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Bad sleeping schedule: Sleep Quality: How to Determine if You’re Getting Poor Sleep

If you’re not sticking to a regular sleep schedule you’re hurting your health, study says


Ok, I admit it. I often stay up late on weekends, catching up on TV or seeing friends, then decadently allow myself to slumber for hours past my regular wake-up time the next morning.


Wake up, people: You’re fooling yourself about sleep, study says

To a diehard night owl like me, this is delicious freedom, a sort of personal protest against the rigidity of the obnoxious workday alarm.

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Sound familiar? If so, fellow snooze buddies, it turns out our lack of a regular sleep routine is hurting our health.

A new study published Monday found changing your regular sleep-wake time by 90 minutes – in either direction – significantly increases your chance of having a heart attack or heart disease.

A regular sleep time was defined in the study as less than 30 minutes difference, on average, across seven nights.

“Compared with people who had the most regular sleep time, those with the most irregular sleep time – more than a 90 minute difference on average across seven nights – had more than a two-fold increased risk of cardiovascular disease over a 5-year period,” said study author Tianyi Huang, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.


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The link remained strong even after controlling for cholesterol, blood pressure and other known cardiovascular risk factors, as well as sleep issues such as insomnia, sleep apnea and sleep duration.

That suggests, Huang said, that high day-to-day variability in sleep duration or timing may be a “novel and independent cardiovascular risk factor.”

“That’s huge,” said Dr. David Goff, who directs the division of cardiovascular sciences at the United States National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

“One out of three people in the US die from heart disease, and 60% of us will have a major cardiovascular disease event before we die,” said Goff, who was not involved in the study.

“People are living busy, stressful lives and not getting a lot of sleep during the week,” Goff said. “Then they are trying to get catchup sleep on the weekend, and that’s not a healthy pattern.”

The cardiovascular system – including heart rate, blood pressure and vascular tone – operates on a strong circadian rhythm to maintain normal functioning.


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Messing with our internal sleep clock “has been linked to cardiovascular risk factors like hypertension, insulin resistance or diabetes,” Huang said, “but this is the first study to link an irregular sleep pattern pattern with cardiovascular disease.

The study followed more than 2,000 people ages 45 to 84 without any cardiovascular disease over a five-year period. After a baseline exam, follow-up physicals measured any lifestyle, medication or disease changes, while a sleep study tested for sleep disorders like apnea.

Then the participants wore a sleep wrist tracker for seven consecutive nights.

“About a quarter of people in this age range didn’t have a regular time for going to sleep,” Goff said.

Since many of the participants were retired, it was surprising to find some 500 people had significantly disrupted sleep schedules.


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While it may appear this link is strongest for the elderly, that may not be the case. A previous analysis of 53 studies on people age 18 and up found younger age to be more consistently associated with a variable sleep cycle.

“This sleep irregularity may be even more common among younger people,” Huang said. “Younger people may have more demands from study and from work, and those may also influence whether they can have a regular sleep pattern or not.”

If that becomes a habit in life, the results could be dangerous. That’s because the study also found a linear upward link between disrupted sleep cycles and heart issues.

“The more you sleep irregularly, the higher the risk you have,” Huang said.

The good news is that you can do something about your poor sleep habits.

Get moving. Exercise is key to promoting good sleep. As little as 10 minutes a day of walking, biking or other aerobic exercise can “drastically improve nighttime sleep quality,” according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Strive for cooler temperatures. Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable, and the room is cool: Between 60 and 67 degrees is best. Don’t watch TV or work in your bedroom. You want your brain to think of the room as only for sleep.

Avoid certain food and drink. Avoid stimulants such as nicotine or coffee after midafternoon, especially if you have insomnia. Alcohol is another no-no. You may think it helps you doze off, but you are more likely to wake in the night as your body begins to process the spirits.

Develop a routine. Taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or doing light stretches are all good options.

Be good to your circadian rhythm. “Like your mom always told you, you should have a regular bedtime and a regular time for getting up in the morning,” advised Goff.

