The Science of Proper Sleep: How To Know That You’re Getting Enough Rest
Do you often feel tired and groggy in the morning, even on nights when you’ve gotten enough sleep? It’s a frustrating experience, but there may be a simple explanation: you have poor sleep quality. Poor sleep quality can impair your focus
Figuring out that you’re not getting enough sleep is easy. Figuring out why that sleep isn’t restful is trickier, but certainly achievable. Read on to learn the signs of lack of sleep, what could be causing your poor sleep quality, and how to improve it.
Signs Your Sleep Quality Needs To Improve
If you think you’re getting poor sleep, consider whether you possess any of these tell-tale signs:
- You take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep after you get into bed.
- You regularly wake up more than once per night.
- You lie awake for more than 20 minutes when you wake up in the middle of the night.
- You spend less than 85 percent of your time in bed asleep.
- You feel tired and have difficulty concentrating during the day. You may be drinking more caffeine to stay alert.
- Your skin is breaking out and your eyes are puffy, red, or developing dark circles or bags.
- You feel hungry more often, especially for junk food, and gaining weight
- You feel more stressed out, emotionally exhausted, and angrier than usual.
- You’ve been diagnosed with insomnia.
What Is Sleep Quality?
Sleep quality is different from sleep quantity. Sleep quantity measures how much sleep you get each night, while sleep quality measures how well you sleep. Measuring sleep quantity is simple, as it’s quick to determine if you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep per night (usually defined as at least seven hours for adults). Measuring sleep quality is a little more of an art than a science. Generally, good sleep quality is defined by the following characteristics:
- You fall asleep soon after getting into bed, within 30 minutes or less.
- You typically sleep straight through the night, waking up no more than once per night.
- You’re able to sleep the recommended amount of hours for your age group.
- You fall back asleep within 20 minutes if you do wake up.
- You feel rested, restored, and energized upon waking up in the morning.
Reasons for Poor Sleep Quality
Any number of things could be contributing to your poor sleep quality. Some potential causes include:
Poor Sleep Habits
Poor sleep habits, like having an irregular sleep schedule or consuming too much caffeine or alcohol, can interfere with your sleep quality. In a study of nursing students, smoking and daily coffee consumption were two of the largest factors associated with poor sleep quality. Alcohol also disturbs your sleep, even though it’s considered a sedative.
Stress and Anxiety
Poor mental health, whether from increased stress or a depression or anxiety disorder, also contributes to poor sleep quality. Problematically, sleep deprivation and the resulting insomnia worsen these conditions, creating a vicious cycle.
Chronic Health Conditions
Certain chronic health conditions are associated with poor sleep patterns and less sleep overall. These include chronic lung diseases, asthma, acid reflux, renal disease, cancer, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain. Unfortunately, as with stress and anxiety, poor sleep quality can exacerbate the symptoms and discomfort felt with these conditions.
A person with sleep apnea experiences temporary lapses in breathing during their sleep, resulting in gasping, choking, and snoring sounds. Even if they don’t consciously wake up, their brain has to kick start breathing again, disrupting sleep quality. Sleepiness and lack of energy are two of the most common complaints of individuals with sleep apnea.
Undiagnosed Sleep Disorder
Because they occur in your sleep, some sleep disorders go undiagnosed until a person seeks care for other symptoms like poor sleep quality, or a sleep partner alerts them to the symptoms. For example, individuals with periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) experience involuntary jerking movements in their legs while they sleep, resulting in reduced sleep quality, and fatigue and poor concentration during the day. Individuals with narcolepsy likewise often suffer from poor sleep quality, and experience daytime fatigue.
How To Improve Your Sleep Quality
Fortunately, improving your sleep quality may be as simple as improving your sleep hygiene. Just like dental hygiene involves regularly brushing and flossing to maintain your teeth, sleep hygiene is all about practicing good habits that help you get good sleep consistently.
Try these ideas to improve your sleep.
- Stop watching television and using your phone or computer for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Electronic devices emit bright blue light that your brain perceives as sunlight, tricking it into delaying sleep and keeping you awake longer than you’d like.
- Transform your bedroom into a dark, quiet, and cool oasis. Set your thermostat to somewhere in the low- to mid-60 degrees Fahrenheit, and use blackout curtains or a white noise machine to further relax your senses.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Following a consistent sleep schedule trains your brain to recognize when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake.
- Make sure your sleep schedule allows for enough time to sleep. Adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Select activities that relax and calm you, like taking a warm bath, listening to an audiobook, or journaling. Performing these activities in the same order every night creates a pattern for your brain to recognize them as the prelude to sleep.
- Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake. Both of these substances can stay in your system for some time and disrupt your sleep quality. Avoid drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime, and caffeine within five hours.
- Get some sunlight in the morning. Just 15-30 minutes outside in the sun can help wake you up and reset your circadian rhythm.
If you still have trouble sleeping after implementing these suggestions, talk to your doctor. They may recommend other lifestyle changes, therapies, or medications that can improve your sleep quality.