Bad Sleep or a Sleeping Disorder? How to Know and What to Do Next

When most people think of reducing inflammation in the body, diet usually comes up first. Aside from supplements and herbs, what you eat matters for inflammation. But what’s often overlooked is the connection between 3 other factors. These are sleep, stress management, and daily movement.

I call these the CORE 4 of wellness, and they’re the pillars that work together synergistically to reduce inflammation in the body.

bad sleep or a sleeping disorder

When clients ask where they should start, I tell them: If you have no clue, start with your food and your sleep. Cause you gotta eat and you gotta sleep to live.

And although it’s a daily required part of our lives, good sleep sometimes feels like this unattainable mythical creature (especially after having kids.) And when we put good sleep on the back burner, it usually ends up feeling like a huge feat to address it once we get to the point that it *has* to come front and center.

bad sleep or a sleeping disorder

Many questions I hear from clients relate to wondering if there are just some tweaks that can be done to fix bad sleep… or if they truly have a sleeping disorder. The bottom line being:

Most people don’t know what good sleep is.

So let’s do a little unpacking of what qualifies as good sleep, bad sleep, and when it’s time to see a sleep specialist.

What is good sleep quality?

What’s interesting about sleep is that we get used to a certain set of conditions based on what’s going on in our life, and sometimes can lose sight of what our baseline actually used to be. So when we think about whether or not our sleep is good or bad, many people have no clue.

woman hitting alarm after good night of sleep

They know how they feel when they wake up and throughout the day. But they’re not really aware of when and how that shift happened to create their current sleeping condition.

So to get some guidelines on what good sleep actually is, I asked colleague and sleep specialist, Sheryl Guloy, PhD. This is how Sheryl describes good sleep:

“Good, restorative sleep is one that cycles through sleep’s different stages over the course of a typical night of sleep, which we refer to as a sleep episode. However, timing does matter in that a good alignment between when you sleep and your actual body clock or circadian rhythm provides for a more restorative sleep than when these are misaligned with each other.

  • In terms of the average recommended hours of sleep for an adult, 7 to 9 hours of sleep is the recommended amount.
  • In terms of nighttime awakenings, it is actually normal to wake up over the course of the night, since your sleep cycles from awakening to light to deep to REM sleep, every 90 to 120 minutes.

These awakenings can be so short that people do not necessarily remember them. However, nighttime awakenings are problematic if they prevent you from experiencing full or enough sleep cycles over the course of the night.

For instance, those with untreated sleep apnea will tend to awaken numerous times during a sleep cycle as they struggle to breathe.

Other people, those with sleep maintenance insomnia, find that they cannot fall back asleep easily after waking up at night. They may find that it takes longer than thirty minutes to fall back asleep, and some may not even be able to go back to sleep at all.”

What’s the best way to track sleep?

In a world of growing technology, there are more and more devices claiming to be able to track sleep. However, many sleep specialists have warned to not take these readings as gospel as some of the trackers aren’t super accurate.

laptop, mug, diary on bed

According to Sheryl,

“When we begin coaching people on sleep, we recommend tracking sleep for two weeks using a paper-and-pencil or online diary. We’ve found, though, that the people we work with like using good, old-fashioned paper-and-pencil over online ones.

We use this data to help people understand their sleep patterns.

However, we are also aware that some people can become more anxious when tracking sleep. For this reason, we don’t recommend continuous tracking.

On the other hand, we do recognize that some people like to use wearables or mobile apps to track their sleep. If they find that doing so helps them to be more mindful or to learn more about their sleep patterns, without triggering anxiety-related or compulsive behaviours, then great.

It’s important to realize, however, that wearables and sleep apps are not necessarily more accurate than paper-and-pencil diaries and journals; they do have issues with accuracy as well.”

What are common symptoms of bad sleep?

Aside from seeing less than the minimum hours of sleep in a diary or on a device, it can be difficult to determine if you’re actually having bad sleep. Sheryl states that,

“Chronic daytime sleepiness, poor memory, poor reaction time, poor decision making, and issues with emotional regulation are some symptoms of sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation is also associated with cardiometabolic diseases, such as heart ailments and diabetes. Growing evidence supports a link between sleep deprivation and dementia.”

tired woman in bed with a book on her face because of bad sleep

All of these chronic conditions warrant the implementation of an anti-inflammatory diet, but especially anti-inflammatory lifestyle choices.

The four pillars: diet, sleep, stress management, and exercise all work synergistically to help the other 3 improve, and will inherently improve insulin sensitivity and inflammation in the body as well. Not only does this improve metabolic markers, but it also helps with weight loss.

