Here Is Why You Are Sleeping Like Crap

Sleep tips for bad sleepers and insomniacs

Sleep is an elusive fairy. She tickles my brain and then runs away only to come back and dance around. My brain, on the other hand, is an obnoxious bedmate. The moment I lie down he pokes me saying “Wanna think about stuff? Did you call the electrician? What if you don’t remember in the morning? Do we need apples? What are Catskills?”  Between the elusive fairy and the obnoxious bedmate, sleep for me has been a journey. I do love the study of it, though. I love thinking, “now I have got it!” as I try new ways to get the best sleep possible.The ways that have been most effective have been gathered for your reading pleasure below!. 

Whether your sleep fairy is flitting here and there or you have an obnoxious bully of a brain, these tips will help you improve your sleep hygiene, I promise.



I INCONSISTENT ROUTINE –  I can remember my brother-in-law with my niece when she was a baby. An hour before bed he would turn down the lights and put on sweet, mellow music and dance with her. The dancing was her wind-down period to prepare her for sleep. It worked like a dream (pun intended). As adults, we are wired the same way. A consistent, reliable routine tells our body that it is time to start shutting down. Turn the lights down two hours before bed. Maybe only use non-EMF light sources like candlelight an hour before bed. Have rituals in place that trigger reflexive relaxation. If you know the story of Pavlov’s Dog, you know that we can be trained to have certain physiologic responses to external stimuli. So, the act of putting your briefcase by the door, locking the deadbolt, doing certain stretches before bed, maintaining the order in which you brush teeth, floss and wash your face can all become a signal to your brain to “get ready, it is dream time“.

NNUTRITION – Everyone knows that you are not supposed to eat before bed. I disagree. This issue with eating before bed is that typically the selected late-night calories are usually crap and beyond your recommended calorie intake for the day. If you like to have a little snack before bed, then do it. Just make sure it does not tip you into “overeating”. Foods like sugar, caffeine and alcohol are to be avoided if you would like to sleep well.

SSTARING AT SCREENS – Put simply, there are two problems with staring at a screen before bed. The color of the blue light is highly stimulating to the brain. As a result, it becomes difficult to slow the brain waves down for sleep if you are looking at a screen to closely near snooze time. The second problem is that seeing flashes of images, words, and sounds such as on Facebook or Email, right before you try to go to sleep, just tells your brain to wake up.  Your brain will start saying “Hey…hey (poke, poke)…watcha doing now? Wanna play, or think about work, or have that conversation with that jerk from today?” Consider of those flashes on the screen as revving the brain up for action and that is no good if you are trying to shut it down for sleep. As an analogy, my husband LOVES to  rev up his nieces and nephews before they are supposed to go to bed. How successful do you think my sister-in-law is trying to get them down after that? My husband = Facebook before bed.

OOVERSTIMULATED –I have a friend who says she is “Non-Verbal after 8 PM” She proclaims this to give her brain the opportunity to start to de-stimulate from the day. Whether it is a workout, a stressful argument, or a lively conversation with a friend, stimulation is going to dump adrenaline into the system. Think about the ways you can decrease stimuli before bed. If you have a crazy household with kids and laundry and general pandemonium you may need to create a sacred space in your bedroom that is off limit to the rest of the household’s chaos. Consider the paint, the lighting the art. Make a rule that no technology, or anything that reminds you of the tasks of the day, is allowed in the room. Your brain picks up on that unfolded load of laundry in the corner.

MMAN’S BEST FRIEND – a tremendous amount of studies have been done to acknowledge that sleeping with a dog or cat decreases your sleep quality by an average of 53%. You wake up more frequently, and so do they. Most animal communicators and trainers will agree Man’s Best Friend is better in his space, and so are you. HERE the Huffington Post covers other disease-related issues regarding sleeping with a pet so in multiple aspects it is just is not a good idea. If you have sleep issues at all and “Rufus” is sharing your sleep space he is going to have to go. Mercola does a great job discussing how to transition your pet out of the room in this article.

