There are those of us who know we need a major overhaul in our sleep routines: we’re staying up way too late to binge Bridgerton, waking up early thanks to early-rising kids (or pets), or are so tired throughout the day that we could fall asleep anywhere (here’s hoping it’s just not on a Zoom meeting). But there are also many not-so-obvious signs that the rest of us could also use some help with our sleep routines.
With work taking up more time, a global pandemic increasing anxiety, and Netflix continuously releasing killer shows (you can’t just watch one episode of Good Girls!), all of us could likely use an overhaul. In fact, insufficient sleep affects so many people that it’s considered a public health epidemic. If you already know you need to improve your sleep, check out how to detox your sleep routine or some easy ways to get better sleep tonight. And if you’re not sure how your sleep patterns are affecting your life (or whether or not they need changing), read on for eight subtle signs your sleep routine needs a major overhaul.
1. You’re moodier than usual
Sure, that bad mood could be on account of an overbooked schedule or your roommate leaving dishes in the sink, but it could also be from not getting enough sleep. “If you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more vulnerable to crankiness, irritability, and challenges coping with stress,” explained Lauren Hale, PhD, a professor of public health at Stonybrook University and the former editor-in-chief of Sleep Health, to Real Simple. Of course, many factors could cause moodiness, but if you’ve had a few late nights, try getting more sleep to see if it helps. Also, the issue could be not getting enough quality sleep, even if you think you’re racking up enough hours. Try an app like SleepCycle to track your sleep quality.
2. You’re waking up with neck or back pain
Not every subtle sign is about how much you sleep; sometimes, it’s about the way you sleep. If you consistently wake up with neck pain, back pain, or even headaches, the cause might come from what you’re sleeping on or your posture while sleeping. Don’t panic: the problem could be as simple as a mattress that’s too soft (or too firm) or a pillow that isn’t the best fit. Make like Goldilocks and test out different pillows or mattress toppers to find one that fits just right, or ask your doctor for recs, based on your sleeping positions. Oh, and falling asleep in positions like sleeping on your stomach with your head turned to the side (guilty) is literally a pain in the neck (get it!?). Try to sleep on your back, or invest in a pillow for your preferred sleeping positions.
3. You consistently hit snooze
While hitting “snooze” might be as consistent in your morning routine as brushing teeth or making a cup of coffee, it shouldn’t be. If you’re regularly waking up feeling like you could sleep longer, that’s because you probably need to. The body knows what it needs, so listen to it. News flash: not only is it possible to wake up feeling well-rested, but it is a necessary sign of quality sleep. If the snooze button is your most consistent relationship, it’s time for a breakup. Try falling asleep earlier every night until you no longer need an alarm clock, and stick to a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible (yes, even on weekends). Hitting the snooze button every morning or waking up feeling groggy and exhausted is a telltale sign you need an earlier bedtime or to fix your quality of sleep (but probably a combination of both).
4. You have trouble falling asleep
We all know the feeling: you’re in bed waiting for sleep to come, but it never does. You feel restless, stressed out, and wide awake. You’re painfully aware of the clock and that early-morning wake-up call, and you might even track how much sleep you’re missing out on. If you often have trouble falling or staying asleep, it’s time for some changes in your routine. Insomnia can be caused by many factors, from work stress to late exercise to a lack of natural light throughout the day, so if you’re not sure where sleep trouble is coming from, cover all your bases. Get sunlight in the morning and limit light in the evenings (it will help your circadian rhythm), have a post-work ritual (to help reduce work anxiety), try a relaxing evening routine, and fit in a workout earlier in the day. If you still have trouble falling asleep, talk to your doctor about other lifestyle factors that could be disrupting your precious shut-eye.
5. You use your bed for anything other than sleep (and sex)
As a general rule of thumb that HuffPost calls the cardinal rule of good sleep hygiene: the bed is only for sleep and sex (sex is important for sleep too, FYI). Watching TV, working on your laptop, having a snack, or even scrolling through Instagram at any time during the day can impact your sleep at night. Think about it: if your bed is just for sleep (or, you know, sex), the mind understands that getting in bed means it’s time to fall asleep. But if you work, watch TV, or even fight with your partner while in bed, the mind will associate your sleep space with other activities (including high-stress ones).
Make your bed a sacred space so that when you crawl into it at night, your mind (and body) knows what to do. Besides just the normal no-no’s like watching TV or working on your laptop, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, look into your pre-bedtime rituals. For example, reading before bed is a great way to relax the mind, but a career-related book could spark work anxiety, or a thrilling novel could be overstimulating. Instead, opt for a boring read (yes, really) or an inspiring self-help book.
6. You feel hungrier than usual
Listen: our bodies, nutrition needs, and appetites change day by day. That’s just part of being human. Stress, activity levels, and reproductive cycles are just some of the many things that can affect appetite. However, a lack of sleep can also increase hunger and affect cravings. “We have very substantial research that shows if you shorten or disturb sleep, you increase your appetite for high-calorie dense foods,” explained Charles Samuels MD, medical director of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance, to Health. “On a simplistic level, your appetite changes.” Why? Not getting enough sleep is associated with increased ghrelin (AKA the hunger hormone).
Repeat after me: a bigger appetite is not a bad thing. It’s actually your body’s way of communicating what it needs (and a lot of times, we need those extra nutrients). Instead of seeing an increased appetite as a bad thing, get curious about what your body is trying to tell you. If you do think your sleep patterns are affecting hunger, the problem is lack of sleep, not a bigger appetite. Fill up on healthy fats, plant-based fiber, and lean proteins whenever you’re hungry, but also do whatever you can to get in those 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night.
7. You have difficulty concentrating during the day
Afternoon slumps and unproductive workdays are all too common, but don’t have to be the norm. Just like appetite, concentration and energy levels can clue us into what’s going on in the body. While lack of concentration can be caused by many factors, one of the most common is not getting enough sleep. 7-9 nine hours of quality sleep fosters attention and concentration, as well as many other aspects of thinking like creativity, memory, and problem-solving.
Since many of us don’t get enough sleep, it’s no surprise that workforce productivity is suffering too. In fact, insomnia costs the U.S. workforce $63.2 billion a year, according to Harvard Medical School (now that’s an expensive night of bad sleep). If you’re planning on an all-nighter or late night to study before an exam or prep for a presentation, think again. Lack of sleep can cause anything from lack of productivity to trouble with memorization. Prioritize sleep for your health, but a better work-life will be a welcomed bonus (promise).
8. You go to bed feeling warm or wake up sweating
While we’re big fans of flannel pajamas, warm blankets, and a high thermostat on a cold night, our cozy favorites could be negatively impacting sleep quality. As you go to bed, the body’s core temperature decreases to prepare for some high-quality slumber (it’s all a part of that circadian rhythm). If you’re too warm, you may have trouble falling (or staying) asleep. To prevent overheating, be mindful about what you wear to bed. Those flannel pajamas may be perfect for movie nights at home, but are not the best for actual sleep. Instead, try breathable fabrics like cotton, silk, or bamboo, or consider going au naturel (tell your significant other I said “you’re welcome”). As for that thermostat? The National Sleep Foundation reported the ideal temperature for optimal sleep is between 60-67, so lower temperatures as much as possible before bedtime.