12 Factors Affecting Sleep: External and Internal Sleep Quality Elements

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Sleep quality refers to how restorative your sleep feels. Poor sleep quality means that an individual has difficulty falling or staying asleep. As a result, you can experience sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is when a person does not get enough hours of rest. Poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation negatively impact physical, cognitive, and emotional health.

The factors that affect sleep quality consist of internal and external influences. The internal factors are pain, anxiety, psychological effects, snoring, and sleep disorders. The external influences are light, jet lag, medications, sleep environment, sleep schedule, caffeine and alcohol, and foods. We list the factors affecting sleep quality below.

  1. Light
  2. Jet Lag
  3. Pain
  4. Anxiety
  5. Medications
  6. Sleep Environment
  7. Sleep Schedule
  8. Psychological Effects
  9. Caffeine and Alcohol
  10. Foods
  11. Snoring
  12. Sleep Disorders

1. Light as a Factor for Sleep Quality

Light is defined as either natural daylight or artificial light. Light can affect sleep quality because it influences the circadian rhythm. 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.

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.

A Woman Using Phone Laptop and Watching TV Before Bed

2. Jet Lag as a Factor for Sleep Quality

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. Pain as a Factor for Sleep Quality

Pain is defined as an uncomfortable feeling that may include throbbing, aching, or pinching. Pain 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. 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 that keeps your neck in good alignment with the rest of your spine.

Illustration of a Spine Alignment when Person Sleeps on Their Back

4. Anxiety as a Factor for Sleep Quality

Anxiety is a disorder in which someone has frequent and intense worries. 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 sleep anxiety may lead to more disturbing dreams or nightmares.

Dreams occur during the last stage of the sleep cycle, REM (Rapid Eye Movement). If you have extreme anxiety, you may experience disruptive dreams that cause you to suddenly wake up during REM sleep. Waking up from REM sleep can lead to worse moods, and insufficient REM sleep is linked to an increased risk of Dementia.

You can manage anxiety by taking breaks, eating well, cutting out caffeine and alcohol, regularly exercising, and taking deep breaths. If you need additional help regulating anxiety, you may also consider talking with a therapist or other mental healthcare professional.

Illustration of a Woman Stuggling to Fall Asleep Alone

5. Medications as a Factor for Sleep Quality

Medications are liquid or pill substances that treat specific conditions and illnesses. Certain medications may hinder sleep quality. Specifically, some cardiovascular medications have been found to negatively affect sleep.

For example, certain Beta Blockers have been linked to nightmares, insomnia, and reduced REM sleep. Another example is that HMG Co-A Reductase Inhibitors may lead to muscle pain, making it harder to fall and stay asleep.

Conversely, some medications have a positive effect on sleep. Over-the-counter sleep aids like Benadryl, Aleve PM, and Valerian root supplements are available to help you rest better.

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.

6. Sleep Environment as a Factor for Sleep Quality

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 research has shown that people rest better in cooler environments. 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. Earplugs can help block out noise, while blackout curtains and eye masks can keep out distracting light.

Aniamted Image of a Person with Good vs Bad Sleeping Habits

7. Sleep Schedule as a Factor for Sleep Quality

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.

The 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 abnormalities such as high blood pressure and blood sugar, excess fat, and unusual cholesterol levels. These abnormalities are known as metabolic syndrome and can increase one’s risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

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 between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Therefore, if your wake-up time is 6:00 a.m., your bedtime should be between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.

Illustration of a Person Waking up Without an Alarm Clock

8. Psychological Effects as a Factor for Sleep Quality

Psychological effects are issues pertaining to the mind and emotional health. The more common term for this is ‘mental health.’ Psychological effects 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.

People with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to have sleep problems than those without these conditions. People experiencing sleep-preventing psychological effects should receive professional mental health treatment to help them rest better. They should also practice good habits such as avoiding electronics before bed and maintaining a regular schedule.

9. Caffeine and Alcohol as a Factor for Sleep Quality

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. 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, it is linked to more disrupted rest.

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

Illustration of Drinks that Contain Caffeine

10. Foods as a Factor for Sleep Quality

Food is a source of daily nourishment. However, foods 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 include fried food, fast food, pizza, processed snacks, 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 ginger.

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.

Eat foods that reduce acid reflux and avoid eating large meals before bed to improve sleep quality.

11. Snoring as a Factor for Sleep Quality

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 could be your anatomy, sleep position, nasal problems, or drinking alcohol. However, snoring may also be a sign of sleep apnea.

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, using nasal strips, and avoiding alcohol before bed.

illustration of a woman using earplugs for blocking husbands snoring

12. Sleep Disorders as a Factor for Sleep Quality

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.

Animated Image of a Man Suffering from A Restless Leg Syndrome

What Is the Importance of Getting Quality Sleep?

Getting quality sleep is important because it directly affects your physical, cognitive, and emotional health. We need 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 include memory loss, diabetes, depression, obesity, heart attack, and stroke.

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. For example, if caffeine keeps you up at night, you should avoid consuming this late in the day.

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. Adults should sleep soundly for 7-9 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.

Animated Image of a Family Having a Meal Together Where a Father Falls Asleep at a Table - Mobile

What to Do for Getting Good Quality Sleep

To see a sleep quality improvement, you should keep a consistent schedule, have a comfortable bedroom, practice healthy habits, avoid electronics before bed, and treat underlying issues. We explain these tips for increasing 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.


  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 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.
Content Writer

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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