Hooray! You got a solid 8 hours of sleep last night. But then why did you wake up this morning feeling like roadkill? Facing the day refreshed isn't as simple as logging those elusive 7 to 8 hours in dreamland. We've got six surprising reasons you're not feeling your best—and simple fixes. (Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up to get FREE healthy living tips delivered straight to your inbox!)
You read your Kindle before bed.
People who read before bed using an iPad or similar device find it harder to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than those who curl up with a printed book, according to a recent Harvard study. The reason? The blue light emitted from the Kindle suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, which controls your sleep and wake cycles, said Robert Rosenberg, DO, FCCP, an Arizona sleep medicine specialist and author of “Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day.” Translation: When your melatonin levels are out of whack, you probably aren't sleeping as soundly as you think you are (check out these 8 sneaky signs you’re not sleeping as well as you think you are). He recommends shutting down all electronic devices (computers, cell phones, tablets, eReaders) 90 minutes before bed. Also, move your cell phone out of the room; even if it's on airplane mode, a phone emits enough light to interfere with sleep, said Dr. Sylvia Morris, MPH, an internist in Atlanta.
You sleep in a bad position.
Waking up with a sore back? It may be from sleeping on your side all night, which can create significant flexion at the hip, said Dr. Benjamin Domb, founder of the American Hip Institute. If you're one of the 57 percent of Americans who slumber in this position, it's a good idea to sleep with a pillow between your legs to maintain proper hip alignment.
"Hip injuries are some of the most common, yet trickiest, sleep injuries because the pain from the injury often shows itself in a different part of the body—like in the lower back," Domb said. (Here's what your favorite sleep position says about you.)
Your pillow sucks.
That huge fluffy pillow may seem like luxury, but it can cause massive pain. "Sleeping with your head propped up pulls your spine out of alignment—it's like walking around for 8 hours during the day with your neck tilted down," explains Shawn Stevenson, BS, FDN, founder of the Advance Integrative Health Alliance and author of the 2016 book “Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success.” Use a pillow that's soft but has a supportive foam core, like the Intelli-Gel pillow. (Sore neck? Fix it in 60 seconds.)
You grind your teeth at night.
If you wake up with a headache, it's most likely because you've been clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth overnight, said Kathy Gruver, PhD, a massage therapist in Santa Monica, CA. Research shows that massage can help with symptoms, so apply some gentle pressure and/or a warm, damp cloth to the jaw area right before you go to sleep and as soon as you wake up in the AM to help break the cycle. Also consider seeing your dentist for a mouth guard, which keeps your teeth from grinding down.
You have a nightcap.
It's true that booze can send you off to dreamland quickly, since alcohol does have a sedative effect. But it also disrupts your normal sleep cycle, said Dr. Aaron Clark, a family medicine physician at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. In a 2015 Australian study, people who downed orange juice mixed with vodka as a bedtime drink showed more alpha brain activity while they snoozed, which meant they weren't getting deep, restorative sleep. Women are particularly susceptible to sleep disruptions from alcohol because we metabolize it faster, according to the National Sleep Foundation, so we're bound to wake up sooner. An occasional glass of spirits won't hurt, but to make sure you're getting quality zzz's, limit yourself to one drink a night and have it a couple of hours before bedtime. (If you’re concerned that your nightly drink has become more of a requirement than an option, take a look at these surprising signs you’re drinking too much.)
You have undiagnosed sleep apnea.
Half of all adult women have some type of sleep apnea, according to a 2012 study. (Women between the ages of 20 and 44 have a 25 percent chance of having sleep apnea, which also affects 56 percent of women ages 45 to 54 and 75 percent of women ages 55 to 70.) With this condition, "patients briefly stop breathing multiple times through the night, which leads to poor sleep quality," explained Clark. Sleep apnea is especially common in women as they go through perimenopause, when they mistakenly assume that their frequent night awakenings are a result of hot flashes. As a result, you'll often wake up exhausted, even if you've theoretically gotten plenty of sleep. Ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep specialist. The best way to diagnose sleep apnea is via a sleep study—at-home devices can pick up only severe cases. Mild cases can often be treated with weight loss and alcohol avoidance before bedtime, but if you've got a moderate to severe case, you'll need to use a device like a CPAP, an oxygen tube under the nose that emits mild air pressure to keep the airways open.