The subject of sleep might seem simple... it is a skill you have been practicing your whole life. Unfortunately, getting good sleep is more complex than simply going to bed for a certain number of hours. As we get older or face more stress, getting high quality sleep can get harder. We’ve all had nights we woke up feeling surprised that we don’t feel more refreshed and energized.
You may notice this when you have a low sleep score in Gyroscope, despite getting the recommended 8–9 hours. Other nights you may get a great score or feel very rested, perhaps even with less sleep. Why does this happen? Can it be repeated consistently? Just like physical fitness, can you improve your sleep fitness?
Whether you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or simply getting restful sleep, your daily habits and sleep routine can make a big difference on your entire life.
Why Sleep Matters
Feeling tired all the time isn't normal, and bad sleep can affect more than just energy levels.
Sleep deprivation impacts nearly all other areas of your life. For example, being low on sleep makes it harder to focus, weakens your immune system, and can worsen your mood. Without enough sleep, you have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and stroke. *
Inadequate sleep also contributes to weight gain. When you're low on sleep, you increase hormones like cortisol and ghrelin, which increase your cravings and hunger the next day. When you are sleep-deprived, you may alaso have lower energy levels which can make it harder to exercise.
Habits that lower your sleep score
The amount of time you sleep is a huge factor, but even if you are spending a lot of time in bed, there are common habits that reduce sleep quality. If your ability to get restful, quality sleep is dampened by these bad habits, it’s likely that you’ll wake up feeling tired and groggy.
Here are some of the common reasons you might not be getting high quality sleep.
Sleeping in on the Weekends
Consistency is key. Your body runs on an internal clock, known as a circadian rhythm, which works with your central nervous system to help you fall and stay asleep. When you set regular times to go to bed and wake up you optimize your circadian rhythms and achieve easier sleep.
Stick close to your designated bedtimes and waking times, despite the day of the week. It's tempting to stay up late if you know you have nowhere to be the next morning, but keeping the routine will make it much easier on your body.
Try to do more in the morning hours and put less on your schedule at night. This can include workouts, late meals, side projects, or even social events. As you get older or if the rest of your health is not optimized, these disruptions may have a great impact on your health. On the other hand, if you are well-rested and have high sleep scores, you may be able to get away with a day or two of staying up late.
The Gyroscope app keeps track of your sleeping hours for you. Look at your data to review your health score and patterns where you can improve the consistency of your sleep schedule.
Scrolling Through Social Media or Watching TV before bed
Electronic devices like phones, computers, tablets, and TVs emit blue light, a wavelength of light that's emitted by the sun. Sunlight is what drives circadian rhythms. Devices emitting the same light can disrupt your sleep cycle and trick your body into thinking it needs to stay awake.
Devices are incredibly stimulating and distracting. With a swipe of your finger, you have access to demanding work emails, stressful news, and social media pressures. Once you start scrolling, it's easy to turn a “quick glance” into 20 minutes that delay your bedtime. When you bring a device into your bedroom, you're inviting in a major sleep disruptor.
Try to put your phone and other devices away an hour before bed. In fact, keeping them out of your bedroom entirely can help remove the temptation to check them. As a bonus, they can't accidentally wake you when you forget to silence notifications.
If you really must use your device at night, make sure they are on do not disturb, you have the blue light filter enabled, and keep its use to a minimum.
Not Managing Your Stress
Stress affects sleep quality by reducing rapid-eye-movement (REM), the most restful phase of sleep. Being stressed can also make it harder to fall asleep as your worries keep you awake. Insufficient sleep can then make you feel more stressed, making it harder to sleep the next night, causing a vicious cycle.
Managing stress does not mean simply avoiding stressful situations. It’s important to engage in regular stress-relieving techniques to lower your stress levels and improve your sleep. Try managing your stress by engaging in regular exercise, meditation, or breathing exercises. The coach tab has guided meditations and breathwork sessions you can use specifically to relieve stress. In Gyroscope, you can also try a breathwork session to use your breath to lower stress.
Other stress-relieving activities could include listening to music, getting a massage, getting out in nature, or taking warm baths to relax your muscles and let go of tension.
Using Depressants and Stimulants
Substances like caffeine, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs affect your central nervous system and can impact your sleep. It is important to understand how long they take to metabolize. When you drink caffeinated beverages like coffee or energy drinks late in the day, even 6 hours before you plan on going to sleep, they remain in your bloodstream and significantly disrupt sleep quality.
You might drink alcohol at night to help you relax. Alcohol may help induce sleep, however, studies show that it affects the quality of your sleep by reducing beneficial REM. Some studies on daily marijuana use have shown similar effects but that research is still inconclusive. **
To help you sleep more deeply and wake up feeling rested, try to avoid using substances to alter your alertness. Try to keep caffeine use to a minimum, and prioritize its use at the beginning of the day. Avoid habitual "nightcaps" and try to keep drinks small and infrequent. These types of habits are easy to test by trying a change for a week and seeing the impact on your sleep scores.
