If you're still tired after 8 hours of sleep, these sleep hygiene habits might be taking a subtle toll on your performance, mood, and physical and mental health.
Humans are the only animals who voluntarily deprive themselves of sleep. Every other animal rests when they need it. Yet the modern world gives us plenty of avenues for escaping or delaying sleep. The internet beckons 24/7. We can ingest plants or energy drinks that jolt us awake within minutes. And most people have been spoon-fed one-liners that cloud their perceptions about the nature of sleep.
If you're wondering why you're still tired after eight hours of sleep, you might feel the pressure of one of the most famous one-liners among them: the idea that eight hours is the gold standard of sleep. This and other sleep misconceptions can cause you to overlook links between your sleep habits and your physical and mental performance throughout the day.
Re-thinking the following sleep hygiene habits can help you fall asleep faster while maximizing your chances of getting truly restorative and energy-promoting sleep. These changes will also help you avoid the uniquely crushing frustration that comes with prioritizing sleep yet still waking up tired, spending the day yawning rather than doing meaningful, focused work, spending time with people you love, or whatever you’d do if you had a wealth of energy.
Bad sleep hygiene habit #1: Focusing on the amount of time you're asleep rather than its rhythmic nature
You've probably heard that you need eight hours of sleep per night to stay healthy. This is a blanket recommendation that doesn't reflect everyone's needs. According to the Sleep Foundation, on average, most people benefit from approximately 7 to 9 hours of sleep. But the amount of sleep YOU need is unique. Contrary to common intuitions, getting too much sleep can also degrade your energy levels and increase your daytime tiredness.
Like other animals, humans are rhythmic beings. Studies show that deviations from habitual sleep patterns disrupt our circadian rhythms, promoting lower moods and daytime tiredness. For example, research at the University of Michigan investigated the sleep habits of over 2,000 first-year medical residents who wore wristband trackers that measured their daily sleep patterns. Residents with irregular sleep habits had lower daily mood ratings and more symptoms of depression compared to participants who kept consistent schedules .
While the sleep research community has long focused on the mood-denigrating impacts of sleep deprivation, this study showed that irregular sleep patterns are just as detrimental to well-being as missing sleep.
Maintaining consistent bed and wake-up times will improve your sleep quality and energy levels far more than getting eight hours of erratic sleep each night. Why? Consistent sleep habits help tune your circadian rhythm. The more consistent your sleep schedule, the more effortlessly your brain and body will initiate sleep's restorative processes. In this way, you'll find it easier to fall asleep. Getting high-quality sleep will also be less effortful—the rest you get will be more efficient.
Bad sleep hygiene habit #2: Misalignment between your chronotype and your schedule
Your chronotype dictates when you feel naturally awake or restful within a 24-hour period. Because so many people have work or family obligations that work against their natural chronotype, their energy and motivation levels often fall out of alignment with their schedule. They feel sluggish and exhausted while working or exercising and alert and energetic before bed.
Research shows that your chronotype dictates when you experience peaks and valleys in your cognitive and physical performance . As a result, identifying and planning your activities around your chronotype can be a natural, drug-free tool to raise the levels of productivity and stamina you bring to the challenging aspects of your day.
If you're uncertain about your chronotype, check out Dr. Michael Breus' Sleep Chronotypes quiz. You can also read our article: how to work with your natural sleep cycle, not against it. Knowing your chronotype will help you build a schedule based on the levels of attention, enthusiasm, and sharpness you'll be biologically inclined to bring to them.
Bad sleep hygiene habit #3: Accumulating sleep debt without knowing it
If you feel tired during your day, the temptation is to think about the quality of your previous night's sleep. But your level of wakefulness today is a product of the sleep you've gotten over the last 14 days. Sleep debt, also known as sleep deficit, refers to the hours of sleep you need compared to the amount you've gotten. For example, if you slept four hours last night but feel best with eight, you'd have four hours of sleep debt.
