Signs You Have Bad Sleep Hygiene and How to Fix It

If Acid Reflux is Disrupting Sleep… Acid reflux or GERD happens when the sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus doesn’t close all the way. When… Samantha Davis - November 10, 2022
Discomfort from acid reflux makes it hard to sleep. Shutterstock.

If Acid Reflux is Disrupting Sleep…

Acid reflux or GERD happens when the sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus doesn’t close all the way. When you eat, levels of stomach acid rise and splash up. They can also enter your esophagus, which causes discomfort associated with acid reflux. In addition to being uncomfortable, acid reflux also disrupts sleep.

Surprisingly, acid reflux has also been linked to a higher occurrence of sleep apnea. Around 60% of people with sleep apnea also have GERD. It’s not known why these two things are connected, but it is there. The foods you eat could also be affecting your sleep if they make you feel gassy. This bloating causes discomfort that stops you from falling into a deep sleep.

Avoid heavy foods like these within 3-4 hours of bedtime. Shutterstock.

Change When and What You Eat Before Bed

Eating too close to bedtime is one of the worst habits for your body. For people with acid reflux, having a full tummy raises acid levels and makes it more likely you’ll experience discomfort. Additionally, eating foods that are especially heavy, greasy, or spicy right before bed also causes discomfort. Finally, knowing your digestive tract and what foods cause irritation helps know what to avoid.

Even though you don’t want to eat too close to bedtime, you also shouldn’t go to bed hungry because it can disrupt sleep. For people who struggle with diabetes or low blood sugar, there is also a risk of levels bottoming out. The key here is eating the right types of food as a snack before bed. Have a small snack no later than 90 minutes before bed and make it something with fiber and protein, rather than something filled with sugar or simple carbs.

Spicy foods can cause inflammation and discomfort, especially before bed. Shutterstock.

If Your Diet is Decreasing Sleep Quality…’

The things we eat play a big role in the quality of sleep you’re getting. While we’ve already talked about greasy, spicy foods, certain foods you don’t realize are stimulants can also harm your ability to get a good night of sleep. Avoiding caffeine for up to six hours before bedtime is a given. But did you know that some kinds of chocolate, tea, and soda have caffeine that could be keeping you up at night?

Eating high-fat or highly processed foods that your body has a hard time digesting is also something that should be avoided for up to four hours before bedtime. If your body is still working on digestion when you lay down, it isn’t going to fall into that deep, restorative stage. Additionally, these heavy foods make it more likely you’ll need a bathroom trip to evacuate waste in the middle of the night.

Eating serotonin-rich kiwi before bed can help you get better quality sleep. Shutterstock.

Try These Foods Instead

In addition to altering what you eat before bed, adding certain foods to your diet helps you get a better night of rest. In one study, researchers had participants consume kiwi fruit before bed and found that it improved sleep onset, quality, and duration. This is likely from the high levels of antioxidants and the hormone serotonin found in the fruit, which has been linked to a good night’s rest.

Kiwi is not alone in its ability to help you rest. Some other recommended foods include tart cherries that promote the production of melatonin, fatty fish and nuts that regulate the hormone melatonin, and malted milk that’s been linked to a full night of sleep. Eating foods rich in tryptophan like cottage cheese, turkey, chicken, and pumpkin seeds can also promote melatonin production for better sleep.

Some medications keep the mind stimulated and make it harder to sleep. Pixabay.

If You Take Medications…

When your doctor prescribes medication as a treatment for something, they generally weigh the pros and cons. I have yet to see a medication without at least some kind of mild side effects and sometimes, those side effects mean that you aren’t getting a full night of sleep. Sometimes medication makes it harder to fall asleep and other times, it might cause sleep disturbances.

Sleep disturbances cover everything from decreased REM sleep to actual disturbances including waking frequently and nightmares. Some prescription drugs known to cause problems with sleep include alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, SSRI antidepressants, ACE inhibitors, non-sedative antihistamines, corticosteroids, and statins. This is far from being a complete list. If you do take medication and are having problems with sleep, it’s worth addressing with your doctor.

Your doctor might adjust dosages or switch to a medication with less sleep side effects. Shutterstock.

Talk to Your Doctor About Adjusting Medication That Disrupts Your Sleep

Unfortunately, losing sleep is a side effect that’s pretty common with certain medications. Since a lack of sleep can actually make symptoms of certain conditions worse, it’s important that you address this with your doctor to help find balance. They might suggest switching when you take the medication or try adjusting the dosage so the side effects aren’t as strong.

In other cases, your doctor might decide to try another medication to manage your illness completely. Even if you know that your prescriptions are causing problems, it’s important that you talk to your doctor before adjusting your dosage or discontinuing them. Some conditions become life-threatening when they aren’t properly managed and stopping meds cold turkey could lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Poor mental health makes it hard to get a good night of rest. Shutterstock.