When to see a sleep specialist

It can also be hard to determine what the line is between just bad sleep and a sleep disorder. So I asked Sheryl when it’s time to see a sleep specialist:

“It’s important to speak with a sleep specialist when you are experiencing chronic daytime sleepiness. However, the issue is that people can become so used to being sleep deprived that they no longer feel as though they are.

For instance, research has shown that when people first experience sleep deprivation, they can recognize that they are sleep deprived.

However, after two weeks or more, people may tend to report that they do not feel as though they are lacking sleep, even when they are.

It’s also important to think of sleep as being part of one’s lifestyle and not take it for granted. As such, we coach people on developing good sleep habits, especially those whose respective circadian rhythms are at odds with their work hours; those who travel often; or those who want to boost their performance.”

That being said, it can be easier to determine between the two by first cleaning up your sleep hygiene, and then reassessing.

Get started by grabbing our free Sleep Hygiene Assessment and Kit. 👇

bad sleep or a sleeping disorder
bad sleep or a sleeping disorder

Dr. Sheryl Guloy (Co-Founder of Somnolence +) is a learning scientist, researcher, educator, and consultant in improving learning and performance through innovative research, development, and technology. She works with other researchers, organizations, and networks on knowledge translation efforts. More simply put, she works to get the latest research into programs, services, and technology so that more people can get better sleep. Her interest in sleep began with her own sleep troubles and her realization that she is a true night owl. Through Somnolence+, she aims to make sure that more people know about their own sleep and have strategies and tools to help them sleep well. You can find her at the Sleep Well blog or on Instagram and Facebook @somnolenceplus

8 Ways Daylight Savings Time Affects Your Health and How to Handle It


Ask any parent about Daylight Savings Time and they’ll groan and roll their eyes. Especially when you have kids, these two times of the year are extremely challenging, to say the least. Sleep schedules are a big deal for parents to get established, so disruptions like these can cause larger stress loads than normal. But many are asking two other very important questions regarding daylight savings time: 1) How does daylight savings time affect your health? and 2) How does it affect your sleep?

To start off with, it can take a week or more for your body to adjust to daylight savings time. In this week, studies have shown 8 or more serious negative affects of daylight savings time:

  1. Sleep cycles being thrown off,
  2. which results in higher stress,
  3. Shifts in eating patterns from hormones being disrupted,
  4. Anxiety,
  5. Depression,
  6. Higher occurrence of heart attack,
  7. More traffic accidents,
  8. And more workplace injuries.

All these add up to some pretty significant shifts in our health that could be avoided. To get a better idea of what this all means and how we should approach it, I asked sleep coach and consultant Sheryl Guloy, PhD for her expert opinion:

Have you heard that there is a discussion on doing away with our annual springing forward to daylight savings time (DST) and falling back to standard time? About a month or so ago, all of this talk reached my neck of the woods, up North…way up to and past the Canadian border, with a beeline to Montreal. The idea of doing away with this time change goes far beyond my city and probably extends or will extend to yours.  In fact, this discussion is international in scope and proposals to end this practice is currently ongoing across North America and Europe. It is a hot topic in several states, such as Massachusetts, Washington, Tennessee, and Texas.

While it may seem normal for us to spring forward and to fall back every year, toggling our sleep between standard time and daylight savings time, research on the effects of springing forward reveals just how detrimental to health one hour of sleep loss can be. In Autumn, however, falling back to standard time has been found to result in more positive gains as people’s sleep becomes better (keep this tidbit of information in mind because there’ll be more on this later). Taken altogether, sleep experts, including myself, believe that keeping time consistent throughout the year is best for our health. 

Should Daylight Savings Time be Abolished?

The first reason for keeping our time consistent has to do with sleep loss, which we know negatively affects health, mental health, and performance. When springing forward in springtime, our body misses out on an hour of sleep. The second reason is that our bodies run on a biological clock, entrained to the 24-hour day. It’s from this relationship to the day’s cycle that the biological clock gets its formal name, circadian rhythm.  In particular, we have circa, meaning around or approximately, and dies, meaning day, in Latin. The biological clock influences when we become sleepy or become hungry. Specifically, it plays a role in metabolic function and homeostasis as well as in immune response, recovery from mental and physical fatigue, emotional regulation, learning and creativity, and memory consolidation. 

Keeping your circadian rhythm consistent is important for the regulation of all of these functions. Research on the effects of switching from standard to daylight savings time has revealed a spike in strokes, heart attacks, and car accidents soon after springing forward. Consequently, policymakers have begun holding discussions on whether the practice of switching between standard and daylight savings times should be abolished, with some places having already chosen to end the practice. 

