Sleep quantity vs sleep quality
In our blog post ‘How much sleep do you really need?’ we discussed the merits of and research about the number of hours of sleep you get per night. However, there is a lot of research about the quality of the sleep that you are getting too.
If you’re managing to sleep for 7-9 hours a night and are still not feeling like the sharpest knife in the drawer, it may mean that your sleep quality is poor.
This is particularly evident in postpartum women. They often get the quantity that they need, but definitely not the quality. Their sleep is completely interrupted and though many manage to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, most new moms feel completely sleep deprived. Lack of quality sleep is the reason.
So, if you’re hitting the hay at 10pm and waking at 6am, but have a topsy turvy night – you will most certainly feel as though you’ve only had 3 hours.
Surrey Sleep Research Centre
According to Professor Derk-Jan Dijk of the Surrey Sleep Research Centre in the UK, ‘Sleep with interruptions can reduce its restorative effects, so “quality sleep” is often defined as being uninterrupted, allowing the body to go through the different sleep stages that restore emotional and physical well-being’ he says.
In order to gain the quality of zeds that you need there are several things you should be doing in the late afternoon/evening, which prepare your body to wind down.
Ideally you should stop caffeine and other stimulant consumption at around 3pm. This gives your body enough time to process what remains. By the time you turn in for the day, you should be stimulant free.
Mobile phones have become our lifelines. However blue light from your phone has the same effect on your brain’s light receptors as the sunrise. Too much too close to bedtime can stimulate your brain and you could have trouble gaining the restful sleep you desire.
Low light and noise
Our bodies operate on a rhythm (circadian rhythm) which is in part, regulated by light and sound. Low light and sound are the hallmarks of the dead of night, and so, when trying to fall asleep it is best to create an environment where these are kept to a minimum. Switch off the TV and use block out curtaining if possible. If you’re unable to do either – invest in an eye mask and some ear plugs.
Don’t think about it
Most insomniacs or other individuals who suffer with sleep disturbances often say that they become anxious when they wake up in the night. The ‘how am I going to get to sleep’ anxiety creeps in. This is ironic, since it actually stimulates the production of cortisol – which keeps you awake! A tested method of for treating this type of anxiety is called Paradoxical Intention Therapy (PIT). It involves intentionally trying to stay awake in order to fall asleep. An example of this might be reading a fascinating book, where one tries to stay awake in order to read more. It has the intentional effect of actually making one sleepy, since the anxiety about falling asleep is removed.
Now we understand why some are able to perform on 6 hours and others barely get by on 9. It all comes down to the quality of sleep which they are getting. If you can try to create a calm, cool (not cold), quiet and relaxed environment, we’re sure you’ll get the quality that you need.