Poor Sleep Quality: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

May 6, 2024
A woman sleeping

When you need good quality sleep the most, that is when you are up all night tossing and turning. Whether it’s the night before a big event, a big presentation at work, or a marathon run, you need sleep, but your brain refuses to turn itself off. Or maybe you slept all night but woke up tired and groggy. You are not alone. According to a  2014 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 35% of American adults rate their sleep quality as “poor” or “only fair.”1

Poor quality sleep has physical and psychological implications. Sleep affects metabolism, appetite, immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular health. According to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society (SRS), adults should sleep seven or more hours per night regularly. Better quality sleep is associated with better health, less daytime sleepiness, well-being, and better psychological health.2

Causes And Contributing Factors To Poor Sleep

Causes and contributing factors can be divided into physical, psychological, and environmental/lifestyle causes.

Physical causes of disrupted sleep:

Psychological causes of disrupted sleep:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Psychiatric disorders

Environmental/lifestyle causes of disrupted sleep:3

  • Excessive caffeine consumption
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Underexposure to sunlight to regulate circadian rhythms
  • Being a caregiver
  • Shift work
  • Jet lag
Two people sleeping

Sleep Disorders

There are about 100 different types of sleep disorders, but they can be classified as:2,4

  • Sleep deprivation: failure to get the necessary amount or quality of sleep
  • Sleep fragmentation: failure to maintain sleep continuity
  • Sleep events: restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea

Signs And Symptoms Of Poor Sleep Quality

Signs and symptoms of poor-quality sleep are usually pretty easy to identify:

  • Waking up and not feeling rested
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Waking up frequently through the night
  • Having trouble falling asleep
  • Needing a mid-day nap
  • Feeling stressed out
  • Weight gain and increased appetite

Better Sleep Habits

Good sleep hygiene means prioritizing your sleep by ensuring you have healthy sleep habits and sleep in an environment that induces sleep.

  • Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Whether you need 7 hours of sleep a night, or 10, set a schedule seven days a week. While it is tempting to sleep in on weekends to “catch up” on your sleep, it doesn’t work very well.
  • Establish a bedtime routine that tells your brain and body it is time for sleep.
  • Turn off screens about an hour before bedtime. Electronic screens emit blue light that makes your brain think it is still daytime.
  • Sleep in a room that is cool, dark, and without distraction. Use blackout curtains and white noise to reduce stimuli that may keep your brain active.
  • Limit caffeine intake after noon and alcohol within three hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid heavy meals before bedtime, especially if you are prone to gastroesophageal reflux and indigestion.
  • Help your brain set your circadian rhythm by spending a few minutes outside each morning, especially when the sun is out. If the season or weather is not cooperating, a light box can also help. Light boxes are sometimes equipped with an alarm to make it easier to adjust your light exposure for optimum health.
  • Try to get plenty of exercise throughout the day to relieve stress and improve your sleep quality.
A close up of an alarm clock and a person sleeping

Medical Interventions

Studies have suggested that poor sleep can impact weight management, immune health, psychological health, and cognitive function.

When researchers investigated the relationship between short sleep durations and obesity, they found that shorter sleep duration was associated with an increase in calorie and fat intake, with no change in energy expenditure. Sustained sleep problems can lead to overweight and obesity.5 It is difficult to work on body composition and sleep problems simultaneously. For this reason, many people turn to lipotropics such as Lipo-B12 to help them manage their weight.

Sleep and the circadian rhythm have a strong influence on immune function. Sleep also seems to play a role in forming immunological memory. Once your immune system is exposed to a pathogen, special colonies of B and T cells remember the infection. This allows them to mount a fast response if they are exposed to the same pathogen again. Antioxidants and mitochondrial support supplements such as NAD+ and vitamin packs are designed to support your immune function.

Besides weight gain and reduced immune function, chronic insomnia is associated with mood disorders and depression. Over half of people with major depressive disorder also have insomnia, and between 10 and 20% of people with insomnia also meet the criteria for major depressive disorder. In one study, researchers found that treating insomnia improved depressive symptoms.6

Poor Sleep Quality: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Short-term Effects Of Poor Sleep Quality

Restorative sleep is essential for optimal physical and mental health. Lifestyle and environmental factors can contribute to poor sleep. Poor sleep impacts you in the following ways:3,7

  • Reduced ability to manage stress
  • Increased pain
  • Reduced quality of life ratings
  • Emotional distress
  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Poor memory
  • Slower cognitive function
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
Sleep aids

Long-term Effects Of Poor Sleep Quality

Over time, your sleep debt adds up and can have long-term effects on your health, including:3,7

  • Brain fog, or the inability to think clearly and quickly
  • High blood pressure
  • Disordered blood lipids
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and stroke)
  • Difficulty with weight management
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type-2 diabetes mellitus
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Depression
  • Increased all-cause mortality in men

Many people consider poor sleep a nuisance, but research has shown it is much more than that. Poor sleep can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health. If you are having chronic poor sleep and changing your lifestyle habits does not help, give your doctor a call to see if an appointment with a sleep specialist could help.

Author: Leann Poston, M.D.
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  • Foundation NS. 2014 Sleep Health Index. National Sleep Foundation Arlington, VA; 2014.
  • Harvey AG, Stinson K, Whitaker KL, Moskovitz D, Virk H. The subjective meaning of sleep quality: a comparison of individuals with and without insomnia. Sleep. Mar 2008;31(3):383-93. doi:10.1093/sleep/31.3.383
  • Medic G, Wille M, Hemels ME. Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nat Sci Sleep. 2017;9:151-161. doi:10.2147/nss.S134864
  • Altevogt BM, Colten HR. Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation: an unmet public health problem. 2006
  • St-Onge MP, Roberts AL, Chen J, et al. Short sleep duration increases energy intakes but does not change energy expenditure in normal-weight individuals. Am J Clin Nutr. Aug 2011;94(2):410-6. doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.013904
  • Isaac F, Greenwood KM. The relationship between insomnia and depressive symptoms: genuine or artifact? Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2011;7:57-63. doi:10.2147/ndt.S16267
  • Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al. Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. Jun 1 2015;38(6):843-4. doi:10.5665/sleep.4716
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