N – NOT DARK OR COOL – Here is something “cool”. Your body produces more sleep-inducing hormones like Melatonin when it is working on staying cooler. One of the best ways to get better sleep is to cool down the room significantly. As your body tries to re-warm under the covers, the drowsiness ensues! The same effect occurs with darkness. Don’t think you are fooling your body if you do a half-baked job of making the room dark. It knows! Also, those cute little LED night lights slow Melatonin production and so they are keeping you awake. Cool and dark people, make it happen.

IINCONSISTENT BEDTIME – I did a talk on “Healthy Habits” early in my practice, and one of the studies I uncovered (can’t find it for the life of me) talked about how during pre-electricity days people went to bed at sundown and got up at sun-up. There was a deep consistency to their routine and as the seasons changed so did their sleep habits but very slowly. No one was staying up until 2 AM in the morning on the weekend and then trying to force their bodies back into a schedule come Sunday night. The body is not designed to do well with this shifting around of bedtimes! Remember our first point about routine. Your body craves consistency. Getting to bed at the same time and waking at  the same time can be wondrous for your sleep hygiene.

A – AYURVEDIC RULES –  The Ayurvedic belief is that your body runs on 90-minute cycles. As it comes time for bed, your body will get sleepy at a time that it wants you to head under the sheets. If you fight it, then that cycle does not come around again for another 90 minutes. This works really well. If you miss the window, trying to sleep in that middle stretch is almost impossible but as soon as that next time mark comes around your body is ready again. For example, if I get tired at 7 PM and I decide to punch through, I don’t  try again until 8:30 PM. Try it!

[Tweet “Sleep fairy is flitting? Obnoxious bully of a brain? Improve your sleep hygiene with these tips.”]

“INSOMNIA” –  I thought was great word play to remember the tips for improving your sleep hygiene. I would love to know which of these you have found most effective and whether you have any other, non-Xanax, tips and tricks to share.


I encourage you this week to take hard stock of your sleep habits. Where do they need tuning? Where have you slipped on consistency? This TED TALK reveals how important our sleep is. I encourage you to take a couple of minutes to review the video and then make one sleep hygiene commitment this week.

Still can’t sleep? Here is some healthy supplemental help! 



 If you like this post, you will lay sleepless over these.




91 Responses

  1. Routine is so important. I used to have an awful time sleeping as a teenager – but I also had a tv in my room. As an adult I vowed never to have a tv in our own room or my child’s. Reading right before bed instead has helped immensely!

    1. TV in the room is death to sleep. It also has been shown to increase risk of breast cancer. Thanks, TIffany.

    1. I love hearing that. Nicole. I would love to know which of the points you decide to implement! 🙂

  2. I absolutely notice that I sleep much better when I have a consistent routine and consistent bedtime. Unfortunately my schedule doesn’t always allow for that, which makes it very difficult. I try to go to bed by 10:30 normally which gives me the 8 hours I need to get up for work the next day. But when I’m in theater and doing a play I have rehearsal until 10, don’t get home til 10:30 and I’m so wired I usually can’t fall asleep until at least midnight!

    1. SO true, Becky! I did not realize you did theater! Sounds like the rest of the points will become that much more important! 🙂

    1. The studies on Melatonin suggest you can use it on an ongoing basis without any issues. However, it has not been well tested in kids under 12. AND….I usually recommend to use it for a couple weeks consistently to get back on track and then try to take a break from it. I am not a big fan of becoming reliant on anything that your body really should be producing on its own. xoxo. Great to hear from you.

    1. It is so interesting! I love the whole concept and once tested the 90-minute rule seems to really apply and work well for sleep hygiene management.

    1. I made an intention that all screens off for 90 minutes before bed. I am not perfect at it but when I am it really makes a big difference.

  3. My biggest thing is screen time – it seems like a calming thing scrolling through Instagram before sleep, but I know I’d get better sleep if I just turned it off! Thanks for the other tips!

  4. Excellent post! I know I don’t get nearly enough sleep as I should, and lately it’s been even less because of work deadlines. This is a great reminder to put the laptop away long before it’s time to sleep to give my body a chance to power down for sleep!