When you don't get enough sleep, you miss the natural purge of the sleep-promoting hormone, adenosine, which normally happens after a night of sleep. Instead, adenosine builds up over a series of days. When you don't make up for lost sleep, its negative impacts intensify. The pressing problem with sleep debt is that the body can physically adapt to chronic sleep deprivation . When your body adapts to a chronic sleep deficit, the reductions in your performance can feel your new baseline, even if you don't feel sleepy.
If you think you have sleep debt, be patient and compassionate with yourself. Research shows that it can take up to nine days to completely eliminate sleep debt . Many people take naps or sleep in when they're feeling tired, but these strategies can be more like bandages than long-term solutions. To correct the problem at its source, implement these changes:
Gradually increase the time you're asleep. To recover from sleep debt, consider sleeping for 15-30 minutes longer, incrementally adding more time spent asleep as your body adjusts to the change. Your preference may be different, but it's often easier to focus first on changing the time you wake up (rather than the time you go to bed). If you go to bed earlier, you might spend the time lying awake and not make a difference in the amount of time you spend asleep. A gradual approach helps you recover your sleep debt without completely disrupting or overturning your current rhythms.
Create a before-bed ritual. One of the biggest obstacles to falling asleep is the struggle to slow or turn down the volume of your thinking before bed. The purpose of a pre-bed ritual is to put yourself into the wind-down mode, so you're occupying a physical and mental space where sleep follows naturally. Sleep medicine expert Dr. Michael Breus has shared his pre-bed ritual consisting of three 20-minute segments, which he calls the power-down hour. To smooth the transition into bedtime, try this:
- Take 20 minutes to do anything that might leave you with a sense of incompleteness if you didn’t get it done before bed: planning for the following day, ironing clothes, or any lingering items on your to-do list.
- Next, focus on hygiene-related tasks: brushing or flossing, showering, or whatever you do. Due to the links between body temperature and sleep, studies have shown that hot baths taken 1.5 hours before bedtime can significantly improve sleep continuity and deep sleep (5).
- Finally, the third part of the routine focuses on explicitly relaxing things: meditation, reading, light stretching, listening to a light-hearted podcast in candlelight, or other activities that ready your mind and body for bed.
Bad sleep hygiene habit #4: Consuming sleep-disrupting food and drinks
The food and drinks we consume can impact our sleep, even if we don't notice any difficulty falling or staying asleep. Alcohol and caffeine cause (often) imperceptible changes that powerfully interfere with the quality of your sleep. These disruptions can degrade your mental sharpness and physical stamina.
Caffeine is well known for having a half-life of about six hours. This implies that six hours after your last cup, half of the caffeine remains in your system. What's less well-known is that caffeine has a quarter-life of about 12 hours. If you were to have your last cup of coffee at noon, a quarter would still be in your system by midnight. As sleep expert Matthew Walker pointed out, that's like taking a swig of coffee before getting into bed!
This randomized controlled trial showed that participants who drank caffeine six hours before bed had drastic increases in the amount of time they spent awake throughout the night. They also had reduced sleep efficiency, which is the amount of time spent in bed compared to the time spent asleep (6). Alcohol also takes a subtle yet far-reaching toll on our sleep: its sedative properties cause people to fall asleep quickly after lying down. But after its initial effects fade, the body spends more time in lighter sleep stages, interfering with REM and deep sleep, which are paramount for restoration (7).
Sleep-supportive foods are typically those that serve as precursors to hormones important for sleep quality; namely, human growth hormone, melatonin, and serotonin. To support your sleep, focus on these nutrients and vitamins:
- High-quality protein: Almonds, lentils, eggs, fatty fish, pumpkin seeds, chicken breast, and lean beef
- Magnesium: Dark chocolate, flax seeds, lima beans, and spinach
- Vitamin D: Salmon, mackerel, oysters, and egg yolks
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and cold- pressed oils like olive or krill oil
Bad sleep hygiene habit #5: Your bedroom is telling your body it's daytime
Waking up tired can also happen if your bedroom environment prevents your body from getting into a state conducive to sleep. To fall asleep, we need to feel safe at a nervous system level. Specific environmental cues tell our bodies that it's time to be alert and active (triggering our sympathetic responses) rather than calm and restful. These are the two biggest environmental concerns:
Why blue light disrupts sleep, even if we're not conscious of it
Blue light has become the anti-hero of sleep advice: most people know that blue light and sleep don't mix. The problem is less about blue light itself and more about the way our eyes respond to it. Light is a nutrient. It sends messages to the mitochondria (the energy source of our cells). These messages send signals to our cells that affect our energy levels. Different frequencies of light deliver different messages to the cells.
