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12 Factors Affecting Sleep and Your Sleep Quality

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Sleep quality refers to how restorative your sleep feels. Poor sleep quality means that you have difficulty falling or staying asleep. As a result, you can experience sleep deprivation, which is when a person doesn’t get enough hours of rest.

Poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation are worrisome because they can negatively impact your physical, cognitive, and emotional health.

Sleep is affected by both internal and external factors. The internal factors that affect sleep quality include physical pain, stress, mental health issues, snoring, and sleep disorders. The external factors include light, jet lag, medications, sleep environment, sleep schedule, caffeine and alcohol, and certain foods. We list the factors that affect sleep quality below:

  1. Physical pain
  2. Stress
  3. Mental health issues
  4. Snoring
  5. Sleep disorders
  6. Light
  7. Jet lag
  8. Medications
  9. Sleep environment
  10. Sleep schedule
  11. Caffeine & alcohol
  12. Certain foods

Internal Factors Affecting Sleep Quality

1. Physical pain makes it harder to fall asleep

Pain is defined as an uncomfortable feeling that may include throbbing, aching, or pinching, and it can disrupt sleep quality by making it harder for you to fall asleep or causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.

Back pain, neck pain, and arthritis are common discomfort issues. If you’re experiencing pain and sleep that’s disruptive, get a mattress with optimal support to keep the spine in good alignment. Proper spine alignment is one of the best ways to prevent pain from emerging or worsening.

Individuals with arthritis typically feel discomfort in their joints[1]. Therefore, they should benefit from a mattress with pressure-relieving materials like memory foam. To address neck pain, make sure you are sleeping on the right pillow best for neck pain that keeps your neck in good alignment with the rest of your spine.

2. Stress prevents the mind and body from relaxing

Stress is a common culprit behind sleep deprivation because worrisome thoughts can keep people awake at night. In fact, an American Psychological Association survey found that 43 percent[2] of adults reported losing sleep over stress. This can create a cyclical problem because as these people lost out on sleep, their stress levels increased. 

Sleep deprivation increases stress because it triggers an increase in cortisol[3], also known as the stress hormone. Your body’s natural stress response also produces more adrenaline[4]. The combination of these two hormones can elevate the heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. As a result, your body is less able to relax, which is essential for falling asleep. 

There are three types of stress[5]: acute, chronic, and traumatic. Acute stress is when you experience a momentary stress trigger, such as nearly avoiding a car accident. Chronic stress is ongoing and can result from a stressful job or financial concerns. The third type, traumatic, can result from a life-threatening event, which could also develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly all people with PTSD will experience sleep-related problems, usually in the form of nightmares or insomnia[6].

3. Mental health issues can result in a racing mind and nightmares

Mental health issues could also influence how well you rest since mental health and sleep go hand in hand; poor mental health harms sleep quality, while bad sleep quality worsens mental health.

A major reason why people struggling with their mental health have trouble sleeping is that often they can experience nighttime anxiety[7], which is the case with conditions like anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, drug addictions, alcoholism, panic disorder, and PTSD. 

Anxiety can negatively affect sleep quality in two ways. The first is that anxious thoughts can prevent you from falling asleep. The second is that anxiety may lead to more disturbing dreams or nightmares[8], which can prompt you to suddenly wake up.

The difficulty in addressing mental health issues and sleep is that it’s a cyclical problem. Research shows us that people with mental health problems are more likely to have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep[9]. As mentioned above, this could be due to anxiety at night. However, when a person’s sleep worsens, this can simultaneously worsen their mental health.  

Therefore, people experiencing sleep-preventing mental health problems should find ways to manage their anxiety and receive professional treatment to help them rest better.

Learn More: Anxiety and Sleep

4. Snoring is distracting

Snoring can prevent you from having a good night’s rest because it’s distracting.

Snoring occurs when airflow causes a vibration against the relaxed throat tissues. The reasons for snoring[10] could be your body anatomy, sleep position, sleep deprivation, nasal problems, or drinking alcohol. However, snoring may also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)[10].

Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person starts and stops breathing while they sleep, and snoring is a symptom of this disorder. Therefore, if you snore, you should speak with your doctor, who can help diagnose whether you have sleep apnea.

Tips to reduce snoring include sleeping on your side or stomach, losing weight, treating nasal congestion issues, avoiding alcohol before bed, and trying to get enough sleep each night[10].

Related: Best Mattress for Snoring and Best CPAP Machine

5. Sleep disorders affect sleep duration

Sleep disorders are specific conditions that affect the quality and duration of sleep. Common sleep disorders include Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, Restless Legs Syndrome, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, and Narcolepsy.

Some disorders may be caused by lifestyle or physical factors, while others are neurological. Therefore, regulating a sleep disorder will depend on the condition and what’s causing it.

For example, if you have obstructive sleep apnea or insomnia, lifestyle changes may help. However, disorders such as central sleep apnea, REM sleep behavior disorder, and narcolepsy are neurological and need more professional treatment.

