By Amy Marturana, C.P.T.– Self
Feeling rested isn’t just about getting enough sleep. If you’re always tired no matter how much sleep you’re getting, it could be that you’re simply not getting quality sleep. Yup, that old adage about quality over quantity even comes into play when we’re talking about sleep. Indeed, you absolutely should be aiming to get in the neighborhood of seven to nine hours a night. But there’s a lot more to it than that, because what you do before bed can affect how well you sleep—and come morning, some of your common habits might be making those precious eight feel no better than a measly five.
Sleep quality is tough to gauge since, well, you’re sleeping. Sometimes you toss and turn all night and know you had a bad night’s sleep, but other times, you may have no idea that your slumber wasn’t solid. “You might not be fully awakening but your brain is getting aroused during the night so you might not transition into some of the deeper stages of sleep,” Rachel Salas, M.D., an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine who specializes in sleep medicine, tells SELF. If you’re always tired and can’t figure out why, it’s likely you’re missing out on the restorative deep sleep that your body needs.
Many things we do during the day can alter how well we sleep at night. Here are some of the most likely habits sabotaging your sleep and leaving you tired AF.
- You’re exercising before bed.
Doing intense exercise right before bed can affect quality of sleep. Some people may not have a problem with it (and may benefit from it) whereas others are more sensitive. “It not only affects body temperature, but different hormonal changes from exercise can [impact sleep],” Salas says. Stick to something low-key, like yoga, if you want to move late at night. It’s best to work out in the morning or right after work—”you probably do not want to exercise within three to four hours or so of your planned bedtime,” Daniel Barone, M.D., sleep expert at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, tells SELF.
- You’re not exercising enough.
Research shows being active during the day can help you sleep soundly. “Even 20 minutes per day, ideally in the morning or right after work, has been shown to improve sleep,” Barone says. Keeping your body healthy and at a normal weight also reduces your risk for a multitude of health problems, including sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
- You eat right before bed.
A full stomach can affect your sleep quality. “If you have a heavy meal right before bedtime, you’re more likely to experience GERD or heartburn,” Salas notes.
- You go to bed hungry.
Going to bed hungry can be equally as disruptive. “It can cause you to have arousal, where you’re not fully awake but your brain is being stimulated,” Salas explains. If your growling stomach often wakes you up in the middle of the night, try having a light bedtime snack, like a bowl of yogurt or some fruit, she suggests.
- You sleep in on the weekends.
“People focus on getting enough sleep, and that’s important, but a lot of people don’t emphasize the importance of a consistent sleep-wake schedule,” Salas says. Even if you’re getting plenty of sleep, this inconsistency can leave you feeling sleep deprived. Some people are more sensitive to schedule changes than others, but Salas says being just 30 minutes off can affect some people. In fact, waking up at the same time every day can actually have a bigger impact on sleep quality than when you go to bed.
- You’re addicted to your phone.
“If you’re getting a lot of bright light stimulation later in the day, it can impact circadian rhythm and sleep quality” by impacting melatonin (sleep-inducing hormone) production, Salas says. She recommends dimming the lights when you get home after work, using lamps instead of harsh overhead lights, and dimming your phone, tablets, computers, and TVs to help your body remember it’s nighttime and sleep is near. “I always advise my patients to completely stop using electronics about 30 to 60 minutes before their planned bedtime,” Barone says.
- Your pillow or mattress is old.
“It’s amazing how many people still have their childhood pillow,” Salas says. That mound of fabric and feathers collects dust (plus mites and dead skin cells) over time. Especially if you’re allergic to dust, this can impact your health and keep you from sleeping well. You should replace your pillow every two years, Salas recommends. Your mattress also shouldn’t be vintage; if you never feel fully rested and you can’t remember when you bought it, it might be time to invest in a new one.
- Your sheets are dirty.
Washing your sheets and remaking your bed is annoying, we get it. But you need to do it for both your personal hygiene and sleep hygiene. Salas recommends washing yours at least every two weeks. Eliminating allergens and germs will help you sleep better—and there is really no better feeling than climbing into a clean bed.
- Your room is too bright.
The bedroom should be as dark as possible, Barone says. Having the TV on in your room or even using night lights can also have an impact. “That kind of stuff can go through even the eyelids and be alerting,” Salas says.
- Your room is too warm.
The ideal sleeping temperature may vary by person, but Salas says she usually recommends setting the thermostat to around 68 degrees. (The National Sleep Foundation suggests between 60 and 67 degrees.) You should also wear lightweight, breathable pajamas
- Your room is too dusty.
When’s the last time you vacuumed? But really, the truth. If you don’t do it regularly, dust that accumulates on your floor and around your room, and can impact your sleep especially if you have allergies. Maintaining a regular cleaning schedule (not just once a month or when you’re having a guest over) and even investing in an air purifier can help.
- You have a sleep disorder.
If you know you’re getting adequate sleep and practice good sleep hygiene, and still can’t figure out why you’re so zonked all the time, see a sleep specialist. “This is a red flag and you should be looked at for an underlying sleep disorder,” Salas says. Anything from sleep apnea to parasomnia (doing things in your sleep, like walking or talking) can keep you from getting the restorative sleep you need and can be managed with the help of a professional.