Feeling tired & groggy? Junk sleep could be to blame, says experts

What is junk sleep and how can it be avoided? We asked a sleep psychologist

What is junk sleep?, sleep & wellness tips
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Do you ever wake up feeling tired and groggy? This could be normal if you went to bed late or if you were disturbed during the night, but if you’ve had a full night’s sleep and you’re still waking up exhausted, it could be a bigger issue than you think.

Getting a good night’s sleep is extremely important, which is why people spend so much time and money investing in the best mattress and the best duvet. Having the right sleep set-up can make a world of difference to your sleeping patterns, but if you’re not following the rules for great sleep hygiene, you’ll see more problems arising. 

Common issues that occur from a lack of sleep include feelings of fatigue, increased irritability, lack of energy, finding it hard to concentrate, forgetfulness and even digestive problems. If you’re getting a good amount of hours of sleep but are experiencing any of these symptoms, an answer that has come up time and time again is ‘junk sleep’.

To better understand what junk sleep is, we spoke to sleep psychologist, Dr Katherine Hall with Happy Beds about why people experience junk sleep and how to avoid it.

What is junk sleep?

Junk sleep is a term coined by The Sleep Council which refers to “sleep that is not long or good enough quality in order to restore the brain’s functionality for the next day,” says Dr Hall.

Sleep is unique for everyone, so while you might be able to thrive off 5-6 hours of sleep, others may need 8-9 to be able to function properly. While having less than your preferred amount of hours of sleep can leave you feeling exhausted, if your sleep wasn’t particularly deep or you woke up several times in the night, this could be because of junk sleep. But what causes junk sleep to rear its ugly head?

Dr Hall says that “the cause of junk sleep is predominantly due to one main issue: the persistent and excessive use of electronic devices before sleep.” This is because the blue light from your phone, tablet, laptop or TV screens significantly affect your quality of sleep. According to Dr Hall, “blue light suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that causes us to feel drowsy.” So, although blue light can have its benefits during the day, having a quick scroll on your phone before bed can make it harder for you to drift off and disrupt your sleep.

Junk sleep

(Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels)

Electronic devices aren’t the only thing that can cause junk sleep. “Insufficient bedtime routines can also be a contributing factor to sleeping poorly at night.” Caffeine too close to bed (see what time you should stop drinking coffee for more) can also have an effect on your sleep, as well as alcohol intake, heavy meals and exercise.

How to avoid junk sleep

Unsurprisingly, the best way to avoid junk sleep is by addressing the causes of it head on. “One of the key things to do is to avoid using electronics two hours ahead of trying to sleep. If need be, leave them in another room. This will allow your body to unwind and will improve the quality of sleep you have”, says Dr Hall.

The idea of leaving your phone in another room might frighten some and for others, your phone might be your alarm clock. If this is the case and you need it in your bedroom with you, try to make your bed a ‘no phone zone’ so once you get under the covers, you don’t touch it until you wake up the next day.

Making sure you have your last cup of coffee and your evening meal a few hours before bed is also crucial to avoiding junk sleep, and you should try to exercise at least three hours before you hit the hay. Another way to avoid junk sleep is to “adopt a regular sleep schedule in order to get your body into a healthy sleeping cycle.” Making yourself a nighttime routine not only helps you get in a pattern, but your mind and body will start to recognise this ‘winding down’ period and naturally start to feel sleepy.

Having trouble sleeping? Try these 3 sleep apps or try the 2 minute military sleep hack to help you drift off quicker.

Bethan Girdler-Maslen
Home Editor

Beth is Home Editor for T3, looking after style, living and wellness. From the comfiest mattresses to what strange things you can cook in an air fryer, Beth covers sleep, yoga, smart home, coffee machines, grooming tools, fragrances, gardening and much more. If it's something that goes in your house, chances are Beth knows about it and has the latest reviews and recommendations! She's also in the know about the latest deals and discount codes from top brands and retailers.

Having always been passionate about writing, she’s written for websites, newspapers and magazines on a variety of topics, from jewellery and culture, to food and telecoms. You can find her work across numerous sites, including Wedding Ideas Magazine, Health & Wellbeing, The Bristol Post, Fashion & Style Directory, TechRadar, CreativeBloq and more. In her spare time, Beth enjoys running, reading, baking and attempting craft projects that will probably end in disaster!