Now, while doing away with the time change is something that is applauded by many researchers and sleep experts, the concern that has arisen in some areas where this policy change is being contemplated has to do with which time would become the default. In particular, the concern has to do with whether an area chooses to select daylight savings time as the “new” standard time. 

Why does it matter whether or not we choose daylight savings time?

Well, it matters because our circadian rhythm takes cues from our environment to keep it on track, such as sunlight; temperature change; and eating schedules; among other things. So, this means that our environment and lifestyle affect our biological clock and, consequently, sleep. What happens is that even though we may believe that we should eventually adjust to the time change, the negative effects of springing forward can last throughout the period of daylight savings time for some people.

How the body reacts to daylight savings time

Like I mentioned, not only do our bodies like consistency, but the circadian rhythm is tied to the day, which means that external cues such as daylight and temperature play a role in its regulation. Now, imagine what happens to night owls, for instance, who are already genetically predisposed to going to bed later and are already at greater risk of experiencing sleep deprivation. Imagine what happens to them in the summer when they are exposed to brighter light later in the evening. 

Essentially, sunnier evenings delay the circadian rhythm and, hence, the time that people actually fall asleep. Yet, most people still have to wake up at the same time for work throughout the DST period. It’s pretty easy to see how the risk of experiencing sleep loss increases. Right? Remember that night owls will not be the only ones affected. Everyone will be affected but to varying degrees. 

Okay, let’s make this even more concrete. What would you expect to happen if we kept standard time versus if we kept savings time? 

First, let’s assume a regular 9-to-5 work week, regardless of the time of the year (not factoring in any COVID-19 effects on your work schedule, like working from home). Also, let’s say that you get 7 hours of sleep every night, falling asleep at 11:00 pm and waking up at 6:00 am. 

If daylight savings time becomes the new “standard”, how would cities be affected?

To help you see what would happen in very real terms, I’ve created Table 1 to show the effect on sunrise and sunset times in cities across North America, with Houston, Texas, being at the most southerly location, and Edmonton, Alberta, up here in Canada, being at the most northerly location. 

Table 1. Standard Time Versus Daylight Savings Time (Sunset/ Sunrise)

In Table 1, I’ve included the actual recorded times for June 21, 2019 in daylight savings time. Notice how late the sun sets in the summertime. This translates into delayed bedtimes because a significant number of people will find it more challenging to fall asleep at earlier times. While the sun sets pretty late in Houston, at 8:25 pm, notice when the sun sets in Seattle and Edmonton. Imagine what it would be like if the sun were to set at around 9:10 pm or 10:07 pm where you live. Personally, I know exactly what it’s like because I used to spend quite some time in Alberta. It feels like it’s only around 5:30 pm or 6:00 pm when it is, in fact, already 9:00 pm at night. No wonder, then, that many do suffer from sleep loss throughout the DST period.

How about during wintertime? What would happen if daylight savings time were to become the “new” standard time? Well, first of all, notice how late the sun would rise in Houston. Basically, the sun’s rays would only begin to appear at around 8:12 am. Now, look at the other cities, where the sun will rise even later. Imagine what it would be like to be in Seattle, where the sun would only rise at 8:54 am. In Edmonton, it would only rise at 9:48 am; that’s only 12 minutes shy of 10:00 am…or mid-morning! Wow. The thing is that bright light in the morning plays a critical role in keeping the circadian rhythm from being delayed too much at night, which is especially important in helping night owls keep their sleep-wake times aligned with the regular 9-to-5 hours that they’ll still be expected to keep.

These examples bring to light some conditions that make daylight savings time problematic if it were to be selected as the default time. Policymakers are essentially proposing that DST be selected as the default when it has been shown to contribute to health, performance, and safety concerns. Unfortunately, daylight savings time is being proposed as the new standard in states like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington. Meanwhile, in Canada, cities like Toronto are also pushing for daylight savings time. In Texas, however, discussions seem to be veering toward keeping standard time as the default, which I believe would be the wiser and healthier choice. 

Sheryl Guloy, PhD, is sleep coach/ consultant, researcher, and educator. Her interest in sleep began with her own sleep troubles and her realization that she is a true night owl. She co-founded a sleep initiative, Somnolence+, through which she aims to make sure that more people know about their own sleep and have strategies and tools to help them sleep well. 

You can find her blog at:

Or on Facebook at:

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How Blue Light Affects Sleep and What You Should Be Doing About It Tonight

The many direct and indirect ways of how blue light affects sleep every night.

*This post may contain affiliate links, which gives me a portion of the proceeds if you purchase something at no additional cost to you. However, I only recommend things I trust, believe in, or actually use and love.

