How to Fix Nonrestorative Sleep

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Nonrestorative sleep is used to describe the feeling you get when you wake in the morning feeling unrefreshed. It’s a purely subjective experience and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is commonly associated with sleep disturbances such as insomnia, short sleep duration, and poor sleep quality.

That being said, nonrestorative sleep has been found to affect up to 10 percent of the general population — so it may not necessarily be a symptom of other sleep issues.

A 2017 study set out to determine the factors that influence nonrestorative sleep. It turns out that unhealthy lifestyle factors may be partly to blame.

The study involved 9,788 individuals between the ages of 30 and 74. Participants were assessed for nonrestorative sleep based on their answer to the following ‘yes/no’ question: Do you get adequate rest during sleep?

Those who answered "no" to the question were considered to be experiencing nonrestorative sleep.

Common risk factors for nonrestorative sleep

Questionnaires were used to assess factors that have previously been associated with nonrestorative sleep, specifically:

  • Diet

  • Sleep quality

  • Medication use

  • Exercise habits

  • Symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • Psychological factors such as stress and symptoms of depression

The strongest risk factors for nonrestorative sleep

The study found sleep durations of under five hours, frequent sleepiness, and nocturia symptoms to be independently associated with nonrestorative sleep.

Other risk factors included an irregular sleep schedule; frequent stress; symptoms of depression; symptoms of GERD; and use of hypnotic drugs.

Could sleep apnea be blamed for nonrestorative sleep?

Although this study did not assess sleep apnea, previous studies have found a link between nonrestorative sleep and obstructive sleep apnea.

How to protect against nonrestorative sleep

Regular, habitual exercise may protect against nonrestorative sleep. The study found that those who reported exercising for at least 30 minutes twice a week for the past year were less likely to experience nonrestorative sleep.

Diet and evening meals affect sleep, too. Those who didn’t skip breakfast, ate dinner at least two hours before going to bed, and didn’t snack after dinner were more likely to enjoy restorative sleep.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule can also improve your sleep, as can taking steps to reduce stress.

Although you may be tempted to use a sleep tracker to improve your sleep, they may cause more harm than good. Practicing good sleep hygiene is the better strategy.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.