Is Sleep Reactivity The Reason Why You Struggle To Sleep Better?


A barking dog, snoring partner, bright lights, or a too-hot or too-cold bedroom – do these things make it hard for you to fall or stay asleep? If so, you may be among those with sleep reactivity, or poor sleep due to disruptions in your sleep routine or environment.

And you’re not alone. Researchers estimate that 30% of the population has insomnia, defined as difficulty sleeping several times per week for 1 to 3 months. Investigators suspect that many of these same individuals also have sleep reactivity, which can be passed on within a family.

Sleep reactivity and disrupted sleep may not seem important. But poor sleep can have a significant impact on your health and well-being.

“Many people disregard their sleep disturbances, but it’s critical to address short-term disruptions before they become long-term chronic sleep problems and cause further health issues. Make good quality sleep a priority ,” says Christopher Drake, Ph.D., a sleep medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health.

Why Getting A Good Night’s Sleep Matters

“The more research we do, the more we discover how sleep impacts our physiology, psychology and behavior,” says Dr. Drake. “If you ignore your sleep disruptions, you could develop insomnia disorder, which increases your risk for many conditions, such as obesity, hypertension and depression.”

A good night’s sleep supports every organ in our bodies. It also fuels our ability to think, feel and function during the day. If you’re an adult and get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, you’re able to consolidate what you’ve learned each day and recall it in the future. Over time, good sleep can also build emotional resilience, helping you better manage challenges in the future.

On the other hand, Dr. Drake and his colleagues have found that disrupted sleep just a few nights per week increases your risk for depression. “In our research, those people who had difficulty sleeping often became frustrated, making it even harder for them to fall and stay asleep,” he says. “That’s why it’s important to intervene early and take steps to improve your sleep.”

How To Establish Good Sleep Habits

The key to a good night’s sleep is to develop a routine that works for you and stick with it. Consistent sleep habits will help you get the zzz’s you need.

Strategies To Help Your Mind And Body Prepare For Sleep

  • Limit daytime naps. Feeling tired during the day? It’s ok to nap if you avoid slumbering for more than one hour. Longer naps can interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. Find new ways to power through the mid-day slump. Try taking a walk or switching activities to recharge.
  • Power down and rewind. Turn off your computer, television, tablet and phone at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Establish bedtime rituals that help you unwind before going to sleep. Try taking a warm bath or shower, practice mindful meditation or read a book.
  • Schedule worry time during the day. With schedules full of work, school and family obligations, many of us don’t take time to think about challenges or concerns until just before bedtime, when worry can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Instead, schedule time to consider any troublesome issues during the day.
  • Set and maintain a regular sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on weekends. Whether you’re an early bird or night owl, follow a schedule that matches your natural sleep patterns.
  • Watch what and when you drink. Stop drinking caffeine at least 5 hours before bedtime. Avoid drinking alcohol right before bedtime.

Customize Your Sleep Environment

  • Keep it quiet. Eliminate distractions by keeping your bedroom quiet. Use ear plugs to help block out noise, such as a snoring bed partner. If you prefer background noise, try a sleep app or noise machine that provides options for soothing white noise.
  • Stay cool. Many people find the ideal sleeping temperature is between 67 and 72 degrees. Pick the temperature that works best for you and keep it constant throughout the night. Choose sheets and blankets that will help you sleep comfortably without getting overheated.
  • Pick a mattress that’s just right. Just like Goldilocks, we all need a bed that feels comfortable. While a good mattress doesn’t cure insomnia, it can improve your sleep. Had your mattress for more than 10 years? Now’s the time to replace it. There are many options that allow you to pick your ideal level of firmness.
  • Turn lights out. Light interferes with your body’s circadian rhythm, which helps control your day and nighttime body processes. Even dim light can cause your body to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep. Keep your bedroom dark and use tools like eye covers to help you fall and stay asleep.

Still Can’t Sleep? Your Doctor Or Sleep Specialist Can Help

“If you’ve tried these strategies and are still having difficulty sleeping, contact your primary care physician for help. There’s no reason to suffer with fatigue from poor sleep,” says Dr. Drake.

Behavioral treatments with a therapist are usually the first option to consider before moving to a sleep medication. There are sleep apps available that offer weekly sessions with a virtual therapist to address your sleep issues. A trained therapist or psychiatric nurse can also provide in-person counseling and strategies to improve your sleep. If you need additional help sleeping, your doctor may recommend one of a variety of safe and effective medications.

“Think of sleep as an essential part of your overall health plan. Talk with your doctor or a sleep specialist to ensure you get the restorative sleep you need to be at your best,” says Dr. Drake.

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To find a doctor or sleep specialist at Henry Ford, visit or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Christopher Drake is board-certified in sleep medicine and behavioral sleep medicine at Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford Medical Center – Columbus.

Categories: FeelWell