Oh, what heaven it is to finally, finally get all the kids down for bed, have the kitchen cleaned, me showered, and have some time to breathe in my super soft jammies and warm bed! I love being able to sink down and either watch a good show to wind down or catch up on what my friends and fam are up to on FB or Insta for a few minutes after my bedtime routine.

how blue light affects sleep

The problem I didn’t realize with the TV and phone scrolling is that once you start….it’s very hard to stop. I mean, obviously FB is very good in figuring out how to make it ‘addictive’, as is Pinterest or Insta! But that’s not the only problem. You don’t feel like you need to go sleep at that point because of this little pesky thing in your electronics called blue lights and how the blue lights affect sleep.

And make no mistake, blue light can affect not just your sleep, but also can indirectly start a whole cycle of other problems! Since sleep is so incredibly important for our body and brains to function, this is becoming a huge problem. Sleep can affect our hunger hormones, our energy levels, and even make us feel foggy and lethargic all day if we don’t get quality and enough sleep. My philosophy is to always merge healthy + efficient to make health magic happen ✨. And since bad sleep can be counterproductive to so many of our other health efforts, it’s one of the highest things on my list for clients to fix up front.

Where Blue Light Comes From

Blue light is emitted from pretty much all your electronics with a screen: TV, phone, tablets, game systems, computer monitors. But it also comes from our LED lighting. The thing is, blue light is in sunlight, which we need–but when it’s an isolated short-waved light like we’ve produced in our electronics and the LED lights we fill our homes with, it becomes a different issue. Especially when we’ve got it blaring in our faces all day and night.


Does Blue Light Actually Affect Sleep?

The answer is yes–blue light does actually affect sleep. The direct effects of blue light are eye strain and disruption in melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone you produce to get to sleep. But the eye strain part is also important. Think about how many people have headaches through the day that are just attributed to ‘sitting at a desk’ or ‘tech neck’. A good portion of this can be traced back to the actual blue light they’re inundated with all day and into the night. Neck pain can cause poor sleep as well.

How Blue Light Affects Sleep Indirectly

How blue light affects sleep indirectly become more tricky. But based on the direct effects, they come in 2 parts: the hormone issue, and the eye strain issue.

1-Hormones— Melatonin is a hormone, and your body kicks the production of it up around 2pm at the same time cortisol should be gradually getting lower. This works in harmony so that by bedtime you’re sleepy with cortisol very low (it gives you energy when it’s high.) But when blue lights are kicking it down when the sun goes down outside, we have a problem. The blue light melatonin connection is why it’s so hard to go to sleep when you’re scrolling on your phone or just. can’t. stop. watching that fave show you’ve been binging.

When you disrupt that melatonin production, you’re disrupting other hormones, too. It’s pretty much jacking with your circadian rhythm, and keep this in mind: 2 OTHER hormones are at play while you sleep called ghrelin and leptin. These 2 hormones tell your body whether you have enough energy or not. If you’re not getting enough sleep, and the melatonin is out of whack, these 2 hormones will also be out of whack.

Why does this matter? Well, have you noticed if you’ve only had a couple of hours of sleep how hungry you are all day? Or that you crave carbs all the time? This is because those 2 hormones are telling your body you need more energy. And when you eat more, especially simple carbs (including sugar), what happens? Yep–you gain and store more fat. (Booo!!)

2–Eye strain— This can quickly develop into greater problems because those blue lights are shorter waves and actually penetrate your eye all the way to the light-sensitive cells in the retina. This can actually increase the risk of macular degeneration! I don’t know about you, but I already have eye issues. I was SEVERELY nearsighted until I had LASIK. And it was 25 years of misery with contacts. I have no intention of making things bad again!!

And also, that eye strain can–again–contribute to headaches. How much pain medicine are you downing and filtering through your kidneys and liver because of that headache every day/ few days?

How to Be Strategic with Blue Light

One of the best ways to get around this blue light conundrum in our age of digital and tech gadgets is to start setting a ‘curfew’ for the electronics. Our household has a rule of none from dinnertime on. And if the hubby and I want to watch TV after the kids are in bed, we have blue-light-blocking glasses that I snagged off Amazon. (Link below if you’re interested.)

There are also some apps you can use on your computer screen and android or iPhone that will reduce the blue light and put out a warmer tone.

Also, you can get blue-light-blocking screen protectors now for your iPhone or computer screen like these (genius) ones:

But my favorite (because they send you a little blue light and card to test it) are the glasses. They’re just like regular glasses–clear–but they block that light for you, which you can check out HERE.

Bottom line is that we really need to be more vigilant in keeping the blue lights out in the evenings.

How about your household? Do you have a ‘tech curfew’? Have you experienced the effects of blue lights with headaches or sleep disruptions? Let me know in the comments!

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how blue light affects sleep