The concern is that blue light sources (LED and fluorescent lights and backlit electronics) emit wavelengths with similar effects as sunlight. Though blue light is nowhere near as powerful as sunlight, our eyes are more sensitive to light in the evening than they are in the morning. Because of its similarities to sunlight, viewing blue light at night sends alertness signals to our brain, interfering with melatonin production and (as a result) your ability to sleep. These signals can interfere with our sleep quality, even if you’re not consciously aware of having sleep issues.
Be sure to turn LED, fluorescent, and blue lights off at least 90 minutes before bed, and sleep in a completely dark space. In the hours before you go to bed, Himalayan salt lamps or candles will help you transition your mind into wind-down mode. Alternatively, you might replace your light bulbs with warm colors while dimming their brightness in the evening. Orange, red, and yellow-colored light bulbs don't interfere with melatonin production.
Why only cool people fall asleep easily
Our standard daytime body temperature is around 98.6 F with minor fluctuations. When the sun sets, the body releases hormones that cause our core body temperature to drop. In this way, the temperature drop is one of the main ways our bodies transition into sleep.
Because this temperature drop allows you to fall and stay asleep, hot environments can disrupt sleep. Similarly, humid temperatures will mean that any sweat that gathers on your body during sleep will evaporate slower. This will make it harder for the body to stay cool.
For adults, the ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees F while infants sleep best in slightly warmer environments (about 69 degrees F) (8). Taking a warm bath about 90 minutes before bed can also help you sleep by lowering your internal body temperature (9).
If you're still tired after 8 hours of sleep, add these practices to your routine
For most people, a mid-afternoon decline in energy levels is a natural part of their circadian rhythm. This typically happens between 1 and 3 pm. But even if you face this energy dip, the following strategies can help sharpen your mind and body so you can return to your work or other responsibilities as refreshed and energetic as possible.
Tuning your circadian rhythm with the Apollo wearable
The Apollo™ wearable is a device clinically proven to improve sleep quality, focus, access to meditative states, and heart rate variability (HRV). It sends silent vibrations that balance the nervous system, so you feel calmer and more in control. The Apollo wearable's novel form of touch therapy is based on the large body of research demonstrating the mood- and emotion-regulating effects of specific patterns of touch. The Apollo wearable includes modes that work on a spectrum from the most energizing to the most relaxing, with each mode supporting different goals.
The Apollo wearable supports sleep because it can help stabilize your circadian rhythm. When your circadian rhythm stabilizes, you naturally feel tired and alert at predictable times each day. This makes you much less susceptible to mid-morning exhaustion or tossing and turning throughout the night.
Using the scheduling feature, you can create a customizable schedule so that the Apollo's modes play automatically depending on what you're doing. The modes help you transition into physiological states compatible with your day’s changing priorities.
Non-sleep deep rest
Non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) induces deep relaxation through breathing, thinking, and brain wave frequency changes. The practice originates from the ancient practice, Yoga Nidra, designed to activate a state of consciousness that stands between wakefulness and sleep. Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman has recently brought more attention to NSDR.
Research into NSDR point to benefits, including (but not limited to):
- Stress relief
- Improved sleep quality
- Enhanced focus
- Heightened cognitive function (10)
Though NSDR is an umbrella term for different practices that relax and heal the body—such as meditation, visualization, and hypnosis—there's a specific NSDR practice meant to suspend you in the state between wakefulness and sleep. It's an ideal tool to use when you're looking for a refresh but don't want to commit to a nap.
To do the practice:
- Lie down in a comfortable position.