To improve sleep quality, address sleep disorders by practicing healthy lifestyle changes or consulting with a doctor.

External Factors That Affect Sleep

1. Light influences the circadian rhythm

Light is defined as either natural daylight or artificial light. Light can affect sleep quality because it influences the circadian rhythm[11]. The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock, which regulates when we feel tired or alert.

Light signals to the body that it is time to be awake, while darkness signals that it’s time to rest. The circadian rhythm responds to these signals by preparing the body to sleep or wake. For example, when it is dark, the body releases increased amounts of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin[12].

Light can hinder sleep quality when you’re exposed to it at the wrong time. For example, exposure to light just before bed stops melatonin production, making it harder for you to fall asleep.

You can regulate light exposure by avoiding blue-light-emitting electronics just before bed, using blackout curtains, and wearing an eye mask.

2. Jet lag disrupts regular sleep schedules

Jet lag can hinder sleep by disrupting your natural sleep-wake patterns. Jet lag is a sleep issue that can happen when you fly across time zones. As a result, you can experience difficulty sleeping.

To regulate jet lag, slowly acclimate your sleep schedule to your upcoming destination. Additionally, if it’s nighttime at your destination when you’re flying, try to sleep on the plane. Gradually adjusting your schedule should help your body adapt to rest easier.

If you arrive at your destination sleepy, avoid napping right away; get outside and use the sunlight to help you stay awake until it’s time for bed.

Jet lag may also cause indigestion that keeps you up at night. Therefore, eat foods you can easily digest for the first few days of your trip. Lastly, stay hydrated and avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these can worsen jet lag.

3. Medications can have negative side effects

Medications are liquid or pill substances that treat specific conditions and illnesses. Unfortunately, though, certain medications may also hinder sleep quality by causing insomnia[13], such as alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, steroids, and antidepressants — among others.

There are different reasons why these medications can cause insomnia, though. For example, alpha-blockers have been linked to reduced REM sleep, the final stage in a sleep cycle and the time when people normally dream[13]

In the cases of beta-blockers, they are linked to more sleep disturbances such as nightmares and waking up in the middle of the night[13]. Steroids, on the other hand, can impact your body’s systems that help you relax and sleep, which could result in bad dreams and trouble falling asleep[13]

Conversely, some medications and supplements could have a positive effect on sleep. Over-the-counter sleep aids like Benadryl, melatonin, and Valerian root[14] are available to help you rest better. Check out what our experts recommend as the Best Melatonin Supplements for Sleep

Additionally, some doctors may prescribe sleeping pills for patients who continue to experience difficulty falling asleep. However, over-the-counter and prescription sleep medications are designed to provide a short-term solution and should not be used over long periods.

If medication drugs and sleep are an issue, you should consult with your physician, who may be able to prescribe an alternative treatment.

4. A poor sleep environment can make staying asleep difficult

Sleep environment refers to the bedroom where you sleep. A bad sleep environment affects sleep quality by impairing your ability to sleep soundly through the night. The ideal sleep environment is cool, dark, and quiet.

A darker room fosters tiredness by increasing melatonin production, and experts recommend keeping your bedroom temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit[15], which should keep it comfortably cool. Additionally, disruptive noises can disrupt your ability to fall or stay asleep.

To improve your bedroom, you should address these issues. For example, if your room is too warm, open the windows or turn on a fan. Investing in a cooling mattress will also have a huge impact. Earplugs can help block out noise, while blackout curtains and eye masks can keep out distracting light.

5. Inconsistent sleep schedules make sleep less restorative

A sleep schedule is defined as when you go to bed and awaken. An inconsistent sleep schedule can negatively affect sleep because it throws off your internal clock.

This internal clock controls the physiological changes that help you prepare for sleep and wakefulness. When these changes aren’t properly regulated, you could have difficulty getting enough quality rest.

Furthermore, a study reveals that irregular bed and wake-up times are linked to a higher risk of metabolic disorders[16], including obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, and high blood sugar.

Therefore, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends, should help you sleep better. Here’s how to get on a sleep schedule: plan a bedtime and wake-up time that allows you to get enough hours of shuteye and stick to that every day. Adults should get at least 7 hours[17] of sleep every night. Therefore, if your wake-up time is 6:00 a.m., your bedtime should be 11:00 p.m. or earlier.

6. Caffeine delays sleep onset and alcohol causes more disturbed rest

Caffeine and alcohol can impact sleep quality by delaying sleep onset or causing disturbed rest.

Caffeine is a stimulant normally found in coffee and certain tea beverages. Caffeine and sleep are not a good mix because if you consume caffeine too late in the day, this could delay sleep onset.

Caffeine delays sleep onset by blocking adenosine receptors[18]. Adenosine is a chemical in the brain that fosters sleep, and it increases throughout the day. However, caffeine can temporarily block the adenosine receptors and make you feel alert instead.