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Keep yourself in the dark. Be sure to eliminate all bright lights, as even the blue light of cellphones or laptops can be disruptive. If that’s hard to accomplish, think about using eye shades and blackout curtains to keep the room dark. But during the day, try to get good exposure to natural light, as that will help regulate your circadian rhythm.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to improving your sleep habits and your health.

Avoid These Bad Sleep Habits For A Better Night’s Rest

One night of poor sleep can leave you feeling sluggish, unfocused, and unmotivated during the day. However, the
National Library of Medicine (NIH) says chronic sleep deprivation
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National Library of Medicine (NIH)
World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.
can affect your immune system, blood pressure, and mental health. Over time, a consistent lack of sleep can increase your risk of heart disease, depression, and type 2 diabetes.

The things you do before bed can have a significant impact on the quality of your sleep. Poor sleep hygiene may be interfering with your ability to get a good night’s rest. Below, we outline five bad sleep habits you should avoid to break the cycle of sleep deprivation.

1. Eating Too Close to Bedtime

If your body is digesting a large meal, it can be difficult for you to relax and fall asleep. Plus, lying down while your food is still digesting can cause stomach acid to enter the esophagus, leading to heartburn and indigestion. This uncomfortable burning sensation can make it impossible to get comfortable and fall asleep.

As the mind and body prepare for rest, the
metabolism slows down.
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Mayo Clinic
Ranked #1 hospital by U.S. News & World Report and one of the most trusted medical institutions in the world. The staff is committed to integrated patient care, education, and research.
Therefore, late-night snacking can also trigger digestive issues that interfere with sleep.

Sleep Tip: Eat dinner at least 2 to 3 hours before bed—this will give your body plenty of time to process food. If you need a snack between dinner and bedtime, keep it light and opt for sleep-promoting foods, such as cherries, bananas, almonds, or chamomile tea.

2. Sleeping at Odd Hours

We each have a natural circadian rhythm that is linked to the rising and setting of the sun. This cycle determines when we are most likely to feel awake and focused versus tired and sleepy.

Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is influenced by light. When you’re exposed to sunlight throughout the day, melatonin production slows, and you remain active and alert. When the sun sets, and you are exposed to less light, melatonin increases, and you begin to feel tired.

Sleeping in opposition to our natural circadian rhythm can cause a hormonal imbalance that makes it difficult to sleep. An irregular sleep schedule, such as going to bed too late and sleeping in, can lead to inadequate sleep and chronic insomnia.

Sleep Tip: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule based on when you need to wake up each day. Experts suggest aiming for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. So, if you need to wake up at 7 a.m. each morning, you should go to bed by 11 p.m. However, try to prepare for sleep at least one hour before to give yourself plenty of time to unwind.

On the weekends, try not to let your sleep schedule fluctuate. Sleep and wake times should vary no more than 1 hour from your weekday routine.

3. Drinking Coffee Late in the Day

During the late afternoon, we often turn to coffee for a quick pick me up. However, your mid-day latte could be interfering with your sleep.
National Library of Medicine (NIH) studies show
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National Library of Medicine (NIH)
World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.
the effects of coffee can be felt up to 8 hours after consumption. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, causing wakefulness and increased brain activity, both of which are not conducive to sleep.

Sleep Tip: Avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages, such as tea and soda, after 2 p.m. This length of time allows your body to completely metabolize caffeine and ensure it does not keep you awake at night.

4. Using Technology in Bed

As we mentioned above, melatonin (the sleep hormone) is influenced by light. When we use electronic devices, such as cell phones, laptops, e-readers, or tablets, the
blue light
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Harvard Health
Blog run by Harvard Medical School offering in-depth guides to better health and articles on medical breakthroughs.
from the screen can mimic the effects of sunlight, inhibiting melatonin production and our ability to sleep. The longer we lie in bed staring at our electronic screens, the harder it becomes for us to fall asleep and rest soundly.

The content we consume late at night can also trigger anxiety, causing a flood of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body. Cortisol keeps the mind and body active and alert, making relaxation and sleep difficult.

Sleep Tip: To prevent blue light sleep disruptions, experts suggest reducing screen time at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Instead of scrolling social media, try reading or journaling before bed. If you can’t resist the urge to pick up your phone, keep it out of arm’s reach or in a different room altogether.