    1. And then we are way more productive during the day, right Marlynn? Easy to forget in the moment, though, right. I noticed I was on my laptop in bed last night (“Just one more minute….”) and I slept like crap. Happens every time! Especially if we are older women with fluctuating hormones anyway. That screen light! I almost never do it but I thought I could get away with it. Lesson learned…again! 🙂

  5. I have a very consistent sleep schedule and follow all of these steps except for the screens. After work (at a desk job) is when I really have time to catch up my social media and blog so it’s hard to shut it off an hour or so before I go to bed!

    I have noticed in the last couple of weeks that I just have not been sleeping well so I really need to buckle down and turn the screens off just to see if it works for me!

    1. Good job Chandler, and yes, it is very hard with what we do to shut-her-down! Let me know if it helps.

  6. Thank-you so much for this! I have definitely been struggling with sleep here lately because my routine has gotten all out of whack. I hope to begin using several of these tips to get back on track! Thanks again 🙂

    1. Sometimes we just need to hear someone else say it, right Amanda? Thanks for commenting.

  7. These are absolutely wonderful tips! I have that darn pesk of a brain that bothers me whenever I seem to lie down. Maybe I can put some of these things into my nightly cool down routine to help me get to bed on time. Thanks!

  8. Ugh, sleep has become such a huge problem since I got back from vacation 2 weeks back, the time zones have messed with my cycle big time and my sleep pattern is so odd now. I also think its got to do a lot with staring at the screen for hours and right up until before bedtime, sigh!
    xx, Kusum |

    1. I know, Kusum. Vacations are hard to recover from! I would suggest the melatonin for you for sure. That will set you right and then you can just have it on hand and use it as needed.

  9. I can go to sleep within 30 minutes but I notice when I can’t it’s because I went from 100 to 0 mph. No technology before bedtime is a rule that I live by. I’m very interested in this Ayurvedic approach too. I’ll have to be more aware of that and just listening to my body.

    1. Be aware of the first time you get that sink-tired feeling in the evening. Might be 5 or 6:15, but just time out 90-minute cycles after that and use those as bedtimes! Really works well. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Willow. I should probably do a whole post on it. It has been very popular! 🙂

  10. Super thorough article on sleep! I think I’m guilty of all of these but I’ve always been able to sleep like a rock for some reason. Deprivation probably.

  11. I put myself on a phone ban from 10pm and read instead – that lasted about a week (until I’d finished my book!) and then I slipped back into my old ways. It really does help you wind down so much easier. Though my lack of sleep is more to do with a teething baby at the moment!

    1. Ha ha….Keep working at it Alison. Sounds you might need the sleep with that little one! Good luck!

  12. INCONSISTENT BEDTIME is a big one for me, which I’m trying to work on. I also have anxiety issues so I have a hard time shutting my brain down. I do notice that when it’s nice and cool I sleep way better

    1. Dia, I do too. I am going to write a follow up on relaxation techniques for bedtime for the anxious mind (Think I just nailed my title!) SO stop by again and check them out.

  13. Yeah most of these are totally me unfortunately. It’s hard, I have a weird work schedule with school this semester so there hasn’t been a lot of consistency.

    All except the coll and dark (I’m in a basement so it’s both of those things) and the dog. My dog has his own bed and I’ve never let him sleep with me.

    1. Good work, Angie. You actually are way ahead of most. One I didn’t talk about was being closer to the ground, being “grounded” if you will help with sleep as well. So you, being in the basement, have another one covered!

    1. If I told you people who don’t sleep well are at greater risk of cancer and early onset dementia would it change your mind? 😉 Probably not, huh? I don’t have pets anymore so it easy for me to say. Ha ha.

    1. Oh I hear ya girl. It is hard as a blogger to shut her down but it definitely makes a difference. 🙂

  14. I think just about all of these apply to me! My brain is definitely an obnoxious bedmate ( along with the snoring from my husband and man’s best friend!) and sleep is such an elusive little fairy. I definitely need to work on my before bed screen time (as I type this at 10:30 :-/ ).

    1. Ha ha! Sleep Hygiene is an ongoing practice for me as well, Lara. But all of these things do help, even if you just change one or two of them. 🙂

  15. All great tips!! Having a consistent sleeping schedule is a must for me with the exception of the weekends. I also feel that at times sleeping with my dogs, disables me to get as much sleep as I would like.

