do late-night work, is to use an app like f.lux, designed to adapt the colors of your screen to the time of day, reducing blue light emission on your devices at night.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies (or even year-round allergies), there’s a good chance symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, and itchiness are keeping you up at night. Especially if you are allergic to dust mites, one of the most common allergies affecting sleep quality, according to a 2017 study published in Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology. To prevent allergies from interfering with your sleep, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends keeping your bedroom allergen-free by washing your bedding frequently, cleaning your floors regularly, and blocking outdoor allergens by keeping your windows closed.
You might also consider changing your allergy treatment routine. If you take over-the-counter meds to help manage your allergies, a dosage right before bed could help you fall and *stay* asleep. Alternatively, if you find that your OTC meds just aren’t cutting it, a visit to an allergy specialist could help determine whether a prescription antihistamine is right for you.
What Are Some Things I Can Do to Fall Asleep?
Consistently having trouble sleeping and don’t know where to start? Try remedying your sleep problems with one of these calming routines:
Establish a routine: Stress is one of the main reasons people have a difficult time falling and staying asleep, per a 2018 study published in Journal of Sleep Research. By establishing a nightly routine shortly before hitting the sack, you’re helping unwind from the day’s stressors. Some activities to help unwind include drinking caffeine-free tea (chamomile and lavender have proven calming effects), taking a warm shower, and listening to soothing music. Similarly, maintaining a consistent sleep-wake schedule can also help: “Try sticking to a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and rising consistently, not excluding weekends.” says Dr. Rubenstein. “This regulates your body's internal clock and improves sleep quality.” TL;DR: Our circadian rhythm, aka our body’s internal clock, tells us how to differentiate between day and night — keeping us alert and productive during the day and making sure we get enough rest at night.
White Noise: White noise refers to varying sound frequencies that can be heard in the background at any time. Although it is often associated with radio static, white noise can range from the sound of rainstorms to fans and is often mimicked to help improve sleep quality, among other things like reducing stress and anxiety. According to NSF, white noise from a sound machine, app, or even an appliance like a fan is especially helpful to drown out sounds in a noisy setting, whether it's unwanted sounds outside your window or a raging party that your neighbors are throwing.
Deep Breathing: “The main goal of any sleep exercise is to relax your body and mind, using techniques that promote a parasympathetic response,” says Sandeman. To achieve this, Sandeman recommends practicing the 4-7-8 breathing method. “[Breathe] in through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven to allow a rise in C02, then breathe out of your mouth for a count of eight,” says Sandeman. “On your out-breath, relax your shoulders, face, jaw, forehead - let your body become heavy and relaxed.” Additionally, he suggests “[combining deep breathing] with slow relaxed breathing using your diaphragm [and] having longer out-breaths than in-breaths.” This combination, he says, is a way to make your body signal your brain to relax.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: “Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that includes tensing and relaxing muscles in a systematic way to minimize muscle tension,” says Dr. Rubenstein. “This technique can alleviate anxiety, stress, and physical pain.” To achieve this, she recommends sitting or lying down in a comfortable place and beginning a steady rhythm of deep relaxing breaths. While maintaining deep breathing, tense different muscle groups throughout your body, such as your face, shoulders, and feet for five to 10 seconds, then release until you have hit all major muscle groups. (A rule of thumb is beginning with one end of your body like the top of your head, then working your way down, or vice versa.) Between muscle groups, take several deep breaths. “Carefully focus on the difference between tension and relaxation, as this is essential to the entire exercise,” says Dr. Rubenstein.
Mindful Meditation and Gentle Yoga: “Relaxation techniques can also help with sleeping through the night,” says Dr. Rubenstein. “Try breathing exercises, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation to help calm your body and mind.” Mindful meditation is a practice that can help you reach a state of relaxation and even help you fall asleep faster since it works to reduce wandering thoughts and other negative emotions, per the Mayo Clinic. Similarly, gentle yoga before bed can also help ease tension in the body. To reduce stress, consider an app like Calm, which has been proven to reduce stress in college students who exhibit high levels.
