5 reasons your sleep is suffering (and what to do about it)
Good sleep hygiene is paramount for good health, but 35% of adults aren’t getting the recommended hours. We explore the top 5 factors that are affecting your sleep, and how to combat them so that you can sleep like a baby, and wake up feeling superhuman.
There’s nothing quite like waking up after a poor night’s sleep and feeling like you’re going to have to struggle hard to make it through the first half of the day, let alone the afternoon. Yes, sleep is your superpower and a complex biological function that affects virtually every single one of our body’s systems.
Yet as many as 35% of adults don’t get the recommended 7 hours of sleep per day, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)(1). Though we all know that sleep is necessary for our physical and mental health, very few of us know just how physically and mentally damaging it is to suffer from long-term, and even short-term sleep deprivation. In fact, researchers estimate that between 10-30% of adults live with chronic insomnia, with others arguing the figure leans more towards 50-60%(2).
So why is sleep so important and what are the main factors that contribute to a poor night’s sleep, insomnia or sleep apnea?
1. Eating heavy foods too late in the evening
Recent research has shown that when you eat has just as much of an impact on your sleep as what you eat. Why? Because biological activities such as our metabolism and digestion are closely linked to our circadian rhythm - the internal clocks that help our body “tell the time”. Our natural body clock is synchronized with our external environment and receives cues from our environments, such as the amount of light we’re exposed to and the timing of our meals.
Snacking around the clock, and especially eating heavy meals before going to sleep can interfere with our internal clock. In fact, studies have found that eating just 5 hours later in the evening than normal delayed the pancreas’s circadian rhythm and negatively affected blood glucose tolerance(3).
So how do we combat this? The circadian rhythm diet, also known as the body clock diet, is a form of time-restricted eating which can help regulate your circadian rhythm. By only eating during daylight hours (a 12-hour window) and fasting for 12 hours immediately after your last meal, it cuts out late-night snacking and gives your body enough time to start preparing for sleep, for example releasing the hormone melatonin. It’s also particularly suitable for people who suffer from metabolic diseases, like obesity and type 2 diabetes, since fasting helps stabilise and even lower blood sugar levels(4).
2. The way you’re breathing
Many of us breathe through our mouths rather than through our noses, however, nasal breathing has been proven to be critical for a good night’s sleep. Breathing through our nose not only helps to filter out large particles, protecting our airway, but also humidifies and warms the air.
Though we’re capable of breathing orally, the mucosa in our mouth simply isn’t as capable to humidify the air we take in - which is why you can experience a dry mouth if you’ve been mouth breathing during the night. Studies have found that nasal breathing can even decrease snoring, restless sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness(5). If you experience nasal obstruction like rhinitis or allergies, then addressing this problem first with the help of a sleep medicine professional will significantly improve the quality of your sleep. We can also offer sessions with our qualified health coaches who are uniquely trained to help with issues such as sleep.
3. Your body temperature
We’ve all been there. Tossing and turning in bed during the height of summer, fan on full blast and waking up drenched in sweat. But did you know that our body temperature can affect not only our ability to fall asleep but just how long we spend in different sleep stages? Recent studies have found that a higher core body temperature is associated with a decrease in restorative slow-wave sleep and sleep quality(6).
When the body is unable to efficiently send heat away from the core, we’re more likely to wake up during the night - hence the term “tossing and turning”. Interestingly, during REM sleep, the body stops most temperature regulating behaviours like sweating and shivering, meaning you’re more sensitive and vulnerable to temperature changes during this sleep stage.
One of the most important factors that increase heat stress is humidity. Exposure to humidity has been shown to increase wakefulness, decrease REM sleep and suppress the decrease in core body temperature, meaning it’s important to monitor the humidity in your room for optimal sleep(7).
Some ways to optimise your body temperature are to use a fan or air conditioning in the summer, open windows to promote ventilation and humidity, invest in a breathable mattress and bedding, or take a warm bath an hour or two before you sleep to encourage a natural cooling effect.
4. Your bedroom layout
Your bedroom can make or break your sleep, and clutter can be hugely distracting. Having things piled up everywhere you look or too much clutter can cause stress and anxiety to build up, meaning you’re less able to switch off at night. When auditing your bedroom to optimise your sleep, try and remove anything that overly distracts you, such as piles of books or work, unfolded laundry, bills and paperwork, and unnecessary electronics.
Similarly, when decorating your room, it’s important to choose calming colours to help you relax, such as green or blue accent shades, rather than bolder colours such as red, purple or orange. And just like keeping your room cool helps promote sleep, cooler colours like light blue, lavender and green have been shown to help lower blood pressure and heart rate, so opt for Scandinavian colours rather than warmer shades(8).
5. Your sleeping position
When you’re young and healthy, your sleep position doesn’t have as much of an impact. But as you get older, the position in which you sleep can have a positive or a negative effect.
Poor sleepers have been shown to spend more time on their backs, with their heads straight, which suggests that the position in which we sleep affects the quality of our sleep(9). So which sleep position is best?
More than 60% of European adults prefer to sleep on their side for the majority of the night, and for good reason(10). For snorers or people with sleep apnea, then positioning yourself on your side or stomach can help keep the airways open, therefore reducing symptoms. If you suffer from back and neck pain for example, then many people find back sleeping to help alleviate any pain - and this is made more comfortable on a supportive mattress. For people with reflux or gastric issues, or even pregnant people, then the fetal position is one of the best, but sleeping on your right-hand side could make symptoms worse - switch to your left side to help alleviate any discomfort.
So, what’s the worst sleep position? Sleeping on your stomach has to be at the bottom of the list due to the pressure it puts on your body. While some people prefer this, it can add unnecessary strain to your muscles and joints - especially the lower back - leaving you feeling sore and tired when you wake up.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can improve your sleep quality that don’t require the help of an expert. From temperature regulation to switching up your sleep position, to optimising the times you eat food and the way you breathe. Each may require a little bit of effort at the start, but once you start waking up feeling like a superhuman, you’ll know it’s been worth it.
To get you started on your journey to better sleep, check out our range of vitamins and tools designed to help you nod off.
1 54 Shocking Sleep Statistics and Trends for 2021
2 Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities
3 PERSPECTIVE: The Long-Term Effects of Light Exposure on Establishment of Newborn Circadian Rhythm
4 Feeding Rhythms and the Circadian Regulation of Metabolism
5 Nasal obstruction as a risk factor for sleep-disordered breathing
6 Sleep on a high heat capacity mattress increases conductive body heat loss and slow wave sleep
7 Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm
8 Colors That Do and Don’t Help You Sleep
9 Sleep positions in the young adult and their relationship with the subjective quality of sleep
10 Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review