A good night’s sleep is critical to maintaining a healthy mind and body. However, with the health crisis the world is currently facing, anxiety, stress and uncertainty can interfere with your ability to sleep peacefully each night.
Sleep plays a vital role in improving our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Lack of concentration, irritability, daytime tiredness can all occur when you don’t sleep for an adequate amount of time. Moreover, studies have shown that 8 hours of sleep is associated with increased life satisfaction. For years this notion has been believed – that sleeping for a specific number of hours per night will determine how refreshed and alert you feel the next day. However, many researchers have challenged this idea. Do 8 hours of mediocre sleep truly outweigh 6 hours of well-rested sleep?
When you feel inactive and unenergetic, your first thought might be: ‘I need to get more sleep tonight so I can make up for the hours I lost’. Yet, present research suggests that the quality of your sleep might actually determine your level of functioning throughout the day. A study also found that participants who slept for less than 6 hours were just as active as those who slept for 8, provided their quality of sleep was high.
A closer look at sleep
Whilst we are asleep, we go through unique sleep stages that are important for maintaining a balance in the way our body functions. The two broad categories of sleep are: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
When we sleep, the Non-REM part occurs first. This in itself consists of 3 sleep stages:
Stage 1: This stage typically lasts for 5-10 minutes and is considered to be light sleep. It’s easier for you to wake up while you are in this stage of sleep.
Stage 2: During this stage, your body functions start to slow down, and your body starts preparing to enter the next stage.
Stage 3: This is when deep sleep is experienced. When you’re in deep sleep, your heart rate and breathing slow down, muscle activity reduces and blood pressure lowers. This is the stage in which you experience the highest level of relaxation. Getting adequate NREM sleep will help you feel refreshed the next day. In fact, Stage 3 of NREM sleep is linked to repairing tissue damage, building bone and muscle strength, and boosting the immune system.
REM sleep initially occurs 90 minutes after the person has fallen asleep and typically lasts for about 10 minutes. As the night progresses, time spent in the REM stage of sleep increases. Research suggests that this sleep stage is responsible for dreaming, forming new memories and regulating the central nervous system.
Studies show that the time we spend in deep sleep reduces as we grow older. For instance, a 70-year-old person will get half the amount of deep sleep as compared to someone aged 20. On the other hand, as we age, the time spent in the REM stage does not decrease. This is why as we age, most of us become light sleepers and are easily woken up in the middle of the night.
Frequent sleep disturbances and poor sleep quality have been linked to multiple concerns such as memory problems, disrupted immune system functioning and even psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Signs of good quality sleep
The biggest indicator of good quality sleep is waking up feeling refreshed. Additionally, here are some other signs that indicate you have received good quality sleep:
- Falling asleep quickly: If you take 30 minutes or less to fall asleep after you hit the bed, you are likely to sleep better.
- Spending majority of your time in bed to sleep: If you spend at least 85% of your time in bed actually sleeping rather than being on your phone or watching TV, your sleep quality will be better.
- Sleeping through the night: This is an indicator of how broken your sleep is. To move through the different stages of sleep described above, it’s important to get consistent sleep.
- Falling back to sleep easily: Even if you do wake up in the middle of the night, your sleep quality will be more-or-less good if you are able to go back to sleep within 20 minutes.
To improve the quality of your sleep, you can create a soothing sleep ritual that can help you unwind and relax before bed. Make sure to not read up on WhatsApp forwards or the news during this time. Instead, soak in a warm bath, read a soothing book, listen to calming music or meditate for a few minutes.
It’s important to be consistent to get into the habit of maintaining healthy sleep habits. You might struggle at first, but over time, you will notice an improvement in the quality of your sleep.
Challenging our Preconceptions: Sleep Quality vs. Sleep Quantity [Web log post]. (2017, November 21). Retrieved from https://www.sleepdunwoody.com/blog/2017/11/21/sleep-quality-vs-sleep-quantity/
Piper, A. T. (2015). Sleep Duration and Life Satisfaction. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2599565
The secret of a good night’s sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/10/25/the-secret-of-a-good-nights-sleep.html
What’s More Important: Sleep Quality or Sleep Quantity? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sleep.org/articles/quality-quantity-matters-sleep/