Everything You Need To Know About ‘Junk Sleep’ (And How It Messes With You)

Your alarm just went off. Ugh. Still tired, you groan and press “snooze” a couple more times before eventually forcing yourself out of bed. After doing the math, you realise you technically slept enough hours (even though you could definitely sleep more). Maybe you’ve even been trying to go to bed earlier and feel frustrated you aren’t reaping the benefits yet. What gives?

One potential reason: Your sleep hasn’t been as solid as you think. It’s been “junk sleep,” aka not long enough or high-quality enough to nourish your brain and body. For example, maybe you slept a full eight hours, but it wasn’t deep, or you kept waking up throughout the night.

The term “junk sleep” has over 36 million views on TikTok, but if you haven’t heard of it before, how can you know you’re dealing with it, what causes it and how can you beat it?

Signs you’re experiencing ‘junk sleep’

For many of us, waking up feeling tired is a given. It makes sense we need a few minutes (and a few cups of coffee) to fully get going. But at what point is inadequate sleep to blame – and a problem we need to address?

You wonder if you even slept and if you’ll be able to function.

If you’ve ever woken up and questioned if you actually fell asleep, you know what we’re talking about here.

“You might wake up and feel like you didn’t even sleep,” says Kristen Casey, a licensed clinical psychologist and insomnia specialist. “You wake up feeling unrested, groggy or irritable. This type of sleep doesn’t help us restore our bodily functions and causes difficulty for our functioning the next day.”

In other words, it’s not your run-of-the-mill desire to rest longer just because your bed feels so comfortable.

You’re not doing too hot emotionally, mentally or physically.

On the note of functioning, you’re struggling. You might feel extra anxious, depressed, forgetful, easily distracted or irritable, according to Phil Lawlor, a sleep expert at the mattress company Dormeo. Long-term, you might notice you get sick more easily, experience chronic pain, have digestive or cardiovascular issues, or feel extremely fatigued.

Additionally, you may notice changes in your eating patterns. “Another less-known symptom is that you may eat more than usual,” adds Nicole Eichelberger, a certified sleep expert specialising in insomnia and a consultant at Mattressive. This is because sleep deprivation — even one night of itincreases levels of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.”

You don’t really believe in the importance of sleep and sleep hygiene.

Casey loves helping people look at how they think about sleep, since “our thoughts can impact how we feel, behave, and experience the world, including the sleep world,” she says. “For example, if you believe sleep isn’t important, you might not prioritise your sleep routine or care about waking up at the same time each day.”

This perspective doesn’t have to be an explicit “I hate sleep and sleep doesn’t matter,” either. It can look more subtle or entail “revenge bedtime procrastination,” for example, which is putting off sleep on purpose because you want more leisure time. (Understandable, but unhelpful!)

As a result, Casey added, you may not practice solid sleep hygiene, such as adding a restful buffer before bed.

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