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It's the Quality, Not the Quantity of Sleep that Matters Most: 4 Ways to Get Good Quality Sleep

By Edited Dec 2, 2015 3 6

Baby and dad sleeping

As a child, we often hear our parents say that we should sleep at least eight hours a day. Now that we're all grown-up with a fast-paced lifestyle, this resting period is oftentimes neglected.

Some may feel energized after sleeping while others feel restless. Does this imply sleep deprivation? Well, probably. But, there are actually some lucky people who have a rare gene that allows them to efficiently perform their daily tasks even with four hours of sleep. Others are not so lucky. They still feel lethargic even after eight or more hours of slumber.

There are several explanations why we sometimes still feel restless after a night's rest. One in particular is sleep quality. It is actually one of the major factors that influences how we may feel after several hours of unconsciousness. There's also oversleeping. This may seem all right quantity-wise. But, health-wise, it is not highly recommended. So, now what? As you read further, you will learn more about why a good quality sleep is important and some tips on how to get one. 

The Important Stages of the Sleep Cycle

Sleeping woman

As soon as you succumb to the weariness a day brings and fall asleep, your brain's activity continues. In fact, several studies have noted that our brain is more active during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage compared to our awake state. But, what exactly are the benefits of sleep?

As you know, there are five stages in the sleep cycle. Your alertness is typically restored during the stage 2 of the cycle or the light sleep. From here, you'll move on to the deep sleep stage and finally REM or the dreaming phase. 

It is a widely known fact that when you fall asleep, your body continues all its essential tasks. Repairing damaged muscles and tissues is one of these processes. However, this will only occur when you reach the deep phase (stage 3 and 4) of the sleep cycle. In addition to that, this is also the phase when your body starts to replenish its energy. Overall, the primary function of the deep sleep stage is to restore, rejuvenate and improve your physical health

As for the phase when dreaming occurs, studies have shown that the primary function of REM is evidently related to your mental health. Basically, when you're dreaming, your brain starts to reproduce its supply of brain chemicals that are crucial for various processes like improving your mood. Furthermore, this phase also plays a vital role in enhancing your creativity, ability to learn and remember important details of your life. 

The problem with the dreaming phase is that there will be days when you can't get enough of this stage. This is especially true if you're getting poor quality sleep. Mainly because the top priority of your body is to restore your physical health first. Meaning, if you you're not getting enough deep sleep, your body will make it up by getting the necessary time from the REM stage. This is one reason most studies have presented that the first two cycles of a normal slumber has higher percentages of deep sleep. As you continue to progress to the 3rd and 4th cycles, the REM stage becomes longer

What is Sleep Quality?

According to the Patient Education Institute, a person with a normal sleeping pattern spends 50% of his total sleep cycle in the light stages, about 20% in REM and 30% for other stages. This completes one cycle, which typically last for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. 

As you can see, only nominal percentages are typically spent in the recuperative or essential stages of sleep. Thus, any disturbances can greatly affect your slumber's quality. How so? Primarily because once you're awakened, the cycle starts again. Even if you go back to sleep, you're back at square-one, the lighter stages

Keep in mind that time is also part of the equation when obtaining a good quality sleep since your body needs some time to fully recharge and repair any damages. The specific number of hours will depend on how much time your body needs. As a good rule of thumb, experts recommend that an adult must complete four or five cycles per day to fully recuperate and function well.

Yawning man

Knowing that, sleep quality may be defined as the state of a person's slumber not measured by the number of hours in bed, but by the number of interruptions that causes awakenings. For example, you experience one or more interruptions that awakens you when you're supposed to be sleeping, this will inevitably diminish your slumber's quality. Remember, each interruption will reset the cycle. So, instead of entering the essential stages, your time is mostly spent at the starting point.

With that, always keep in mind that you have to enter the deep and the REM stage to get the utmost benefits of sleep. The most efficient way to do this is to get hours of uninterrupted rest. If you're having trouble getting long and peaceful slumber every night, below is a list of tips you can try. 

How to Get a Good Quality Sleep?

The first step to improve your sleep quality is to find the primary factor that causes vexing wake up moments, keeps your mind restless at night and interrupts your slumber. From there, you can easily adjust your day-to-day habits to get the utmost benefits of sleep. With that, here is a list of the most common sleeping problems along with some tips on how you can solve it. 

1. The "90 minutes rule" and sleep inertia

One common dilemma for most people even those who have completed an eight-hour rest is waking up with a foggy and sometimes restless feeling. This specific phenomenon is known as "sleep inertia." According to several studies published at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, sleep inertia occurs when a person is suddenly awakened in the middle of the “slow brain wave” stages or during the REM or deep stage of the sleep cycle.

Several experts have shared that the simplest remedy to wake up without the undesirable effects of sleep inertia is the 90 minutes rule. The basic concept of this rule is to set your resting period in sets of 1 ½ hour or 90 minutes. For example, you typically go to bed  at 10 PM. You can set your alarm clock at 4 AM, 5:30 AM, 7 AM and so on.

Alarm clock

In theory, waking up at any of those mentioned time allows you to rouse while you're in the light stages of the sleep cycle and not in the middle of the “slow brain wave” stages. This will make you feel refreshed and energized when you wake up instead of feeling disoriented, restless or as if you have not slept at all. 

It was apparently noted that if you're up and feeling energized before your alarm clock makes its noise then you've found your ideal bedtime schedule. This is also true when you don't press the "snooze button" of your alarm over and over again. 

Typically, sleep inertia will only last for a few minutes as long as you're not sleep deprived. If so, these negative effects can last for hours. But, why is this relevant? Basically, waking up with a bad mood can sometimes affect your productivity throughout the day. As much as possible, we all want to wake up in a great mood since it can motivate us to finish all our daily tasks.

