How Good Is Your Sleep Quality?

A sleep study by researchers at Bradley University, Illinois found that average sleep quality was better related to general health and wellbeing than average sleep quantity. Put simply, sleeping well is not about how much we sleep but rather how well we sleep.

So, if you always wake feeling bleary eyed, maybe it’s not that you need more sleep, you just need to improve your sleep patterns.

The 5 Stages of Sleep

Firstly, let’s find out a bit more about our sleep patterns.

There are five stages of sleep:
  • Stage 1 – A light stage of sleep, lasting 5-10 minutes, during which we can be easily woken by noise or movement.
  • Stage 2 – A slightly deeper stage, lasting around 20 minutes. During stage 2 our body temperature falls and heart rate slows.
  • Stage 3 - The transition between light and deep sleep, during which our brain waves start to slow.
  • Stage 4 - Deep sleep which will last about 30 minutes. In this stage our bodies undertake repair and regeneration of cells. We cycle between stages 3 and 4 until we reach stage 5 sleep.
  • Stage 5 - We usually reach stage 5, known as REM sleep, about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Increased brain activity during this stage leads to dreams. The amount of REM sleep we have reduces with age.
We go through these stages of sleep in a cycle all night long. Unfortunately, though, external factors can interrupt or wake us, reducing our sleep quality by making us spend less time in deep sleep.

Read on for some top tips for keeping interruptions to a minimum so you can enjoy better quality sleep and wake feeling rested and raring to go.

How to Improve Your Sleep Quality

A few ideas to help you improve your sleep quality:

Go to Bed Before You’re Overtired

Anyone who has ever put a child to bed will know that the more overtired they are the harder it is to get them to fall asleep. Counter-intuitive, right? But that’s how it is. And it’s the same for adults. To get quality sleep you need to make sure you head for bed at the right time - before you’re exhausted.

Avoid Stimulants

We’re sure you’ve heard this advice before, but do you know why it’s important you avoid certain things before bed?
  • Alcohol – Alcohol may help you relax and go to sleep, but it can interrupt your sleep patterns giving you a more restless night, with frequent waking.
  • Caffeine – Drinking caffeine in the latter part of the day will stimulate your brain, lengthening the second phase of your sleep. This means there will be less time for the important restorative phases 3 & 4, so you’ll wake feeling less rested.
  • Spicy foods – Spicy foods can interfere with digestion and make it difficult for you to doze off and move through the stages of sleep.

Switch off Screens

Stay away from screens for an hour before you go to sleep. The bright light emitted by screens can confuse your brain into thinking it’s daytime by disrupting the hormones that make you feel sleepy. And if you think this doesn’t affect you as you’re still able to fall asleep, it might be that your sleep quality is being affected. The stimulation means your brain finds it harder to move into stages 3 and 4 for vital restorative sleep.

Focus On Your Sleep Environment

Make your bedroom more sleep-friendly.

Too Hot?

Being too hot can interrupt your sleep patterns. Turn your heating off overnight, making sure it doesn’t come on too early in the morning, and choose bedclothes and comforters that are the right weight for the season. If you are a hot sleeper, switch to wool bedding to help your body regulate its temperature. In fact, scientific studies have shown that sleeping with wool bedding helps you gain 25% more deep regenerative (stage 4 and 5) sleep when compared to other bedding types.

Too Light?

It’s not just those pesky screens that can keep our brains alert, any light source in the room can do the same. Switch your TV off rather than leaving the standby light flickering, and filter out as much of the street light as you can with heavy curtains or blackout blinds. If you can’t get rid of all the light from your room, consider an eye mask. You’ll easily pick one up for just a few dollars.

Too Noisy?

If you hear noises in the night your brain is programmed to become alert. So, turn off your cellphone to stop them buzzing with notifications and keep the door shut if you have roommates who like to disturb you. It can be trickier to drown out the noise coming from outside, so if you live in a noisy neighborhood try playing white noise or quiet classical music to help you drift off.

If you are looking for more ideas about how to improve your sleep patterns for better sleep quality, visit our Sleep Health & Advice hub.

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