  16. Thanks for this! I was just reading an article about the connection between magnesium and sleep (and remembered you mentioning this to me in the past) when, BOOM – this landed in my inbox. By the way, we have a new little dog and she sleeps in her crate all night long and never makes a peep – she loves her little room at the foot of the bed! (I’m thinking of getting a larger one for my husband). I’ve always been sleep-challenged – being a true night owl – but now am getting to a certain age where small personal “power surges” are becoming a problem… hot, cold, hot, cold, all night long…any suggestions?

    1. Thanks for commenting, Amanda! I love hearing from you. I also love that half-seriously considered getting a crate for your husband. I laughed out loud at that one. 🙂

  17. Recently my routine has changed to an earlier wake up time and since then my sleep has been completely thrown off. I have never heard of AYURVEDIC RULES before and will pay closer attention to when I get sleepy.

  18. I think an inconsistent bedtime and looking at screens are my biggest struggles. I find that I’ll scroll through feeds one last time before bed so if I just start getting myself INTO bed a little earlier it might help!

  19. I have the worst sleep cycle these days because of exams. I still manage to cope with it. But, I have a friend who rarely sleeps. His sleep is just 2 or 3 hours at night. What could be the effects of such sleep patterns?

    1. Many men claim that they are “fine” on this much sleep but science tells us that it can affect many things long term. Longevity, hormones, susceptibility to disease!

  20. I agree with a lot of this. I recently had to start treating myself like a toddler and really nail down my routine. Its hard when my schedule is increasingly erratic, but I try to at least keep the same routine at least.

    1. Chelsea, they do say consistency might be one of the most important factors in sleep. Sleep hygiene is something I think we all have to keep working at! Good luck.

  21. Great tips!! I’ll never be able to sleep without my pups so I’ll just pretend I didn’t read that part 😉

    I didn’t know about the 90 minute cycle so now I can take that into consideration.
    xo, Laura
    Have Need Want

    1. Good work, Laura. I completely understand the dog thing. Just good to be aware about it, right?

  22. Wonderful tips. Since my TBI my sleep patterns have been out of whack. Advil PM and melatonin seems to be the only things to get me down for a few hours of sleep.

    1. Melatonin is great. You might try the spray version. It seems to be much more effective. 🙂

  23. I haven’t been getting the best sleep lately and these tips are going to come in handy. I think my bedroom needs to be a lot darker than it is now. I like having light in my room, but I can see that it effects my sleep. I could benefit from putting my electronics down a little earlier too

    1. Really good ones to focus on, KP. So surprising how the dark room is helpful. That is one that is often overlooked.

  24. These are all fantastic ideas. I have trouble sleeping sometimes especially trying to get over jet lag. I knew some of these tips as I’ve researched sleep extensively but one I never knew before was the 90 minute cycle. Thanks for the insight!

    1. Of course, Mama. I am doing a bunch of research on the subject right now too. Sleep health is a Chapter in a book I am writing so this is a special interest area for sure.

  25. This is a great post! I think my restless nights are based on hormones and inconsistent bedtime routines. I have a wrist band that has been helping to monitor my sleep patterns, but so far, my pattern is quite inconsistent. I really enjoy your mention of food before bedtime. When I eat a light snack with a complete protein, I sleep much better. I love your blog!

    1. Aarika, I love that you are searching out ways for better sleep. Remember that there are some theories that because those wristbands work off WIFI you are surrounded by a WIFI signal all not. Some say that exposure will further interrupt your sleep. What do you think? Have you heard that?

  26. I’ve had some horrible insomnia because of my PPD all of these are tips that were recommended to me to help, and they have made a big difference.

  27. Great post! I have not been getting quality sleep lately and I know exactly why. I go to bed at inconsistent times and often fall asleep on the couch, first. It’s a habit I’ve been trying to break!

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About Dr. Denniston

Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams, bridging the connection between personal well-being and professional success. She provides custom solutions for burnout and stress and facilitates cohesive habit-training strategies that maximize vitality, productivity, and resilience.

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