Have you ever had an early night, but woken in the morning feeling groggy and like you hardly slept? This is because getting good sleep is not only about the quantity of sleep you’re getting, but also the quality. Today, as part of our upcoming Sleep Series, we’re going to look at what sleep quality is, signs of good and bad quality sleep, and simple ways to improve your sleep.
What is Sleep Quality?
Sleep quality, as the name suggests, refers to how rejuvenating a night’s sleep is. It is influenced by a number of factors, including how long you slept, how broken or disrupted your sleep was, how refreshed you were when you woke up, and the stages of sleep.
When we sleep, we do so in cycles that go through different stages. These stages vary from person to person and change as we age. For example, a baby’s sleep cycle will look very different from a teenager’s or an adult’s. The four stages of sleep are:
- Stage 1: The first stage you enter upon falling asleep: you’re slightly asleep and easily woken. This stage usually lasts around 5-10 minutes.
- Stage 2: The main body of sleep, where your body is consolidating memories and optimizing connections in the brain. This stage usually comprises at least 40-60% of sleep.
- Stage 3: Deep, restorative sleep, which usually occurs after stage 2. This stage makes up just 5-15% of sleep for adults, though it can be more for children, adolescents, and people who are sleep deprived.
- REM: Rapid-eye movement can happen at any stage of the sleep cycle, but usually occurs around 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs throughout the night. The most vivid dreams happen during REM.
Tracking Your Sleep Quality
If you use a sleep tracking app, you might see your sleep quality as a percentage of good sleep, but even without a tracker, there are ways to gauge if you’re sleeping well.
Signs of Good Quality Sleep
- You fall asleep within 30 minutes of getting into bed
- You wake infrequently during the night (no more than once or twice)
- If you wake, you fall asleep again within 20 minutes
- You are asleep at least 85% of the time you are in bed
- You feel well-rested in the morning and maintain energy levels throughout the day
6 Simple Ways to Increase Sleep Quality
If based on the measures above, you don’t feel like you’re getting good quality sleep, the tips below are tried and tested ways to improve your sleep quality. None of them are quick fixes, however, and they take commitment over a few weeks to see long-term benefits.
1. Get Natural Light
Our body clocks, also known as circadian rhythms, are hugely affected by light levels. Many studies have shown that getting more natural light during the day helps to keep your circadian rhythm on track by letting it know when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to sleep. The best way to get natural light is to get outside, but even sitting by a bright window has been shown to help.
2. Exercise… But Not Before Bed
While you’re out there getting fresh air and natural light, you might as well do some exercise, which has proven to be more effective at fighting chronic insomnia than sleep medication. Not only can exercise help to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, but it can also reduce wakefulness during the night, leading to better overall sleep quality.
However, try to keep exercise to daylight hours, as exercising too close to bedtime has been shown to have the opposite effect, making it harder to fall asleep due to elevated adrenaline that comes with exercise.
3. Maintain a Good Bedtime Routine
This tip also relates to synchronizing with your circadian rhythms. By going to bed and waking up at the same time every day – yes, even the weekends – we’re helping our body know when it should be wakeful and when it should rest. This helps us feel more awake during the daytime, and to have better sleep quality during at night.
Establishing a consistent bedtime routine will also help you make a habit of avoiding those things that negatively impact your sleep quality. For example, try to limit blue light from all screens, whether computer, cellphone, or television, at least 2 hours before bed. Avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before you plan to sleep, and try to avoid eating at least 2 hours before bed.
4. Create Your Optimal Sleep Environment
It might sound simple, but many people overlook the important role their bedroom environment can have on sleep quality. Reducing distractions such as light filtering through the curtains from street lights or noise from traffic or neighbors can make a big difference. Finding the right temperature is important too, as the body’s core cools down to initiate sleep; studies show that 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature for high-quality sleep. We’ll be going into more detail on sleep environments in the next couple of weeks.
5. Try an Herbal Solution
Humans have been taking herbs and botanicals to aid sleep quality for thousands of years, and science is still catching up to explain how they all work. Studies suggest that chamomile, for example, works thanks to the flavonoid apigenin, which has a mild sedative effect. Skullcap is a small flowering plant that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for nearly 2,000 years as a sleep aid and stress reliever. Similarly, the beautiful passionflower is thought to not only make falling asleep easier but also to encourage deeper sleep thanks to its stress-reducing properties. All such botanicals are available as capsules or herbal teas.
6. CBD for Better Sleep
A 2019 study into CBD for sleeplessness and stress found that of the 72 participants who were given a daily dose of 25mg CBD, 66.7% (two thirds) reported that they were sleeping better. CBD can also help to combat the underlying issues that can cause sleeplessness on a long-term basis: namely stress, pain or inflammation, and digestive complaints.
Improving your sleep quality can take time and commitment to see results. However, consistently getting good quality sleep can positively impact almost every other area of life, from concentration to weight loss, sex drive, and even longevity.