Restorative Sleep

A woman sleeps on a pillow

From the GW Sleep Center’s Vivek Jain, MD and the Resiliency & Well-being Center team.

Restorative sleep falls under the Recharge element of the Resiliency & Well-being Center’s
whole person approach to supporting purpose (see the Recharge video and the Resiliency &
Well-being for Whole Health Worksheet). Without restorative sleep, we cannot contribute
meaningfully professionally or personally.

A good night of sleep should have you feeling well-rested and awake the next day. Research
data suggests that almost a third of us drag ourselves out of bed in the morning because we
haven’t gotten enough good-quality sleep at night, which means we’re not feeling as great as
we could be during the day.

If you are feeling tired upon waking up, or throughout the day, you may be experiencing some
underlying issues that are impacting your night’s rest. Any number of things could be
contributing to your poor sleep quality. Some potential causes include poor sleep hygiene,
stress, sleep apnea or another primary sleep disorder, or another chronic health condition.

Poor Sleep Habits

Poor sleep habits, like having an irregular sleep schedule or consuming too much caffeine or
alcohol, can interfere with your sleep quality. In a study of nursing students, smoking and daily
coffee consumption were two of the largest factors associated with poor sleep quality. Alcohol
also disturbs your sleep, even though it’s considered a sedative.

Stress and Anxiety

Poor mental health, whether from increased stress or a depression or anxiety disorder, also
contributes to poor sleep quality. Visit the Resiliency & Well-being Center Anxiety page and Stress Management page.

Chronic Health Conditions

Certain chronic health conditions are associated with poor sleep patterns and less sleep overall.
These include chronic lung diseases, asthma, acid reflux, renal disease, cancer, fibromyalgia,
and chronic pain. Unfortunately, as with stress and anxiety, poor sleep quality can exacerbate
the symptoms and discomfort felt with these conditions.

Undiagnosed Sleep Disorder

Because they occur in your sleep, some sleep disorders go undiagnosed until a person seeks
care for other symptoms like poor sleep quality, or a sleep partner alerts them to the
symptoms. For example, temporary lapses in breathing during their sleep, resulting in gasping,
choking, and snoring sounds, even if they don’t consciously wake you up, can disrupt sleep
quality because the brain has to kick start breathing again. Similarly, individuals with periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) experience involuntary jerking movements in their legs while
they sleep, resulting in reduced sleep quality, fatigue, and poor concentration during the day.
Individuals with narcolepsy likewise often suffer from poor sleep quality and experience daytime fatigue.

Consequences of poor quality sleep

Poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation can have many negative effects. These can be
physiological, including increased risk for stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Negative effects can also be psychological, such as increased irritability or development of
anxiety or depression. A lack of quality sleep can even impact your safety or the safety of
others. For example, driving while sleep-deprived can lead to an accident, injury, or even death.
Good sleep habits (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s

You can reach out to the Resiliency & Well-being Center staff for a consultation.

Consultation Request Form

Some habits that can improve your sleep health
  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends. It is close to impossible for your body to get accustomed to a healthy sleep routine if you are constantly waking up at different times.
  • If you don't fall asleep within about 20 minutes of going to bed, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read, listen to soothing music, or try a deep breathing exercise. Go back to bed when you're tired. Repeat as needed, but continue to maintain your sleep schedule and wake-up time.
  • Try to resolve your worries or concerns before bedtime. Jot down what's on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.
  • Try not to read (or send) work emails after dinner. The mere expectation of checking work email after hours can cause anxiety and stress.
  • Manage your stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Meditation also can ease anxiety. Visit the Resiliency & Well-being Center Stress Management page for more.
  • Taking a warm bath or shower an hour or two before bed has been shown to relax both the body and mind, in one study lowering both heart rate and blood pressure. Heat relaxes tense, tired muscles, and helps you to de-stress.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
    • Excess light exposure can throw off your sleep and circadian rhythm. Blackout curtains over your windows or a sleep mask over your eyes can block light and prevent it from interfering with your rest. Avoiding bright light can help you transition to bedtime and contribute to your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.
    • Keeping noise to a minimum is an important part of building a sleep-friendly bedroom. If you cannot eliminate nearby sources of noise, consider drowning them out with a fan or white noise machine. Earplugs or headphones are another option to stop sounds from bothering you when you want to sleep.
    • The ideal temperature can vary based on the individual, but most research supports sleeping in a cooler room that is around 65 to 68 degrees. Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom. Tablets, smartphones, and laptops can keep your brain wired, making it hard to truly wind down. The light from these electronic devices can also suppress your natural production of melatonin.
    • As much as possible, try to disconnect for an hour or more before going to bed. It is much easier to fall asleep if you are at ease. Quiet reading, low-impact stretching, listening to soothing music, and relaxation exercises are examples of ways to get into the right frame of mind for sleep.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
    • Caffeinated drinks, including coffee, tea, and sodas, are among the most popular beverages in the world. Some people are tempted to use the jolt of energy from caffeine to try to overcome daytime sleepiness, but that approach is not sustainable and can cause long-term sleep deprivation. To avoid this, keep an eye on your caffeine intake and avoid it later in the day when it can be a barrier to falling asleep (caffeine suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin).
    • Alcohol can induce drowsiness, so some people are keen on a nightcap before bed. Unfortunately, alcohol-affects the brain in ways that can lower sleep quality, making it best to avoid alcohol in the lead-up to bedtime.
    • It can be harder to fall asleep if your body is still digesting a big dinner. To keep food-based sleep disruptions to a minimum, try to avoid late dinners and minimize especially fatty or spicy foods. If you need an evening snack, opt for something light.
  • Exposure to smoke, including secondhand smoke, has been associated with a range of sleeping problems including difficulty falling asleep and fragmented sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant, and evening nicotine use in particular has been found to disrupt sleep.
  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night. Daily exercise has many benefits for health, and the changes it initiates in energy use and body temperature can promote solid sleep. Most experts advise against intense exercise close to bedtime because it may hinder your body’s ability to effectively settle down before sleep.
  • To sleep better at night, it is important to use caution with naps. If you nap for too long or too late in the day, it can throw off your sleep schedule and make it harder to get to sleep when you want to. The best time to nap is shortly after lunch in the early afternoon, and the best nap length is around 20 minutes.
  • The body’s internal clock is regulated by light exposure. Sunlight has a strong effect, so try to take in daylight by getting outside or opening up windows or blinds to natural light. Getting a dose of natural light early in the day, before 10 a.m., can help normalize your circadian rhythm.
  • If you have a comfortable bed, you may be tempted to spend your leisure time in it, but this can actually cause problems at bedtime. You want a strong mental association between your bed and sleep, so try to keep activities in your bed limited strictly to sleep and sex.
  • Declutter your bedroom. If your bed feels dreamy but your room is a mess, you could be at a higher risk for sleep problems.
Resources & Tools

GW Integrative Medicine Podcast Episodes

  1. The Science of Sleep (42:54)
  2. Sleep Deprivation and Glymphatics (28:32)