If You Have Mental Health Conditions…

Mental health and sleep have a relationship where it’s hard to tell which one affects the other more. People who have conditions like anxiety or depression often have trouble forming good sleeping habits. The brain processes emotional content during the REM stage. For people who have trouble reaching this, it can have disastrous consequences for their mental health the following day.

Failing to get REM sleep has also been associated with failure to process positive emotional content. Research shows that a lack of sleep affects things like impulse control and your ability to regulate emotions. Furthermore, not resting well increases the risk of mental health symptoms, including suicidal ideations. Obstructive sleep apnea also shows a strong correlation to poor mental health.

Developing coping skills to handle stress can help you get a better night’s sleep. Shutterstock.

Talk to Your Doctor About Sleeping Troubles

Managing mental health is a challenge. It requires a balance of eating foods that promote mental health, managing life stresses, developing good coping skills, and getting enough sleep. While it can be exhausting to try to manage all this, talking to your doctor about how you can get better sleep at night can help your mental health symptoms drastically.

People who struggle with mental health can also be drastically helped by following a nighttime routine to help them relax. It’s incredibly easy to lose sleep when you are worried about the things that are stressing you or playing depressing thoughts in your head. Find a nighttime routine that helps you relax and talk to your doctor about medication for sleep if you think it will help.

People with RLS feel like their legs are crawling when they are at rest. Shutterstock.

If Your Legs Keep You Up at Night…

It’s estimated that around 7-10 percent of the population struggles with Restless Leg Syndrome, also called RLS or Willis-Ekbom disease. It’s a condition that anyone can experience, regardless of age. However, women are more likely to experience RLS than men. Even though the symptoms of RLS are most commonly felt at night, it even affects your life during the day.

Often, people with RLS report symptoms of discomfort in their legs. This is compared to feelings of crawling, throbbing, itching, and aching and it happens when you are at rest. This sensation makes it incredibly difficult to fall asleep, so people with untreated RLS are often tired the next day. It can even lead to exhaustion severe enough to impact your ability to work.

RLS may be managed by treating an underlying condition. Shutterstock.

Talk to Your Doctor About Restless Leg Syndrome

Treating RLS comes down to finding out what caused it. Some people experience these symptoms as a result of disease but in other cases, it can be caused by nerve damage, iron deficiency, hemodialysis, and end-stage renal failure. Symptoms of restless leg syndrome can also be exacerbated by alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine consumption.

In the event that your RLS is not the result of an underlying iron deficiency or something else, it’s likely a physician will prescribe medication that relieves your symptoms and makes it easier to get a full night of rest. This can include everything from drugs to increase dopamine levels associated with RLS symptoms to muscle relaxers. You can also help relax muscles by taking a hot shower or bath before bed.

Racing thoughts could indicate too much stress or underlying anxiety. Shutterstock.

If Racing Thoughts Keep You Up…

People experience racing thoughts for a number of reasons. They might struggle with a mental health condition or mood disorder like anxiety or bipolar. Other people might struggle with racing thoughts because they live a stressful life or are experiencing a stressful event like the loss of a job, divorce, or even the death of a pet or family member.

Unfortunately, racing thoughts interrupt sleep and this creates a cyclic issue. When your brain doesn’t rest enough, it has a hard time focusing and may jump from thought to thought. This increases the chance of racing thoughts, particularly in people who already have anxiety or another condition. While medication can help manage anxiety, taking other steps to relax before bed also helps.

Practicing mindfulness during the day helps you relax at night. Shutterstock.

Practice Mindfulness During the Day and Before Bed

For people who worry, whether it’s caused by anxiety, stress, or something else, mindfulness can have a huge impact on how quickly you can let go of those thoughts and get some sleep. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. This means that when a negative thought interrupts you from trying to drift off to sleep, you acknowledge it and then let it go.

Mindfulness isn’t something most people get the hang of the first time that they try it, but you will get better with practice. Start by sitting in a quiet and taking a few deep breaths. Then, try to clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Some people start by visualizing something like a stop sign or apple to keep their minds focused. If you have interrupting thoughts, acknowledge them and let them pass, without dwelling on them too much.

Menopause causes hot flashes and night sweats that are intense enough to wake you up. Shutterstock.

If Menopause Keeps You Up at Night…

While it’s estimated only 12% of women experience sleep difficulties, that number jumps drastically to 40% when you are talking about women in their 40s and 50s. The reason for this increase is the increased likelihood of menopause, which happens pretty commonly around this age. Menopause comes with a lot of uncomfortable symptoms as your body adjusts to lower estrogen levels.

Some uncomfortable symptoms include increased heart rate and body temperature associated with hot flashes. At night, hot flashes are known as night sweats. It’s not uncommon for episodes to last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, but it’s often enough to wake a woman up and disrupt her sleep.

A cooling mattress and comfortable bed sheets help you sleep better. Shutterstock.

