Here are the most common external factors that influence sleep quality.
It is the number one cause for bad sleep. Digital screens are a plague for sleep and this for two main reasons. Mainly because watching something on a screen requires a lot of effort for your eyes and is very stimulating for your brain. This will make your brain think unnecessarily (even unconsciously) before and during your sleep. And also, because the blue light of these screens will disrupt your circadian rhythm. It will make your inner clock think that it is not time to sleep and therefore delay your sleep even if you put yourself in the dark.
Bottom line: don’t watch digital screens before sleeping. And if you really want to watch your screen, consider downloading an app (or sometimes changing your settings) to get rid of blue lights, lower the brightness to the minimum and do not look at your screen in the dark but rather in a lit room. Finally do not look at your screens in your bed while lying down. Because lying in bed for a long time without sleeping will also disrupt your inner system. The gesture of lying indicates to your system that you want to sleep, so don’t miss your opportunity.
Daylight and darkness
Light influences your body’s internal clock, which regulates sleep and wakefulness. Irregular light exposure can lead to a disruption of your circadian rhythm, making it harder to sleep well. That’s why if you live in a country where there is not a lot of sun, it is normal for you to have episodes where you sleep badly. It is important to expose your body to bright light or artificial bright light during the day as well as sleeping in a dark room at night. (Click here to know more about Circadian Rhythm)
Quite obvious, but it is normal to suffer from insomnia or excessive sleepiness when traveling to a country that drastically does not live at the same time as you. Depending on whether you are traveling west or east and your Jet Lag management, it may take a few days for your body to get used to the new time zone.
Alcohol intake in the evening
At first glance, having a drink seems to be helpful to fall asleep because it makes you tired once the effects of alcohol fade. However, if alcohol usually helps you fall asleep, it disrupts the rest of the night.
Alcohol will increase the duration and frequency of awakenings in the second part of your night. It increases the duration of light sleep and it reduces deep sleep.
A single glass of wine remains okay for sleep.
Caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate or some other drinks is not recommended to intake in the hours before bedtime.
Caffeine is a stimulating substance that reaches its highest blood level after 30 to 60 minutes and its half-life is 3 to 6 hours: in other words, it takes between 3 and 6 hours for the body to eliminate half of the caffeine ingested, the rest can last up to 14 hours in the body.
It is important not to consume coffee, tea, cola or any caffeinated beverage after 5 pm in which case caffeine will delay falling asleep, shorten total sleep time and decrease the quality of sleep.
Even if one seems to feel peace after a cigarette, nicotine is also a stimulant of the central nervous system and can delay falling asleep and make your sleep lighter. Nicotine is actually a stimulating substance that speeds up the heart rate and raises blood pressure. Moreover, when quitting smoking, sleep disturbances may manifest as insomnia. Smoking also promotes the occurrence of snoring and sleep apnea. Smokers would be 2.5 times more likely to suffer from OSA (obstructive sleep apnea syndrome) than non-smokers. Read about Sleep disorders classification.
Heavy and late meal
The quality of sleep is linked to a multitude of factors among which nutrition is a key factor.
Even if we may think that sleeping just after eating is a good idea because we will use the fatigue of digestion to sleep faster, in the end, it may be destructive.
A laborious digestion is the first thing to avoid, and for a simple reason. Digestion and sleep are two completely different activities for your body that will have a hard time doing both at the same time. On one side you’re asking your body to let go and relax while on the other side your entire body is engaging into heavy activity to digest.
Of course the digestion time and effort depends on the composition of your meals. This is why you must avoid eating heavy foods that are hard to digest before bedtime. Avoid evening meals that are rich in greasy meats, calories and vitamin C. Sugar and carbohydrates reduce the quality of deep sleep.
Moreover, the lying position promotes gastric reflux and burning sensations. It is not an ideal position to digest. As a general rule, you should wait for four to six hours after the end of dinner before going to bed.
Some medication and drugs intake
Taking amphetamine drugs, corticosteroids, anti-tuberculosis, antihistamines, as well as prescription medications including beta blockers, alpha blockers, and some antidepressants can affect the good quality of sleep.
Physical activity before sleep
Physical exercise is well known for the feeling of relaxation and well-being it can provide, especially after a grueling workout. Nevertheless working out before sleep time may not be good for the quality of your sleep. Indeed, practicing a sport just before bedtime can cause insomnia (especially if it’s a heavy effort).
During sleep, the temperature of the body drops. While when you exercise, the temperature of your body increases. There are several ways to regulate the temperature of our body, the most effective being respiration. However, its cooling action is not immediate. Therefore, by practicing a physical activity shortly before bedtime, the temperature of your body will be high and you may have trouble falling asleep.
Moreover, during physical activities, the body releases hormones into the bloodstream that keep us awake and alert. If this is beneficial during a sport session, it can be a problem when you will try to sleep. You may lose long hours of sleep waiting for your hormone levels to drop.
However a walk before sleep is quite recommended.
Intellectual activity before sleep
If you want to have a good night’s sleep, it is really not the time to get your brain thinking too much in the evening, and it is not a good time either to tackle the issues that get you angry and frustrated.
The risk of intellectual activity before sleeping, is to not being successful in letting your ideas go and get your brain to unconsciously try to solve your problems before sleeping. And this is very bad. It might get you angry and delay your sleep even more.
So consider relaxing activities that don’t need your brain to think too hard.
The culture and the country where you live
Living in a stressful environment (job, social, politic, economic) determines our pace of life and the environment in which we live. So many factors that are beyond our control can affect our sleep negatively.
Your environment of sleep
Sleeping in a quiet, dark room and at a cool and comfortable temperature will help you sleep faster.
When you start to fall asleep the temperature of your body drops. The body becomes more sensitive to high temperatures and it can disturb your sleep very easily. That’s why the ideal room temperature for sleep is between 18 – 22 Celcius degrees (64.4 – 71.6 Fahrenheit).
Noise, as well as blue light, delay the release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for your sleep. It is therefore essential to cut any noise as much as possible before going to bed. Don’t listen to any sound higher than that of a human conversation. For example, if you listen to music or television, try to listen to it at a reasonable volume.
Also, the comfort of your bed can influence your sleep. The greater the feeling of comfort, the better sleep will be.
Pain and Sickness
It is obvious that physical pain and sickness will influence the quality of your sleep and can cause sleep debt. Consider practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep abdominal breathing. In extreme case, you can use pain killers and/or sleeping pills under the supervision of a doctor.
The Full Moon
Full moon can be a mess for some people. Scientists have reported an average of 25-minute decreasing sleep time during the full moon coupled with less deep sleep. However they also found an increase in the duration of REM sleep of 30 minutes. During this lunar phase, the release of melatonin decreases. In recent years, specialists accumulate the results in favor of a lunar influence on sleep, even if failing to have solid tracks of explanations.
Indeed, there are many external factors that can disturb our sleep. But most of them can easily be fixed once you have identified them. If you identify several causes for your poor sleep, do not try to fix everything at once. Go little by little.
If you feel that you have issues sleeping because of stress or anxiety, you can read “How to get rid of stress and anxiety”