5. Working Out Before Bed

Exercise releases endorphins, increases the core body temperature, and raises cortisol levels. In the morning and afternoon, the effects of a good workout can improve your mood and mental clarity. However, late at night, physical activity can leave you full of adrenaline that hinders sleep.

Sleep Tip: Regular exercise is essential for overall health. However, avoid working out at least 1 to 2 hours before bed for a good night’s sleep. Instead, try incorporating gentle stretches into your bedtime routine. Stretching can help you relax both physically and mentally, and make it easier to fall asleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why can’t I sleep even though I am tired?

If you feel tired but can’t sleep, you may be experiencing an influx of cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are triggered by stress and anxiety, and they promote the fight or flight response that often spurs us into action. When these hormones flood the body, the mind and body stay active and alert, making it impossible for us to sleep no matter how tired we are.

How do I sleep with anxiety?

Climbing into bed while you are anxious and worried can create a vicious cycle of stress and sleep deprivation. If you frequently experience nighttime anxiety, try performing relaxing activities before bed. Breathing exercises and gentle stretches can calm your nervous system and lower cortisol levels, allowing you to alleviate stress and unwind.

How much is too much sleep?

The right amount of sleep depends on your needs. While some people feel rested after 7 hours of sleep, others need 8 or 9 hours of sleep. However, the
National Library of Medicine (NIH) reports that
Verified Source
National Library of Medicine (NIH)
World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.
cognitive abilities and
memory recollection
Verified Source
National Library of Medicine (NIH)
World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.
actually start to decrease after 9 hours of sleep. Therefore, it is best to avoid oversleeping.

Do bananas help you sleep?

Yes! Bananas contain potassium and magnesium, which are natural muscle relaxers that can help you feel calm and sleepy before bed. Bananas also contain L-tryptophan, an amino acid that helps create serotonin and melatonin, the hormones needed for sleep and relaxation.


Poor sleep quality can interfere with every aspect of life. Everything from your ability to focus, commit information to memory, manage stress, and control your mood is impacted when you are sleep-deprived. By avoiding the poor sleep habits outlined above, such as eating late before bed, you can set yourself up for a good night’s rest and a more productive day.

Sleep researcher Dr. Kate Simon notes, “For many, breaking bad habits to improve sleep can be difficult. Psychologists specially trained in behavioral sleep medicine can provide brief treatment to treat underlying sleep disorders, improve your sleep hygiene, enhance sleep pattern consistency, or problem-solve barriers impeding better sleep.”

How to improve sleep at home


Time to read:
Approximately 5 min.

This information will help you sleep better when you get home from the hospital.

A good night’s sleep is essential for your physical and mental health. Sufficient sleep:

  • improves the ability to learn, remember and solve problems;
  • lowers blood pressure;
  • helps control weight;
  • strengthens the immune system, thanks to which the body fights infections;
  • helps the body recover;
  • allows you to be more active throughout the day.

In some cases, cancer patients or survivors of cancer may have trouble sleeping. These include:

  • sleepiness during the day;
  • difficulty falling asleep;
  • awakening in the middle of the night.

Sleep disorders can also be caused by diseases other than cancer. Contact your healthcare provider if you think you have this problem. For more information about sleep problems, read the resource Coping with Insomnia.

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How to improve your sleep

If you are having trouble sleeping, try the tips below.

During the day

Physical activity
  • Consider daily physical activity.
  • Stop exercising 2-3 hours before bed.
Get sunshine
  • Try to get sunlight every day, especially in the morning. Light helps your body navigate the time of day. Open the curtains or go outside.
Limit nap time
  • Daytime naps in the afternoon can make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
  • If you feel like you need to take a nap during the day, do it early and set an alarm to wake up in 30 minutes.
Track your sleep
  • Keep a sleep diary or record the time you fall asleep (including during the day) and wake up (including at night). This will help you see any patterns that affect your sleep.

Use the sample sleep diary below, or prepare your own. Take it with you to your healthcare appointment if you have trouble sleeping.

