When you've had a night of really bad sleep, or just too little sleep, you know it. But sometimes there are more subtle signs that you’re not getting the high-quality shut-eye you need to function at your peak. These 10 clues might mean you need to reevaluate your sleep game.
Your pillows stay in place
No matter what your favorite position is (we're just talking about sleeping… for now), you can probably do it better with a strategically placed pillow. If you sleep on your side, wedge the pillow between your knees, or under your knees for sleeping on your back. If you sleep on your stomach, put it under your pelvis. The goals are to keep your spine aligned and take stress off your lower back — pretty clutch for feeling better the next day, and for long-term back health.
Your sleep schedule is nonexistent
Having an irregular sleep schedule messes with your body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Not only can this cause insomnia, but it also affects your metabolism. "Even though the master clock for circadian rhythms is in the brain, there are 24-hour clocks throughout the body," explains Dr. Edward F. Pace-Schott, a sleep expert at Harvard. "In that 24 hours, they're supposed to be doing certain things at certain times." For example, your body isn't in the right mode for handling food when you get 3am pizza delivery. Without a regular sleep schedule, you're increasing your risk for obesity and chronic conditions like type II diabetes down the road.
You don't believe in napping
Sure, you might not be able to snooze in the middle of a workday, but when you can do it, the power nap is gold. Assistant Professor of the Department of Psychology Dr. Sarah Mednick and her team performed a range of studies that showed the positive effects of napping on visual memory, verbal memory, and creativity. They even showed that a nap is superior to a cup of coffee!
You "wake up slowly" by hitting snooze
The thing is, you're not really waking up slowly, you're just giving yourself less time for real sleep. Throughout the night, you cycle through five sleep stages: Stages 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Each consecutive stage — from wakefulness, to deep sleep, to dreaming — has an important role, and they all work together to make sleep restorative. You're looking at an average of a little more than 90 minutes per sleep cycle. How long do you have between lunges for the snooze button? The 10-minute increments you're getting after your first alarm really aren't beneficial to you, and you can bet that alarm isn't beneficial to your bedmate or your roommate!
Take advantage of the I-don't-need-to-be-up-just-yet period: If you set your alarm to the time you really do need to get your ass out of bed, your body has more time to cycle through the sleep stages uninterrupted.
Your furry friend has bed privileges
Your pet is lucky, but unfortunately it may be at the cost of your sleep. At the SLEEP 2014 conference in Minneapolis, Dr. Sowjanya Duthuluru and her colleagues presented a poster of their study on sleeping with pets. They conducted surveys with 148 pet owners, asking them a series of questions about sleeping with cats and dogs — they even asked if their pets snored! The survey showed that 63% of respondents had their pets sleep in bed with them more than half the week and also responded that they had poor sleep quality. If your pet is waking you up at night, your sleep cycles are getting interrupted, and that can add up.
You like your nightcaps
Falling asleep faster after drinking alcohol unfortunately doesn't mean you're sleeping better. In fact, a recent comprehensive review of findings on alcohol and sleep showed that while alcohol can lead to deeper sleep in the first part of the night, later in the night the alcohol in your system starts to disrupt your sleep. If you have more than just a couple drinks before hitting the sack, you also may not spend sufficient time in REM sleep, which plays an important role in consolidating memories.
You lean on coffee to make it through the afternoon
You may perk up immediately after a cup of coffee, but even after the effect wears off a few hours later, the caffeine actually sticks around your body for quite a while. A 2013 study showed that caffeine has a disruptive effect on sleep even six hours before bed. According to the study, the 5pm cup you're filling to get you through the end of the workday may be causing you to sleep less, and worse.
Your phone has a spot in bed
You know when you hear your alarm in the morning and have to rummage through your blankets to find your phone? The National Sleep Foundation's 2011 “Sleep in America Poll: Communications and Technology in the Bedroom” reported that about 40% of Americans use their phone at bedtime, while 60% use laptops within an hour before bed.
While catching up on your social life seems like a perfectly relaxing end to the day, the light emitted from your device has been shown to reduce the levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates your circadian rhythms. When you get into bed with your phone or computer, you're throwing your internal day-night clock for a loop, making it more difficult to sleep well.
You're constantly stressed
About 40% of adults say that stress makes it hard for them to sleep, and about 20% say they're more stressed when they don't sleep enough. At first glance it seems like that just sucks, but being aware of the relationship between stress and sleep can help you trick the system. Wind down before bed to sleep better, and try to carve out more time in bed during weeks that are really crazy. Or get some exercise in — during exercise your body produces stress-reducing endorphins, and having an active day will make it easier to rest at night.
You intentionally skimp on sleep
You've gotta sleep, but too many people treat it as an option, something that can be eliminated at will. But not getting enough sleep wrecks your focus, immunity, and your mood -- bad news on all fronts.
So how much is enough? The consensus is that you need at least seven hours, and that seven to nine hours is healthy for most adults. That's a pretty wide range, but it's because everyone is different. "The amount that you need to sleep is a characteristic of each individual, much like your height, weight, and eye color,” points out Dr. Pace-Schott. You need to tune into what your body's telling you to find that sweet spot.
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Marina Komarovsky is a freelance writer for Thrillist, and she's still trying to master the power nap. For more health studies and health news, follow her tweets: @MariKomarovsky.