How do you rate your sleep quality? Do you sleep soundly throughout the night, toss and turn, or lay there thinking? Or something other?
I’m a sound sleeper and always have been. In college I was baffled how classmates could complain of being insomniacs. The concept of not sleeping well was beyond me. I understand that better now, and am curious about sleep so I’m now on a quest to unravel the mystery of sound and quality sleep.
Science, medicine, and experience tell us there are mental and physical benefits of good sleep. It boosts your immune system, improves your mood, strengthens your resilience, regulates weight, and in general makes you a healthier person. Everybody wants quality sleep, regardless of how many hours they subscribe to as being a healthy amount of time. This article addresses the quality of the sleep only.
Some nights you don’t fall asleep fast because you aren’t tired, you’re too tired, there are distractions in your brain or house (wherever you are sleeping on a given night), or you have biological issues (sleep apnea, heart arrhythmias, being too hungry or full) that keep you awake. Health issues are something you need to get your doctor’s help on, the rest will be addressed here.
What I’ve come up with from my research is there are things you can do all day to support a sound night’s sleep. Furthermore, there are things you can at night that relate specifically to sleep, adding to what you do during the day, so you have quality sleep.
The Top 4 Essentials
1. Create a Bedtime Routine
• a regular schedule of going to bed, and getting up
• foster a dark, quiet, and cool room and sleep in a comfortable bed
• remove distractions
• quit working 90 minutes before bed
• go to bed before you get your second wind; whether you are a lark or owl, there’s a “natural” time for you to go to bed.
2. Clear your mind, manage your stress. Meditation, leisurely strolls, reading, and quiet music can help all of that. If you honor the suggestion to quit working at least 90 minutes before bedtime, your mind will have a chance to unwind and get in the groove of sleeping. Take that work ban one step further and initiate a blue-light ban two hours prior to bedtime; TVs, tablets, computers, and smartphones all generate blue light, though there are apps that change the light from blue to more of a yellow so that if you are on your devices near bedtime at least you don’t have that bright, blue light that confuses the brain as to the time of day.
3. Don’t eat too late or go to bed on an empty or full stomach. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine in the evening too. Foods and nutrients that help you sleep include pumpkin seeds for the zinc which converts the brain chemicals tryptophan into serotonin, and magnesium which helps decrease cortisol, the stress hormone. There are more, but those two keep popping up so I’m passing them along.
4. Energize through the day with quality food, exercise (more than 2 hours before bed), and fresh air/sunshine. Yep, when you expend energy during the day it paves the way for a night of quality sleep.
Let’s cover one more aspect of quality sleep: the amount of deep and light sleep you get. First, the technical explanation of sleep cycles. A good night’s sleep consists of around five or six sleep cycles; each cycle lasts around 1.5 hours, and we need all five stages in order to wake up feeling rested and refreshed. One cycle consists of the following stages:
• Stage 1 – This is when you feel drowsy, relaxed, and hover between being awake and nodding off.
• Stage 2 – At this stage you are in a deeper sleep, your body cools a bit, and you become detached from your surroundings.
• Stages 3 and 4 – These are the “deep sleep” stages. It’s hard to wake up from deep sleep because this is when there is the lowest amount of activity in your body. This is when your body rebuilds itself, restores energy, and hormones are released. This is the holy grail, the stuff we all want enough of.
• Stage 5 – This is the REM (rapid eye movement), or “dream sleep”, stage. We slip back into Stage 2 for a few minutes before entering REM.
The amount of deep sleep we need each night isn’t clear, and maybe because there are too many definitions for the concept of deep sleep. Going with two simple sleep stages – deep and light sleep, further defined as times of less and more movement – I’m concluding that ideally 45 percent of your sleep should be deep for the best quality sleep. REM sleep, for this discussion, is included in the deep sleep category.
You’re serious about getting quality sleep. You take the steps outlined in the Top 4 Essentials list. But, you may not be able to really tell if you are getting quality sleep, outside feeling more or less refreshed and renewed. Then what? Consider a sleep monitor.
You can get highly scientific and technical and go to a sleep lab for a polysomnography test. That’s the most complete and thorough testing you can get. It will track and record your brain waves, eye movement, heart rate, muscle tension, oxygen levels, breathing, air flow, and the frequency and volume of your snoring activity. The con to this is sleeping at the lab, often in a hospital, disrupts your natural sleep patterns. The pro is it’s the most accurate and thorough testing available – for now.
Home devices can help, and they get more accurate with technological advances, though they aren’t as accurate as the polysomnography test. The biggest disappointment to me is that they may overestimate your sleep length and quality. If you don’t want to go the lab route, this is a reasonable alternative. However, you’ll at least have a consistent trend of your sleep pattern.
Using my Vivofit2 fitness tracker ($75 on Amazon) to track my movement and sleep patterns has been an interesting exercise for five weeks now. IF it’s consistent in its tracking of my sleep, what I’ve observed is that I find I feel most rested on the nights my deep sleep happens for at least 66 percent of the night.
The bottom line really is how rested you feel when you wake up. Are you refreshed and renewed after your sleep? If so, maybe it doesn’t matter to you how much of your sleep is deep and how much is light.
If you don’t get a quality night’s sleep, experiment with the above suggestions until you find the formula that works for you. If you get quality sleep, consider experimenting with the above suggestions to see if your sleep improves and you get even more rest and renewal.
Improve your mental and physical well being by getting quality sleep every night. Improve your quality of life with your quality of sleep. Improve your energy with quality sleep.