Many people assume getting a good night’s sleep is judged by the hours spent asleep. In reality, there are three elements of quality sleep. The first is duration, or the length of sleep. Next is continuity, or sleeping without fragmentation, and third is depth, meaning sleep is deep enough to be restorative. Without healthy sleep, you’re often facing consequences such as daytime fatigue and sleepiness, irritability and moodiness and difficulty focusing, resulting in poor memory. Longer term effects are being studied, but poor quality sleep or sleep deprivation has been associated with significant health problems. These include obesity, diabetes, weakened immune systems and even some cancers.
Maintaining sleep duration
First, assess the number of hours allotted for sleeping. Required sleep duration is different for each person. Current guidelines recommend at least seven hours of sleep for adults. More hours are needed for children and teenagers. Maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time throughout all days of the week.
Bettering sleep continuity
When observing and researching sleep, we see individuals waking numerous times per night. For example, apnea is when breathing is suspended for a period of time. When sleep apnea occurs, a person is awakened and experiences sleep loss. In severe cases, a patient is awakened hundreds of times during the night without obtaining quality sleep. Addressing the cause of poor sleep continuity should be a priority. Other ways to ensure sound sleep are by using comfortable bedding, a cool sleep temperature setting and keeping the bedroom well ventilated. Blocking out distracting noises and eliminating as much light as possible will also help the body regulate for sleep.
Improving sleep depth
Restorative sleep is really the goal. Sleep disorder sufferers sometimes report sufficient hours spent asleep, but if they are not reaching optimum REM sleep, they do not wake up feeling refreshed. The World Sleep Society has created a list of healthy habits for healthy sleep. The first being to establish regular sleep and wake times. Avoiding light from smartphones and tablets near bedtime is also a healthy habit. The World Sleep Society reccomends reserving the bedroom environment for sleep and sex only and to avoid work or study. If you do not fall asleep in 20 minutes, leave the bedroom and return to bed when tired so your body will begin to associate the bedroom environment for sleep only. Other healthy habits for a better sleep are to exercise regularly, not exceeding 30 minutes of daytime sleep or napping and avoiding excessive alcohol ingestion four hours before bedtime. It is also beneficial not to smoke and to avoid caffeine six hours before bed. Finally, avoid heavy, spicy or sugary foods four hours before bedtime. A light healthy snack before bed is acceptable.
Better sleep is possible by creating healthy sleep habits. If you are still unable to achieve good sleep after following these suggestions, consider visiting a sleep specialist.
Clete A. Kushida, MD, PhD, FAASM, President, World Sleep Society, [email protected]