Cannabis Oil: Research shows that short-term cannabis use can potentially help you fall asleep faster, receive more quality rest, and treat certain sleep disorders like insomnia. When incorporated into aromatherapy, it has the potential to relax and induce sleepiness. Myrcene, a monoterpene with sedative qualities found in cannabis, can be incorporated into a pre-bedtime massage or added to a diffuser for relaxed muscles and a quiet mind.
Top Products to Aid Better Sleep
With these sleep aids in your life, never again worry about restless nights or zombified days.
1. SIJO AiryWeight Eucalyptus Sheet Set, $95+
Calm flaring allergy attacks throughout the night with this luxury, sustainable sheet set. Asthma- and allergen-friendly, you won’t ever again have to worry about a sneeze attack waking you from your slumber. Made with ultra-soft eucalyptus fibers, you’re in for nothing but cool, refreshed, and comfortable nights ahead.
2. ZAMAT Butterfly Button-Shaped Cervical Pillow, now $69.99
Does chronic back pain keep you up at night? The ZAMAT Butterfly Button-Shaped Cervical Pillow features an ergonomic and adjustable design that offers head, shoulders, and neck support throughout the night, so you’re guaranteed more quality sleep or your money back after 100 days. The pillow is manufactured out of 100% premium memory foam and is adjustable to two heights to eliminate the chance of another night of poor sleep. Use code IT15 at checkout for 15% off.
Reduce stress and improve sleep with a calming blend of organic hemp, lavender, and eucalyptus. Add two to three sprays onto your pillow before bedtime and awe at its powers to transform sleepless moments into restful nights. For those who toss and turn, this formula is designed to continuously release from your pillow fibers to ensure uninterrupted slumber.
4. Slip Silk Sleep Mask, $50
If you’re sensitive to sunlight, allow the luxurious high-grade long-fiber mulberry silk of a Slip sleep mask to keep early rays from waking you before your alarm. This impressive combination of shine, thickness, softness, and durability ensures ultimate comfort and fit while you rest.
5. DEEPS CBD Sleep Patches, $29 (5 patches)
If you have trouble falling and staying asleep, DEEPS CBD Sleep Patches can help you get the deep, restorative rest you need. These patches are wearable for up to 12 hours, which means sleeping in on lazy Sundays is that much more attainable — plus, you never awake feeling groggy.
6. Nourished Sleep Tight Stack, $65.99 (Box of 28 gummies)
Don’t let work stress and daily anxiety keep you from sleeping. For those seeking an alternative to melatonin sleep aids, allow us to introduce the Sleep Tight Stack from Nourished. These 3D gummies incorporate layers (aka stacks) of targeted ingredients that work in harmony to improve overall sleep quality. The stack features key ingredients ashwagandha, a plant known for its calming effects, to help reduce stress and anxiety, and tart cherry, which has been shown to increase sleep time and efficiency in insomnia patients, per a small 2018 study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics, to increase natural melatonin production.
7. Soli Pillow, $99.99
If white noise is your snooze-time go-to, imagine its impact when permeating directly from your pillow. This unique memory foam pillow is embedded with headphones that connect via your smartphone’s Bluetooth and gently hugs your head for ultimate comfort while you rest. Since its speakers are noise-canceling, even your roommate’s loudest of snoring sessions won’t interrupt your slumber.
8. Somavedic Vedic, $980
Minimize the subtle impact of your surroundings with this next-level device, designed to digitally neutralize pollution caused by Wifi devices, geopathic stress, free radicals, and more. Scientifically proven to reduce stress and depression and ultimately, improve your overall quality of sleep, Vedic is every bit worth its seemingly hefty price tag. Nervous to take the leap? Somavedic offers a full refund within 60 days of purchase if you don’t notice a significant difference by then (trust us, you will).