- Follow a guided NSDR meditation, such as this one: NSDR with Dr. Andrew Huberman
- Start small (10-15 minutes), and increase the time commitment as you consistently practice.
As with most techniques, the benefits of NSDR will increase the more consistently you do it. You'll also find it easier to maintain deep relaxation (rather than falling asleep) the more consistent you become with it, which will help you make the most of its restorative properties.
Get early morning exercise
The timing of your exercise can influence the quality of your sleep (and the level of restoration it gives you). Researchers at Appalachian State University studied the impacts of exercising at various times: participants worked out exclusively at 7 am, 1 pm, and 7 pm. They found that morning exercisers spent more time in deep sleep than those who exercised in the afternoon or evening.
The participants who got early exercise produced more human growth hormone, slept longer and more efficiently, and had a drop in blood pressure at night. This blood pressure drop correlated with greater activation of their rest-and-digest (parasympathetic nervous system) .
Shawn Stevenson, the author of Sleep Smarter, explained that early morning exercise gives you a cortisol reset: when we’re balanced, we experience a rise in cortisol in the morning and a drop at night. People who aren’t sleeping well often experience cortisol surges at night. Morning exercise raises your cortisol levels in the morning, which helps the body return to a natural hormonal rhythm, meaning that your sleep patterns normalize and your daytime energy levels rise .
Although your chronotype may influence your ideal exercise time, experiment with as little as five minutes of high-intensity exercise in the morning, and see if you notice changes. It could involve a short run, a brisk walk, jumping on a trampoline, or whatever feels accessible and gets your blood pumping.
Strengthen your sleep by layering optimizations, one at a time
If you have a history of sleep trouble, it can feel absurd to think minor sleep hygiene habits could make a big difference in your sleep quality and energy levels.
And it’s worth noting these optimizations work best in conjunction with each other. They’re meant to modulate your sleep habits, not completely overturn them.
But if you introduce sleep optimizations, one by one, you’ll create a cascade effect. Your sleep will become increasingly restorative. At the same time, healthy, sleep-protective behaviors will feel automatic and simple without as much active effort or planning on your part.
- Fang, Y, Forger DB, Frank, E, et al. Day-to-day variability in sleep parameters and depression risk: a prospective cohort study of training physicians npj Digital Medicine. 2021. 4(28). doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41746-021-00400-z
- Facer-Childs, ER, Boiling, S, and Balanos, GM. The effects of time of day and chronotype on cognitive and physical performance in healthy volunteers. Sports Medicine Open. 2018. 4(47). doi: 10.1186/s40798-018-0162-z
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- Kitamura, S, Katayose, Y, Nakazaki, K, et al. Estimating individual optimal sleep duration and potential sleep debt. Scientific Reports. 2016. 24(6): 35812. doi: 10.1038/srep35812.
- Dorsey, CM, Lukas, SE, Teicher, MH, et al. Effects of passive body heating on the sleep of older female insomniacs. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology. 1996, 9(2): 83-90. doi: 10.1177/089198879600900203.
- Drake, C, Roehrs, T, Shambroom J, Roth, T. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2013. 15(9): 1195-200. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.3170.
- Breus, M. (2022, December 13). Alcohol and Sleep. The Sleep Doctor. https://thesleepdoctor.com/alcohol-and-sleep/
- Wright, H and Pacheco, D. (2022, September 29). The Best Temperature for Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/best-temperature-for-sleep
- Haghayegh, S, Khoshvenis, S, Smolensky MH, et al. Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Review. 2019. 46:124-135. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2019.04.008
- Maxwell, C. (2022, November 18). Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) for Enhanced Recovery. Ten Bulls. https://tenbulls.co/non-sleep-deep-rest-nsdr/
- Fairbrother, K, Cartner, B, Alley, JR, et al. Effects of exercise timing on sleep architecture and nocturnal blood pressure in prehypertensives. Vascular Health Risk Management. 2014. 10:691-8. doi: 10.2147/VHRM.S73688
- Bilyeu, T. Tom Bilyeu. (2018, March 15). Why Sleep is More Important than Diet. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Mtw3vBQYOg&t=622s