Eating Or Drinking Late at Night
Eating a large meal right before bed can cause heartburn and discomfort while sleeping, and can cause increased heart rate while digesting.
Additionally, eating desserts, or high-carbohydrate meals before bed may cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, leading you to feel increased hunger or "jitters" from a sugar rush while you are trying to fall asleep. Drinking alcohol can be even more disruptive, causing an elevated heart rate for many hours and often lowering HRV significantly.
Try your best to eat a healthy, balanced dinner at least 2 or 3 hours before you plan to go to bed. This will give your body plenty of time to digest your food so your sleep isn't disrupted.
Looking at your heart rate graph at night can tell a lot about your sleep quality. It should be consistently low, with the biggest drop soon after sleeping. If it is elevated for many hours and gradually sloping downwards, that can be a sign that you ate or drank too late.
You are deep in sleep debt
Just like other types of debt, sleep debt can be a useful tool to temporarily borrow from. However, it is important to pay it back promptly. If you missed sleep for a few days or are getting a low average, then you will need to sleep more for a while to get caught up.
If you are only getting 6 or 7 hours a night, it may require a few days of consistently sleeping 8 or 9 hours to pay back that sleep debt and start getting good sleep again. Even one night of bad sleep has negative consequences like decreased productivity or a weakened immune system. Making up for lost sleep quickly can negate those effects.
You may be able to feel the effects of this sleep debt, in addition to seeing warnings about it in your Gyroscope Health Score. Until you have caught up on sleep debt, your HRV numbers may be lower.
Ways to boost your sleep score
Struggling with sleep can be a frustrating problem, because it affects so many areas of your life. If you feel like your sleep quality is poor, but you have already stopped most of the habits above, you may want to try some of the following sleep tips.
Set a Bedtime Routine: You can trigger sleepiness by setting up a routine you adhere to each night. You can choose a routine that works for you but it may include dimming the lights an hour before bed, doing some gentle stretching, listening to soothing music, nighttime hygiene like washing your face and brushing teeth, or another succession of sleep-inducing activities to signal your brain it's time to sleep.
Eat a Nutritious Diet: Your body uses nutrients from your food to build important neurotransmitters and hormones necessary for good sleep. A diet rich in magnesium, zinc, B-vitamins, and protein will provide you with the building blocks you need for better sleep. Eat more unprocessed foods like leafy greens, beans, nuts, tofu, berries, fatty fish, and avocados to get enough of these nutrients.
Wear an eye mask and earplugs: Disturbances from light and sound can easily wake some people. Light is an especially important signal for regulating when we produce melatonin or know when it is time to wake up. If there is any light in your bedroom when you are trying to sleep, a comfortable sleep mask can help. Both of these common habits can be tested as experiments in the Gyroscope Labs.
Make it colder: Another popular experiment from Gyroscope Labs, many people find that having the temperature be cold at night helps with sleep.
Try Sleep Supplements: To help you through the times in your life when you need extra help falling asleep or staying asleep, you may want to try experimenting with some of the popular sleep aids. These substances shouldn't be a long-term fix but can help you get to sleep for short-term problems like when you're sick or changing time zones.
- Magnesium: The mineral magnesium is crucial for sleep. Unfortunately it can get depleted when you are under stress. If you are afraid you aren't getting enough magnesium from your diet you may want to ask your doctor about taking a magnesium supplement.
- Melatonin: The hormone can be used to help you fall asleep when your sleep schedule is off. This can be especially helpful if you are traveling or working night shifts and having trouble signaling to your body that it is bedtime.
- Valerian Root: has a calming effect on the nervous system, taking a supplement before bed can help induce sleep.
- Chamomile Tea: Chamomile is a natural sedative and can help you fall asleep if you drink a cup of tea before bed.
- Lavender Oil: the smell of Lavender can improve sleep quality without any side effects. You can try adding a spritz of lavender to the air during your bedtime routine.
Improve your Sleep
Sleep is important to get right. It affects so much of your life including your energy levels, mood, weight, health, and productivity. Taking the time to make sleep a priority may take a few months, but will help you feel like you can achieve all you want to achieve and improve your quality of life.
Improving your sleep doesn't require an "all or nothing" approach. If you aren't able to do every sleep tip, just do what you can. Even changing a few habits, like removing sugary snacks or electronics a few hours before bed, can help you improve the current state of your sleep. Since this is something you do every day, even a slight improvement to your daily routine will start to compound in the health of your mind and body.
For extra help improving your sleep and improving your awareness of your current sleep habits, try the Sleep Experiment under the Labs tab on Gyroscope.