Sample sleep diary
Date Example : 07/07/2022
Bedtime 22:00
Time to fall asleep 20 minutes
Number of awakenings per night 2 times
Waking time in the morning 7:00
Total hours of sleep 8 hours
Daytime nap: how many times / duration of each I slept twice. Once at 12:00 for 15 minutes and once at 16:00 for 30 minutes
notes. Did not eat before going to bed, listened to music.
Ask about effective treatments

Ask your health care provider about available treatments that can improve your sleep, including cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). This method can be effective without the use of drugs. For more information, read the resource Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia

  • There are a number of medications that can help if other treatments have failed. Check with your healthcare provider for more information.
  • Contact MSK’s Advice Center to schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist. Call 646-888-0200.
  • MSK’s Integrative Medicine Service offers a variety of relaxation therapies that can improve your sleep. You can contact the specialists by calling 646-449-1010 or follow the link www.msk.org/integrativemedicine

Before going to bed

Turn off the lights
  • Light keeps your brain awake, so turning it off will help your body prepare for sleep. In the evening, turn off bright lights and switch to lighting with low-power lamps or night lights (including in the bathroom).
  • Stop using devices that emit blue light 2-3 hours before bed. These are devices such as mobile phone, tablet and computer, as well as LED lamps. If you must use an electronic device, dim the screen if possible. You can also buy blue light blocking goggles and wear them while using electronic devices.
Limit food and drink
  • Do not drink caffeinated drinks such as coffee, black or green tea, sodas, or chocolate a few hours before bed.
  • Do not smoke, including electronic cigarettes, and do not use other products containing nicotine a few hours before bedtime. They may keep you awake.
  • Do not drink alcohol. They can help you fall asleep, but they can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Finish dinner at least 3 hours before going to bed.
  • Try not to drink too many fluids like water or juice before bed, especially if you often get up at night to urinate. Getting up frequently at night can disrupt your sleep patterns, making you more tired during the day.
Make your bedroom comfortable
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and cool. If you cannot achieve darkness in the bedroom, use a sleep mask.
  • If noise is the problem, try using earplugs or background noise, such as a selection of ocean sound recordings.
  • Switch to a warmer or lighter duvet according to the season.
  • While in bed, do not watch TV, use a computer or smartphone, and do not talk on the phone. Use the bed only for sleeping and sexual activity.
  • Don’t let pets sleep in your bedroom as their movement can wake you up.
Relax before bed

To unwind before bed, use one of the following relaxation techniques:

  • deep breathing exercises – instructions are given in the “Deep breathing exercises” section of this resource;
  • Meditation. Meditations with an instructor to eliminate sleep problems are available at the link: www.mskcc.org/meditation;
  • massage;
  • listening to soothing music;
  • reading.
  • warm bath.
Calm down
  • If you can’t get rid of your anxiety, make a list of the things that make you anxious. Then write what you can do to eliminate or reduce that worry. For example, you can ask your doctor about a symptom or talk about your concerns with a friend or family member. Promise yourself that you will do it the next day.
  • If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and take a short walk. You can also do something for 30 minutes, like reading a book. Then do some relaxation exercises.
  • Turn the clock so you can’t see the time. Constantly checking the time can keep you from calming down and falling asleep.
Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep Breathing Exercises are exercises that help you relax. It is very simple and you can learn how to do it yourself. This exercise can clear your head, relieve tension or stress, and improve your sleep. You can do it when you feel tense or anxious.

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down on a bed. If you are lying on a bed, raise your head with a few pillows under it.
  2. Place 1 hand on your stomach just above your navel. If you are right handed, use your right hand. If you are left handed, use your left hand.
  3. Exhale completely through your mouth.
  4. If you can, close your eyes and inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
    Feel your arm rise with your belly. Imagine that air fills your body from the bottom up.
  5. Pause for a couple of seconds. Then exhale slowly through your mouth or nose. Try to exhale completely and imagine the air leaving your lungs, mouth or nose.
  6. As you exhale, let your body relax and go limp – as if you were a rag doll.
  7. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times.
Be careful getting out of bed
  • Make sure there is nothing around the bed that you could trip over and fall on.
  • Use night lighting in the toilet and corridors.
  • Keep a glass of water, a phone, and a lamp by your bed in case you need them.
Follow the rules
  • Go to bed every night and wake up at the same time every morning, even on weekends.

