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7 Signs You’re Sleep Deprived (and How to Fix It)

By Laine Bergeson
March 18, 2024
Photo Credit: Bonnin Studio

Sleep is one of our most basic bodily functions, and one of the most important — and yet, so many of us don’t get enough. For the longest time, it seemed not sleeping was something to brag about, the old “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” flex. Nowadays, we know more about how important it is for our health and quality of life — but still, more than one-third of American adults report getting less than the recommended 7 hours per night.

If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone: Insomnia, the most common sleep disorder, affects about two-thirds of adults some of the time, and 10 to 15% of adults suffer from it chronically, research shows.

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Why sleep matters

Sleep is when our bodies heal, our brains detox, and our metabolism resets. It’s when we process the day’s events and consolidate memories. And then there’s the fact that, while we may skimp on sleep in order to increase productivity, sleep deprivation is associated with decreased productivity, increased absenteeism from work, and more accidents and injuries.

There are long-term consequences of sleep deprivation, too. Otherwise healthy people who experience insufficient or poor-quality sleep for an extended period of time are at increased risk for weight gain, weight loss resistance, high blood pressure, imbalanced blood sugar, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.

The big takeaway? It’s time to prioritize getting consistent quality sleep.

Signs of sleep deprivation

For some of us, it’s been so long since we slept well that we may have forgotten what it feels like to be well rested. Here are a few telltale signs and symptoms that may indicate you’re sleep deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • You have trouble falling asleep. If it takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep after lights out, this can be a sign of poor sleep quality.
  • You wake up two or more times during the night.
  • When you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re awake for 20 minutes or more before you’re able to fall back asleep.
  • You feel groggy and yawn a lot during the day.
  • You have brain fog and/or you find it hard to concentrate.
  • You’re irritable, moody, and/or forgetful.

10 real-life ways to improve your sleep

Luckily, there are habits you can incorporate every day to help you sleep better. Here are some you can start today.

1. Don’t eat too close to bedtime

Research indicates that eating within 30 minutes to an hour before bed may reduce sleep quality. The process of digestion may divert resources away from the body’s ability to fall and stay asleep. Pain from heartburn also can keep you awake. Aim to stop eating at least two hours before bedtime.

2. Keep your bedroom cool

Break out the blankets: Studies show the ideal temperature for sleep is about 65ºF. Your body temperature drops while you sleep, so a cool room can help the process along.

3. Go dark

Ambient light from outdoor lampposts and neighbors’ windows, glowing phone screens, and other electronics has a negative effect on sleep. This may be especially true for women. Make sure light-emitting devices are flipped over, turned off, or left out of your bedroom altogether. If there’s a lot of light outside, invest in light-blocking curtains or shades.

4. Embrace the quiet

Studies show that nocturnal noise pollution hurts sleep. If you can’t control the noise in your bedroom because of street sounds or unpredictable neighbors, try a white noise machine. Another option is to run a fan, which also can keep help you cool.

5. Instill a bedtime routine

Imagine if a toddler was running around, playing, and laughing, and then at bedtime, their parent just plopped them into bed, flipped out the lights, and walked away. It would be a hard transition, and the same is true for adults. We fall asleep faster and sleep better when we have a ritual that reminds the body that it’s time for bed. Create a simple two- or three-step routine that you do every night before bed. Steps could include some combination of meditating, writing in a journal, reading a book, taking a bath, or a enjoying a skincare routine.

6. Don’t drink caffeine past noon

The buzz we feel from caffeine may wear off in an hour or two, but it circulates in the body for much longer — anywhere from five to ten hours. Switching to decaf drinks after lunch can help you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.

7. Stay off electronic devices before bed

You’ve heard it a million times by now, but it’s worth repeating: The blue light from phone screens, tablets, and other devices disrupts our circadian rhythm and makes it hard to fall and stay asleep. Put screens away at least an hour before bed.

8. Try not to nap

Naps aren’t a problem if they don’t affect your nighttime sleep. But if you’re prone to naps during the day and you have trouble falling asleep at night, try to cut out naps altogether. Or, if you want a short rest, keep your nap brief, 15 to 20 minutes at most.

9. Cut back on alcohol

Alcohol does a funny thing when it comes to sleep. You conk out faster, but the sleep you get is lower quality. You’re also more apt to wake up in the middle of the night and not fall back asleep. Alcohol also can intensify stress, which can interrupt sleep. Try cutting alcohol for a few weeks to see if your sleep improves.

10. Get a little sun during the day

Getting just a short amount of direct sunlight, say 10 to 15 minutes, sometime in the morning or around noon each day can help you sleep at night. The daytime sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythm, so your body knows when it’s time to be awake and when to sleep.

Read next: Is There a Link Between Sleep and Blood Sugar? Experts Weigh In

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