March 15, 2022

3 Key factors that influence sleep

Rachel Wadsley, PhD

We spend one-third of our lives sleeping, yet only one-third of us get enough sleep. When you think about how much sleep impacts your quality of life, that’s pretty scary. 

Signs of poor sleep:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Lack of energy
  • Mood changes (irritability)
  • Trouble focusing/ thinking
  • Reduced performance

This article will look at three areas that impact sleep quality, exercise, food, and stress. Making some changes within at least one of these areas is within your control, and we’ll offer some tips at the end.  


Exercise has immediate benefits like reducing stress, anxiety, and blood pressure while increasing your mood and quality of sleep. It also reduces your risk of over 35 chronic health issues! If that’s not enough reason to move more, I don’t know what is.

We’ve busted the myth that exercising before bed keeps you awake. You can read more about that in our sleep myths article. Exercising in the afternoon or before bed leads to a lovely endorphin rush that’ll help you get rested in no time. If you’re a morning workout person, that’s fine too. You’ll still reap the health and stress-reducing benefits.


The food we eat impacts both our physical health, mood, and sleep. The most common “food” associated with poor sleep is caffeine. Did you know it has a 6-hour half-life?! That means an afternoon cup of coffee can still keep your mind and body alert into the evening. Sugar is also stimulating and can keep you awake.

Eating in general hampers sleep. Your body needs to switch over resources to digest food, keeping it active with elevated core temperatures. This makes getting to sleep and falling asleep a struggle. 

Magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E are strongly connected to sleep. If you’re struggling to sleep, chat with your doctor to see if you have a vitamin deficiency. They might recommend supplements if you’re very low or have you eat more nutrient-dense foods. 


Sleep and stress are a two-way street. Lack of sleep can make stress worse, while stress results in poorer sleep. It’s easy to get caught in a downward spiral feeling more exhausted and burned out.

When you’re under stress:

  • It takes longer to fall asleep
  • You spend less time in REM sleep
  • It’s harder to reach deeper states of sleep
  • Total sleep time is reduced
  • Quality of sleep takes a big hit

Better sleep is on the menu

The good news is you can take action today around exercise, food, and stress to start improving your sleep. Some things will be easier than others. Pick and choose which ones work best for you and start small - no need to tackle everything or dive full in on any single tip. 

Create (and stick to) a sleep schedule 

Consistency is key. Wake up and go to bed around the same time every day - weekends and vacations included.

Create a bedtime routine 

Do something relaxing before bed or create a ritual that doesn’t include the TV or any screen time. Maybe something like reading, meditation, yoga. 

No matter how tempting, don’t sleep in or nap

Sorry folks, but those extra z’s come at a cost. It throws off your routine, making it harder to sleep at night, causing you to feel groggy. 

Make your bedroom a sanctuary 

Create an ideal sleep environment with cooler temperatures (the low to mid-60s), reducing external light, a comfortable bed/ pillow, and blocking out noises. You can use a white noise machine or fan if you need something to drown out other sounds or ringing in your ears. 

Two bedroom activities 

The bedroom is for sleep and sex. No TV or late-night snacks. This helps you associate the bedroom with relaxation and sleep, which can trick the brain into settling down at night.

Ditch electronics

The horror, I know. But the reality is the blue light from electronics stimulates the mind and makes it hard to sleep. Add in the ding of notifications or internal pressure you feel to read them, and you’ve created a recipe for sleepless nights. 

Get moving and grooving 

Exercise is essential for keeping healthy, reducing stress, and creating high-quality sleep. Any activity or movement works, whether that’s a formal workout or dancing around the house. A mild to moderate workout before bed can promote some refreshing sleep. 

Keep caffeine contained to the morning 

We all know caffeine perks us up. If you crave something warm, opt for decaf coffee or herbal tea. If you’re a soda person and enjoy carbonation try soda water instead. 

Food before bed is a no go 

According to the British Journal of Nutrition, one hour before bed is the cut-off time for snacking. Meals should be eaten 3-4 hours before bed to prevent issues falling asleep or staying asleep.  

Hide the alarm clock

Seeing the time on the clock can cause stress and anxiety when you can’t fall asleep or back to sleep. If you use your phone as an alarm, place it screen side down or out of arms reach. If you have a digital clock in your room tilt the face away from your bed so it can’t see the time and the light from the clock will not shine in your direction.

As you’ve seen, sleep is complicated. Making even one small change in a habit can help you get closer to high-quality sleep. If you're ready to sleep better (and feel better), CoPilot’s fitness trainers are here to help.

You’ll get 1-on-1 personal training from the comfort of your home who can create custom weekly workout and nutrition plans AND support you in making healthy habits around sleep. 

Best of all, you can try CoPilot for free. If you’re losing sleep, you’ve got everything to gain by giving it a test run. Sign up today for your 14-day trial

Written by Rachel Wadsley, PhD

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