April 12, 2021 6 min read

An estimated 27% of Americans have trouble staying asleep or falling asleep most nights. Whether you’re tossing and turning at night because of work stress, physical discomfort, or for some other reason, finding ways to improve the quality of your sleep is essential to your overall health.

27% of American adults have trouble falling asleep graphic

In this post, we’ll look at the importance of sleep and how it impacts your general health and, we’ll offer up some tips that can help you if you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Read on to get insight on these topics and more, or use the links below to navigate to the section you’re most interested in.

  1. Rethink your sleeping environment
  2. Manage chronic stress
  3. Adjust your diet and limit caffeine
  4. Exercise earlier in the day
  5. Practice sleep-promoting habits
  6. Address physical discomfort and medical concerns

How Sleep Impacts Your Overall Health

Besides being a time for your body and brain to relax after a long day, sleep plays an important role in our overall health. On a biological level, there are four main theories that help explain why sleep is essential:

  • The inactivity theorysays animals use sleep as a survival tool, allowing them to be quiet and still when they may be most vulnerable to predators.
  • The energy conservation theory suggests that sleep is simply a way to reserve energy for more energy-intensive tasks, such as hunting and gathering, later on.
  • The restorative theorystates that sleep serves as an opportunity for the body to heal and restore itself.
  • The brain plasticity theory suggests that sleep is critical to brain development, function, and organization.

What happens when we sleep that makes these 7-9 hours so crucial to maintaining our general wellness. According to the US National Library of Medicine, good quality sleep can help you:

  • Feel more alert
  • Have a more optimistic perspective
  • Have better judgement
  • Succeed in relationships
  • Maintain immune efficiency

In addition to the benefits of quality sleep, there are several consequences related to lack of sleep:

  • Irritability, anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Lack of interest, motivation, or energy
  • Loss of patience with family and friends
  • Tendency to skip exercise
  • Increase in stress

Factors That Can Affect Quality of Sleep

The CDC recommends that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, but for many of us, this goal isn’t always easily attained. But why is it so difficult to stay asleep?

According to CDC, adults need 7+ hours of sleep per night.

According to the University of Minnesota, several factors can affect the quality and duration of your sleep, including:

  • Chronic stress
  • Your sleeping environment (i.e. light and noise exposure)
  • Stress in relationships
  • Diet, especially excess sugar, caffeine, and alcohol
  • Medical conditions

Now that you’re more familiar with the underlying reasons that may be causing you to toss and turn at night, let’s consider some tips to help improve the quality of your sleep.

What affects sleep? infographic

How to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep

As we discussed, there are a number of factors, like stress, pain, and diet, that can negatively impact the quality of your sleep. Thankfully, many of these issues can be circumvented with simple lifestyle changes. Let’s take a look.

1. Rethink your sleeping environment

Your environment can have a substantial impact on the quality of your sleep. If you’ve ever tried sleeping with the curtains open or a neighbor’s loud music blaring, you know what we mean. If noise and light pollution are common offenders that affect your sleep, it may be time to rethink your sleep setup.

Here are a few tools and tips that can help you deal with noise, light, and temperature issues:

  • Blackout curtains can help block out light and minimize sound
  • White noise machines mimic consistent, soothing sounds like ocean waves or fan sounds
  • Before you go to bed, set your thermostat to 65°F, the ideal temperature for sleep 

2. Manage chronic stress

According to the American Psychological Association, 43% of American adults say that stress is a primary reason they have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. As we mentioned earlier in this post, sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of stress—this is what the American Psychological Association calls the stress sleep cycle. You end up feeling stressed, so you can’t sleep, only to get more stressed because you’re not getting enough sleep.

Managing chronic stress can be a challenging obstacle that involves varying levels of integrated treatment. This may include medication and counseling, among other therapies. If stress is keeping you up at night, here are a few techniques that you can use to mitigate your stress symptoms at home:

  • Identify your stress triggers
  • Learn your stress signals (i.e. muscle tension, lack of energy, irritability, difficulty focusing)
  • Recognize how you usually deal with stress
  • Explore healthy ways to manage your stress, such as:
    • Meditation
    • Exercise
    • Talking with friends and family
  • Take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking water, taking breaks from work, and getting enough sleep.

3. Adjust your diet and limit caffeine

Diet has a significant impact on your overall health and your body’s ability to obtain adequate sleep. Ingredients with high levels of sugar and caffeine can make you feel more awake, which in turn, make you feel restless when you’re trying to go to sleep.

Avoiding these substances later on in the day can help you fall asleep more quickly, and as a result, improve the quality of your sleep.

4. Exercise earlier in the day

While great for both body and mind, exercise causes your body to accelerate the production of energy-enhancing hormones. After a workout, you may feel this residual energy for hours to come. When you exercise later on in the day or right before bed, you may have trouble falling asleep because you’re feeling alert after your workout.

If your schedule allows, try to plan your workout earlier on in the day, or opt for more gentle exercises, like yoga and stretching in the latter half.

5. Practice sleep-promoting habits

If you’re having trouble falling asleep or keep waking up throughout the night, give these healthy sleep habitsa try:

  • Set a consistent sleep routine—go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends
  • Schedule your bedtime so that you can get at least 7 hours of sleep
  • Don’t go to bed unless you’re tired
  • Try to wind down before bedtime by doing relaxing activities
  • Avoid using electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Minimize exposure to bright lights before bed
  • Avoid consuming alcohol or caffeine before bedtime
  • Try not to drink caffeine in the late afternoon or evening
  • Eat healthy and exercise regularly

6. Address physical discomfort and medical concerns

In addition to stress and environmental triggers, physical discomfort can be another common offender of interrupted sleep. Acid reflux and shoulder pain are two examples.

For many individuals, acid reflux actually worsens at night and leads to poor sleep. This happens because the gravity that normally helps keep acid in your stomach is no longer able to do so when you’re lying down. This, in combination with the curvature of the esophagus, makes it easier for acid to escape from the stomach and reflux into the esophagus, where it can cause lasting damage.

For these reasons, doctors recommend those with acid reflux to sleep at an incline on their left side. This is considered the best sleeping position for acid reflux because it naturally helps keep stomach acid from entering the esophagus while you’re lying down. MedCline’s Reflux Relief System helps you comfortably achieve this sleeping posture by keeping your torso elevated while relieving pressure off of your downside arm.

As for shoulder pain, our Shoulder Relief System helps alleviate nighttime shoulder pain, and as a result, has a 95% sleep improvement rating. Better yet, the system uses gel-infused foam for cooling comfort, medical-grade materials for effectiveness and longevity, and only takes up ½ of a queen-sized bed.

Final Notes

If you’re having trouble staying asleep or getting to sleep at all, we hope this resource helps. From work and relationship stress to physical discomfort and environmental triggers,  many factors can keep us from getting a good night’s sleep.

With a better understanding of why you may be struggling with sleep, you can find the best solution for your needs. If you’re dealing with shoulder pain or acid reflux at night, visit our FAQ page or speak with a sleep specialist to learn how MedCline can help improve your sleep today.