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Lifestyle Factors that Can Interfere with Sleep

It is important to know about lifestyle factors that can interfere with sleep.


  • Caffeine is a drug that can interfere with our ability to get a good night’s sleep because it is a stimulant. Stimulants elevate heart rate and blood pressure and can make us feel more alert, potentially adding to PTSD-related hyperarousal and disrupting sleep.

  • Our body can get used to having caffeine so that we can need more and more over time in order to get the same effect. For example, whereas one cup of coffee was all you needed to wake you up in the morning when you first started drinking it, now you may need 3 or 4 cups.

  • In which substances can caffeine be found besides coffee? <Be sure to include hot tea, iced tea, many soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, and some pain medications.

  • The most common withdrawal symptom from caffeine is headache and usually lasts 24 hours.

  • Experts in sleep disorders recommend total elimination of caffeine from the diet.

  • If you cannot eliminate caffeine, restrict your intake to 1-2 caffeinated beverages a day before 12 noon.


  • Nicotine is another drug that can interfere with sleep. As a stimulant, it increases heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and makes you feel more alert.

  • Nicotine can lead to tolerance so that you need more to get the same effect.

  • In which substances can nicotine be found?... Cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and other tobacco products.

  • Serious physical health consequences are associated with nicotine use.

  • Smokers sleep more poorly than non-smokers due to stimulant effects of nicotine, nicotine withdrawal during sleep, and irritated respiratory system.

  • Many people think that smoking cigarettes is relaxing, but the nicotine in cigarettes actually makes it very stimulating and will work against you in your efforts to sleep. The relaxing part of smoking is the habit that is involved, and the key to quitting is to develop new habits.

  • Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, irritability, anxiety, and headaches and usually last 10 days.Nicotine use leads to chemical dependence, and quitting smoking can be difficult. The VA provides a smoking cessation program. How many people here smoke? Are you interested in quitting? If so, we can make a referral for you to the smoking cessation program.

  • Quitting smoking will be helpful to your sleep and your health in the long run. However, in the short run there may be some impact on sleep from nicotine withdrawal.

  • If you are not ready to quit smoking completely, cut down on nicotine at night

  • Avoid nicotine within 2 hours of bedtime.

  • Do not use nicotine if you get up during the night.


  • Alcohol can be sedating. It is not uncommon for people to turn to alcohol to calm down, often in an attempt to relax or go to sleep.

  • Like caffeine and nicotine, alcohol is also a drug that can lead to tolerance so that people need more and more to get the same effect.

  • While alcohol may make you feel more relaxed initially and may even help you to fall asleep at the beginning of the night, it will increase the number of times you awaken throughout the night. Part of why people with a hangover feel badly is due to sleep disruption.

  • Alcohol use is associated with increased dreaming and nightmares.

  • Even a small amount of alcohol as much as 6 hours before bedtime can increase wakefulness during the night.

  • For people with past heavy alcohol use, even after years of abstinence, sleep patterns may never completely return to normal.

  • Eliminate alcohol use, if possible.

  • Otherwise, limit alcohol use by not drinking after dinner.

  • Never use alcohol as a sleep aid. It only makes the problem worse.

  • Never mix alcohol with other medications, especially sleeping pills.


  • It is important to manage your diet, as having a large meal in the evening can make it harder to sleep at night.

  • Try eating a smaller meal early in the evening.

  • Avoid heavy, spicy, or high-sugar foods as these can interfere with sleep.

  • Foods that are rich in tryptophan (turkey, chicken, dairy products), and carbohydrates such as bread or crackers might help you to relax.

  • Reduce fluids after 7 pm so you are not awakened by the need to urinate.

Environmental Factors that Can Interfere with Sleep

Evaluate your bedroom environment to make sure it is as conducive to sleep as possible.


  • Bedroom noise level is a factor in sleep hygiene. Some people like a steady background noise to mask outside noises that might wake them up. Other people sleep better in a room that is quiet. Evaluate your sleep preference and make changes to your environment as needed.

  • If you like background noise, try using the radio low and tuned in between stations, or try a fan or a "white noise" machine. Do not use the TV for this purpose. Watching TV is a wakeful activity and should not be done in the bedroom.

  • You may need to talk to your partner about this, as people without sleep problems are not bothered by a TV in their room.


  • Exercise is good for sleep because it increases your metabolism, making your body perform more efficiently and increasing the need to sleep.

  • Try to set up a regular exercise routine that you do in the morning or early afternoon (get your doctor’s permission first). While exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime might make it harder to sleep, exercise earlier in the day may help you fall asleep more quickly and stay longer in a deep stage of sleep.

  • Engage in thirty minutes of a moderate exercise routine everyday early in the day.

  • Exercise helps reduce the risk of developing many health problems and appears to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.


  • Be sure to get exposure to sunlight each day, including early evening. This helps to regulate your biological clock.

  • Keep bedroom lighting low. When you walk into your bedroom at night, use a small lamp or other low lighting rather than a bright overhead light. This is in keeping with our general strategy to make the bedroom soothing and associated with relaxation and sleep.

Room Temperature

  • Most people sleep better in a room that is slightly cool rather than too warm. A room that is too hot leads to more awake time and light sleep.

Air Quality

  • Improve air quality in your bedroom by making sure it is well-ventilated.

  • If the room is too stuffy, it will be harder to sleep.

Bed Comfort

  • Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable.

  • Try to replace a mattress after 10 years with the highest quality you can afford.

  • Sleep with pajamas or comfortable clothes that are different from your daytime clothes. At home, changing into pajamas is another way you can prepare your mind and body for relaxation and sleep.

Partner Support

  • Making changes to your bedroom will require your partner’s understanding and support.

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