As humans, we spend approximately 1/3 of our life sleeping. Ideally, this time refreshes us and restores our bodies and minds so that during the other 2/3 of the time, we have optimal mental and physical health. If you’re like me, often your sleep is less than optimal. What are potential consequences of poor sleep? What do we unknowingly do that sabotages our own sleep quality? How can we improve our own habits and get better quality sleep?
Did you know poor sleep can increase pain, lower your ability to fight infection, and increase inflammation. Restful sleep can help decrease chronic pain and improve your mood, which helps you feel more energized, active and social. Good sleep can also reduce your cravings for unhealthy foods.1
So, can the opposite be true? Can quality sleep decrease pain, improve your ability to fight infection, decrease inflammation, and improve your mood? You bet! According to multiple studies2 quality sleep boosts your immune system and makes your vaccines more effective, helps with sustaining a healthy weight (sleep deprivation actually causes weight gain), strengthens your heart by lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improves mood and energy thus daily productivity, and helps improve your memory. With all those benefits, why do so many of us get such poor sleep?
What is quality sleep? Is there a difference between quality and quantity?
Quality is how well you sleep, while quantity is the number of consistent hours you slept. Both can be important. If you sleep 8 hours (quantity) but only 4 quality hours, what then? You’re probably going to have residual symptoms from 4 hours you slept that WERE NOT quality sleep. Darn! That seems like wasted time, right? Quality sleep can be identified by specific characteristics:
You fall asleep quickly, within 30 minutes (without a sleep aid)
You typically sleep all night, waking no more than once
You’re able to sleep the recommended amount for your age
You fall back asleep easily (within 20 minutes) if you do wake during the night
You feel rested, restored, and energized upon waking (this is the most important!)3
If that doesn’t sound like you, then what is the solution? Most likely, an improvement in sleep hygiene will help.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is the behaviors that we can individually do to help ourselves promote quality sleep using behavioral interventions. Examples include: maintain a bedtime schedule, avoid daytime naps, get up after 10 minutes in bed if you can’t fall asleep, use the bed for what it was made for (no screentime), avoid caffeine after noon and any other substance that interferes with sleep, don’t exercise close to bedtime, regulate the temperature in your bedroom, and regulate the “sensory” things in your room (light, sound, interruptions).4
To summarize, we spend a lot of time sleeping. That time can either improve your overall health and wellness or do the opposite. Quality sleep doesn’t just happen for everyone. For some of us, it takes discipline and changing some lifestyle choices. However, the benefits of feeling better and (potentially) looking better are worth it in the long run.