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Other Resources

To watch a video on how to improve sleep quality after treatment, go to www.msk.org/cancer-care/survivorship/videos-survivors/improving-sleep-after-treatment.

Counseling Center

Counseling helps many people. Our Counseling Center specialists provide individual, group and family sessions. We can also prescribe medications to help you get out of your anxiety or depression. To make an appointment, ask your healthcare provider for a referral or call the phone number above.

Resources for Life After Cancer [RLAC] Program

Patient care at MSK does not end when active treatment is completed. The Resources for Life After Cancer (RLAC) program is designed for patients who have already completed their treatment, as well as for their families.

This program provides many services. We offer seminars, workshops, support groups and consultations regarding life after treatment. We also provide assistance with health insurance and employment issues.

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Date last updated

Friday, June 9, 2023

How sleep affects health

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  • The impact of quality sleep on human health

Sleep is a physiological human need, just like hunger or thirst. If you deprive a person of sleep, then in the end he will die. In ancient times, people considered sleep to be like death – after all, when a person went to bed, closed his eyes, his breathing became less frequent and the reaction to external stimuli decreased. No wonder in ancient Greek mythology the god of sleep Hypnos and the god of death Thanatos were twin brothers. For thousands of years, people thought that the main function of sleep was rest. However, with the invention at 19In the year 28 of the electroencephalograph, a device that allows recording the electrical activity of the brain, and the discovery in 1953 of the sleep phase with rapid eye movements, scientists realized that sleep is not a monotonous state, but an active process with many functions.

We still do not know all the functions of sleep. But the forced or conscious restriction of sleep seriously affects the mental and physical health of a person. No wonder in China, sleep deprivation was considered one of the worst punishments. The Guinness Book of Records does not record experiments with conscious sleep deprivation, considering them deadly. The scientifically and documented record for the longest stay without sleep is currently held by Randy Gardner, who at 1963 was awake in a row, without the use of any stimulants, 260 hours and 17 minutes (11 days).

Even after one sleepless night, which happened in the life of almost every person, fatigue appears, concentration of attention decreases, difficulties arise with complex activities. If you do not sleep for 2-3 nights, then coordination of movements and focusing of vision are disturbed. In the future, irritability, slowing down of movements, slurred speech, hallucinations, and strange behavior appear. A person cannot keep up a conversation, becomes indifferent to the world around him, there are difficulties in performing the simplest everyday skills … All this only confirms that quality sleep is essential for our body.

However, with the development of technology, people on our planet sleep less and less. According to the American National Sleep Foundation in 1910, the average sleep duration was 9 hours per night, in 1975 – 7.5 hours, and in 2005 – 6.8 hours per day. And the downward trend in average sleep time continues.

Sound, light (street lighting, screens of various electronic devices: phones, laptops, tablets and monitors of conventional computers) and information (primarily the Internet) “pollution” helps to reduce sleep duration. The desire to be always “online”, to follow the news in the world, significantly undermines the human psyche, because our brain is not adapted to processing such a huge amount of information, sometimes quite contradictory.

The person becomes anxious and there are difficulties with quality sleep – most often these are problems with falling asleep or frequent nighttime awakenings. A person’s sleep becomes superficial and not refreshing. This, in turn, further exacerbates the lack of sleep, and eventually the same symptoms appear as in people who have not slept for two or three days in a row.

First of all, sleep is rest for the body. If sleep is not enough quantitatively or qualitatively, then the person will begin to experience physical discomfort, headaches, irritability. Moreover, most people do not even realize that the reason for their poor health is inadequate sleep. Often they say “I’m under a lot of stress right now,” “I’m busy at work,” or “I’m feeling tired.” Such people need to make up for the lack of sleep as soon as possible and restore their body. Otherwise, in the future, they will begin to make mistakes that they would never have made if their sleep was of high quality.

In the deep stages of sleep, our body produces growth hormone – somatotropin, which launches a program of complex renewal of the body and regulates metabolism. Therefore, with a lack of sleep, the risk of developing diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity increases, and the severity of chronic age-related diseases also increases. Not without reason, when a person is sick, he constantly wants to sleep – this is how the body “renews” itself.