Alcohol is a substance in beverages such as liquor, wine, and beer that causes drunkenness. Although alcohol can make you tired initially, it is linked to more disrupted rest[19]. According to health experts, alcohol can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep. Additionally, alcohol can reduce how much REM sleep you get19. This is important to note because REM sleep is critical for both processing and consolidating memories[20].

For those with sleep apnea, consuming alcohol before bed could end up worsening these symptoms, and as a result, lead to more fragmented sleep[19]

To improve sleep quality, you should avoid alcohol and only consume caffeine in the morning.

7. Certain foods can cause nighttime discomfort

Food is a source of daily nourishment, but it can also influence sleep quality by causing discomfort.

Certain foods may cause nighttime heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn is a painful burning in the chest resulting from acid reflux. GERD is a severe form of acid reflux in which acidic contents from the stomach flow up into the esophagus.

Foods that can cause acid reflux and heartburn[21] include fried food, fast food, pizza, potato chips, chili powder, pepper, fatty meats, cheese, tomato-based sauces, citrus, chocolate, peppermint, and carbonated drinks. However, other foods and beverages can help regulate acid reflux. These include whole grains, vegetables, watery foods like celery and watermelon, herbal tea, milk, and ginger21.

Secondly, eating too much before bed can cause uncomfortable indigestion that keeps you up at night. So, instead of having a big meal, the best foods to help you sleep better are light, healthy snacks that contain protein and minimal sugar.

Therefore, you should focus on eating foods that reduce acid reflux and avoid eating large meals before bed to improve sleep quality.

The Importance of Quality Sleep

Getting quality sleep is important because it directly affects your physical, cognitive, and emotional health. We need restorative sleep to have better cognitive skills, positive moods, and more physical energy. These results can significantly enhance your quality of life.

For example, if you are a student or employee, better cognitive skills can improve academic and work performance. Additionally, a happier mindset helps boost your personal and professional relationships, and with added energy, you can lead a more physically active lifestyle.

What is the effect of bad-quality sleep on health?

The effect of bad quality sleep on health is both physical and mental. The sleep deprivation effects can be long-term as well. The long-term health complications[22] include hypertension, heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, depression and anxiety, impaired brain function, memory loss, a weakened immune system, decreased fertility, and psychiatric disorders.

To avoid these health issues, focus on getting optimal sleep quality and enough hours of rest each night. If a particular issue is causing you to experience sleep deprivation, address the problem as soon as possible.

What is the effect of bad quality sleep on daily life?

The effect of bad quality sleep on daily life is also physical and mental. Inadequate slumber can lead to less energy, difficulty concentrating, and negative moods.

For example, if you are irritated because you didn’t sleep well, this could hinder your personal and professional relationships. Additionally, less energy could prevent you from exercising. Bad sleep quality also puts you at a higher risk for workplace or automobile accidents.

To avoid these negative effects, prioritize getting a good night’s rest each night and addressing any issues that prevent you from sleeping well. As mentioned earlier, adults should sleep soundly for a minimum of 7 hours every night for optimal shuteye. Implementing a consistent sleep schedule can help set your internal clock and ensure you get a sufficient amount of rest.

Tips for Improving Sleep Quality

To see a sleep quality improvement, you should keep a consistent schedule, have a comfortable mattress and serene sleep environment, practice healthy habits, avoid electronics before bed, and treat underlying issues. We explain these tips for improving sleep quality below:

  1. Consistent schedule: A regular sleep schedule should help you rest better. Plan a bedtime and wake-up time that works for you, and then stick to that schedule every day. Additionally, you should maintain this schedule on weekends.

  2. Comfortable bedroom: A comfortable bedroom can improve your sleep quality by helping you relax. The room should be cool, dark, and quiet.

    Additionally, you should ensure your bed is comfortable enough. If you’re experiencing back pain, invest in a highly supportive mattress, or for joint pain, look into a bed built with pressure-relieving layers. Explore our picks for the best mattresses of 2024.

  3. Healthy habits: Healthy lifestyle habits can also enhance your slumber. Exercise regularly and establish a relaxing nightly routine to manage stress. Eating certain foods can help deter heartburn and GERD while while avoiding big meals before bed should prevent uncomfortable indigestion.

    Additionally, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol is important. Caffeine can make it harder to doze off, and alcohol is linked to more interrupted sleep patterns.

  4. Avoid electronics before bed: You should avoid electronics before bed because these emit a blue light that delays sleep onset. These devices include TVs, cell phones, and computers. Furthermore, scrolling through social media or the news could trigger anxiety or stress that obstructs your sleep.

  5. Treat underlying issues: Treating underlying issues is vital for individuals with sleep disorders that interfere with their quality of rest. With some disorders, a series of lifestyle changes could improve symptoms. However, you should seek help from a doctor or sleep specialist for more complicated conditions.

Jill Zwarensteyn

Jill Zwarensteyn


About Author

Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Combination Sleeper


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