Take Steps to Keep Your Room Cooler

While there is no guaranteed method to get rid of hot flashes, you can greatly improve your chance of having a good night’s rest by making your sleeping environment a lot cooler. Keep temperatures cool. While you should go with whatever is most comfortable, experts recommend a sleeping temperature of around 65 degrees or lower for the average person.

The clothing you wear to bed also makes a difference. Opt for lightweight, breathable fabrics that won’t trap your skin and make you sweat. Using a fan at night or trying cooling blankets, mattresses, and pillows can also help. Finally, if symptoms are severe and night sweats don’t stop, talk to your doctor about other options like supplementing estrogen to relieve menopause symptoms.

Even if you don’t wake up, snoring might be preventing a full night of rest. Shutterstock.

If Snoring is Disrupting Your Sleep…

Snoring is one of those things that people mistakenly believe affects other people more than themselves. While it seems like a nuisance, it can actually disrupt the quality of your sleep along with your partner’s. Other times, snoring might be a sign of sleep apnea or another serious condition that requires medical intervention, especially if it’s happening because your airway is being closed.

Snoring happens when something blocks the air from flowing freely out your nose at night. Some people experience it because they have extra tissue in their throat that blocks their airway, while other people experience it because of the position of their tongue. When air doesn’t flow freely, it causes the vocal cords to vibrate loudly in the throat and results in snoring.

Nasal strips help people with narrow nasal passageways breathe better at night. KDVR.

Try These Snoring Solutions

Since snoring happens because there isn’t enough airflow through the nasal cavities and throat, it makes sense that anything that opens this area up would help. Some people have effectiveness using over-the-counter nasal strips that open up nasal passages. Another solution is changing the position that you sleep in since your tongue is more likely to close the airway if you are on your back.

People who are overweight are also more likely to snore (and develop sleep apnea), so getting healthier could also help in some cases. You should also avoid smoking, drinking, and certain medications that make snoring worse. Finally, be sure to talk to your doctor if snoring is accompanied by waking up suddenly or breathing stopping at night. This could indicate sleep apnea, which can be dangerous.

Sleeping medication can be helpful sometimes, but it also has side effects. Shutterstock.

If Sleeping Medication Has Too Many Side Effects…

The Cleveland Clinic estimates that around 1-in-3 people middle age and older take some type of sleeping pill to help them rest. Insomnia becomes more common as you age and sleeping medicine does offer relief for some people. Some sleeping pills work by making you drowsy, while others might quiet the area of the brain that keeps you awake.

While sleeping pills are a good way to get a good night’s rest, even more natural options like melatonin can have side effects. Certain sleeping pills make it hard to wake up even after a full night of sleep, making you feel groggy and disoriented at the beginning of your day. There’s also a risk of dependence since your body doesn’t need to produce melatonin as usual to help you sleep.

Keeping a consistent bedtime routine and schedule is much more effective than sleeping pills. Shutterstock.

Try Other Methods for a Good Night of Sleep

While sleeping pills do offer short-term benefits, they aren’t really meant to be a long-term solution. They do have a purpose for those nights when a particularly stressful event or a death in the family are interrupting sleep. However, research shows that people who take sleeping pills only fall asleep 8-20 minutes faster. This means total, you might only be improving your sleep duration by about 35 minutes.

Developing good nighttime habits remain one of the best ways to help yourself get a full night of rest. Aside from underlying medical conditions keeping you up, the average person can have good quality sleep by practicing sleep hygiene. Plus, doing things like properly unwinding at night is a lot safer for your body and naturally promotes the production of serotonin which makes it easier to sleep.

If you aren’t waking well-rested even with good sleep hygiene, talk to your doctor. Shutterstock.

If Improving Your Sleep Hygiene Doesn’t Help…

For some people, improving sleep hygiene doesn’t necessarily fix their ability to sleep. If you have tried having a better sleep routine, relaxing before bed, unplugging from electronics, and making your sleep environment one that supports a good night of rest and it still doesn’t help, it may be time to talk to your doctor about other possible causes.

In most cases, your doctor will ask questions about your nightly routine and the place where you sleep. Try to answer as honestly as possible, even if the answer isn’t one that your doctor necessarily likes hearing. In most cases, your doctor will use this information and possibly do additional tests to find out what exactly is causing your sleeping troubles.

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend a sleep study to find out what’s going on. Shutterstock.

Find Out if a Sleeping Disorder is to Blame

In most cases where another cause can’t be identified, doctors will recommend a sleep study. It’s not like you can really monitor yourself sleeping, so this gives professionals a chance to find out what’s going on. In addition to disrupting your sleep, conditions like sleep apnea actually block your airways and stop your ability to breathe, so they can be dangerous.

Also, keep in mind that sleep apnea isn’t the only sleeping disorder that you may struggle with. Insomnia, RLS, circadian rhythm disorders, narcolepsy, and even snoring can disrupt your ability to get a full night of sleep. Children may also struggle with night terrors, while pregnant women might not be able to sleep because of the increase of hormones from being pregnant. The only way to find out the exact cause is by working with someone who specializes in sleep.