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Did you sleep well? A guide to understanding quality of sleep

Do you ever wake up after a night’s sleep and feel you barely slept at all? It’s a frustrating experience, when you’ve given yourself enough time to rest but don’t feel restored, and there may be a simple explanation. Your quality of sleep wasn’t good enough. Poor sleep can leave you feeling lethargic and groggy, but may also have some quite serious long term health consequences. Learning to identify what good sleep is and when you’re getting it, is a good way to eliminate factors that might be causing your quality of sleep to decrease. In this blog I’d like to explore how you know if your sleep quality is good, and if not, how to improve it. 

What is a good night’s sleep?

When it comes to sleep, quality is better than quantity. It is generally agreed that most adults need at least seven hours of sleep a night to feel rested and restored by the morning. However, a long night’s sleep doesn’t necessarily equate to a good night’s sleep. Our time spent sleeping is split up into four stages of sleep the deepest of which we call REM sleep. REM or rapid eye movement refers to the stage of sleep in which our brains become very active which can cause you to experience dreams. REM sleep is the most important stage of your sleep as it’s the stage in which your brain consolidates information and forms memories

A good night’s sleep rests upon how much time you spend in REM sleep. You could sleep for a long space of time but without this deep stage of your sleep cycle being fulfilled you are likely to still wake up feeling unrested and groggy. It is important to do what we can to maximise our bodies potential to experience REM sleep. 

Getting Into The Rhythm 

Consistency and continuity are key elements when discussing a good night’s sleep. One of the best ways to know if you are getting a good night’s sleep, is if you sleep through the night uninterrupted. It’s quite normal for someone to wake up for a few minutes a night, however if these awakenings become more frequent or the time you remain awake gets longer, it could be symptomatic of a wider problem.  

If you find yourself regularly waking up during the night, your body falls out of the rhythm it needs to get you into the deepest level of REM sleep. A number of factors can increase your chances of waking up during sleep. Some are obvious like needing the toilet, loud noises or feeling too hot or cold. Take action to prevent obvious factors that may keep you awake and ensure that your sleeping space is as optimised as possible to avoid night time interruptions.

Maintaining a consistent sleep routine can also increase your quality of sleep. When we go to bed at irregular times it can throw or sleep cycle (also known as our circadian rhythm) out of balance. Our circadian rhythm is responsible for the release of hormones that occur on a twenty four cycle in our bodies. One of the hormones your circadian rhythm helps regulate is the release of melatonin, a hormone that your brain releases in response to darkness. Melatonin helps make us feel naturally sleepy, and without its regular release you may struggle to fall asleep. Maintaining a consistent sleep cycle is vital to improving your quality of sleep.

What’s keeping you up?

If you notice that you’re struggling to get a good quality night’s sleep, identifying the cause is the first step towards improving it. There are many factors that can contribute to a poor quality of sleep. One of the leading causes of poor quality sleep is stress. If your mind is still racing when you lay down to sleep, it can prevent you from falling asleep and can also keep you from relaxing enough to enter REM sleep. Controlling stress can be complicated and there is no fix all method, however there are some things you can do to process this stress before bed time and ensure that stress isn’t affecting your quality of sleep including:

Journaling: By keeping a record of your thoughts and emotions throughout the day you can leave your mind unburdened and ready to fall asleep when you need to. Keep a record of how you sleep and what thoughts and feelings are keeping you up at night. Through this method of journaling we can begin to recognise what factors are most prominent in preventing us from getting a good night’s sleep. 

Have a digital free evening: Phones, tablets, laptops and other screens can also play a part in keeping you from getting a quality night’s sleep. Not only can notifications and the buzz of your phone prevent you from staying asleep, but the blue light emitted from these devices actively block melatonin from being released which can prevent you from falling asleep. Try not using your phone up to an hour before bed or if possible turn your bedroom into a device free zone. Preserving your bedroom as a sleeping place and not somewhere for digital devices can help ease your brain into a sleep routine that works for you. 

Eating & drinking: What we consume over the course of the day can have a big impact on how we sleep. Caffeine can affect your sleep up to eight hours after being consumed and can prevent your brain from reaching a deep REM sleep. Alcohol also works in a similar way, disrupting your circadian cycle and makes it harder to get high quality dream filled sleep. Avoid eating or drinking excessively close to bedtime as your body will remain in a state of alert as it processes the food through your digestive system.

Exercise: There are many benefits to exercise, one of which  is an improved quality of sleep. Moderate to vigorous exercise has been shown to increase sleep quality by decreasing the onset of the time it takes to fall asleep and therefore how quickly you enter REM sleep. Exercise can also indirectly improve your quality of sleep as studies have shown that weight gain can be linked to sleep conditions such as sleep apnea. 

Conclusion

There are many factors at play when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Identifying when you are getting a good night’s sleep and what has contributed towards that is a good way to begin structuring your night time routine. Our deepest stage of sleep is vital for our brains to function well and regulate our bodies normally so don’t undervalue how important getting a good quality night’s sleep can be. 

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