In another point of view, remember that the REM stage is responsible in reproducing your supply of brain chemicals like serotonin. As you know, serotonin is one of your so-called "happy hormones." Hence, waking up in a great mood is an excellent sign that you've spent enough time dreaming whether your remember your dream or not. 

2. Resetting your biological clock for a longer sleep

As presented in a video about sleep-wake rhythm, a person's biological clock plays a vital role in their sleeping routine. But, there are several factors that can disrupt the normal flow of your internal timepiece like travelling to a place with a different time zone, working on a graveyard shift, some medical conditions, drugs and alcohol consumption. But, for now, let's focus our attention to the “night owl” types of people.

As I've observed, people who have a normal habit of sleeping during the wee hours have less time to complete a good night's rest, especially if they have daytime responsibilities. Remember, your body needs some time to repair, recover and recharge. But, how will you meet this requirement if you're busy during the day and still busy at night? 

Doctor pointing out time

One way for you to improve your sleep quality is to reset your biological clock and reformat your daily schedule. But, before you can re-train your body to go to bed and rest at an earlier time, you must first build a mindset that relaxation and rest is a top priority at night

You can use several methods to reset your biological clock. The most common method is to wake up and expose yourself to sunlight every day at a specific time. This will train your body to get up early in the morning and go to bed early at night. Eventually, this will compel you to doze off earlier than your usual bedtime schedule. This, of course, will only work if you're dedicated to the cause. If you still take stimulants like coffee before dusk, it will counter your body's yearning for rest and will make you ignore the cues that your body sends. 

Chronotherapy is another method you can do. However, this regimen requires a lot of free time from morning to dusk. Mainly because there will be days that you need to rest during the day.

As for melatonin supplements, it is strongly advised not to take it especially without your physician's approval. This is also recommended for sleeping pills. These substances may help you for a while. But, if you continuously use it, you may develop drug reliance and tolerance. 

3. Coping with sleep disturbances if you're a light sleeper

As a light sleeper you've definitely experienced several disturbances that can easily wake you up at night or during the wee hours. There are several factors that can influence this. One in particular is noise. Ear plug is one of the most prescribed tools to conceal unwanted noises. If it makes you uncomfortable, you can also opt for some soothing instrumental music or white noises that you can softly play while your unconscious mind rest and travels to dreamland.

Temperature and artificial light are other examples of sleep disturbances. Keeping an electric fan “on” while snoozing is a good remedy you can do. It keeps the air flowing, the temperature cool and it also blocks some noises. As for artificial light, you can use a sleep mask if you prefer your dim lights lit while sleeping. 

4. Creating several sleep sessions (Napping)

Having afternoon siestas or creating several sleep sessions is another excellent way to get the utmost benefits of sleep for people who are working on graveyard shifts and for those who have a hard time sleeping for several hours straight.

You're probably confused with this statement since dozing off for seven to eight hours straight is an old-time norm. There's nothing wrong with this tradition. But, there's also no study or substantial evidence suggesting that we can't chop this big chunk of hours into several sessions. As long as you can complete the recommended sleep cycles per day, it will not have a negative impact on your health. But, if you have daytime responsibilities, this method may affect your social life. 

Tips for Good Quality Sleep

In creating your cat napping sessions, the “90 minutes sleep cycle rule” is good foundation you can use. However, a long nap is only applicable if you have a lot of free time during the day. If you have a daytime job or obligation, a strict 20-minute nap is enough to restore your alertness. Going beyond that timeline will not only affect your productivity at work. It will also affect your bedtime schedule. How so?

As presented above, the deep stage of the sleep cycle recharges your energy levels. If that happens, it will decrease your body's yearning for rest. This will inevitably make you fully awake and still energized when your usual bedtime comes. 

As for other ways to divide your sleeping period, there are several schedules you can apply or use. "Everyman Sleep" is one schedule you can try. It is actually one of the most acknowledged adaptation of a "polyphasic sleep." The main concept of this sleeping pattern or schedule is to get a 4 to 6 hours of sleep at night and add two or more long naps during the day. 

Overview

How will you know if you're getting quality rest? You don't have to count how many hours you've spent in bed. One way to check if you're getting a good quality sleep is through your energy level. You should feel physically and mentally active throughout the day without the dire need to continuously consume or drink caffeinated products or other kinds of stimulants. 

Tips on How to Get Good Quality Sleep

If you often feel sleepy or less responsive during the day, you must try to adjust your schedule and add more time for rest. If you're experiencing several disturbances every night, keeping a journal or diary is a good way to monitor and find-out the underlying cause of your sleeping problem.

Once you've found the cause of your sleeping problem, you can try to use any of those tips mentioned above. However, if you’re experiencing incessant sleepless nights, seeking professional help is a must. They can fully assess if you’re dealing with a medical condition or a sleeping disorder. With professional help, you can get the right remedy or treatment that your body needs.

With that, don't forget that sleep can bring forth a major impact in your physical, mental and emotional health. For that reason, it is something that you should always take into serious consideration when you're planning your daily schedule.

This article entitled "Why You May Need More Sleep" can shed some insights on why it is important to get a good night's rest. 

5 More Tips to Naturally Improve Your Sleep Quality

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Comments

Jul 18, 2014 8:06pm
Larah
Very useful article md15garcia. Thankfully I can sleep very well and that is what keeps me sane, even when I have a stressful period. I read the article for my husband, who can't sleep properly and I will get him to follow some of the tips,especially getting him to try the relaxing music instead of earplugs. Thanks.
Jul 18, 2014 9:14pm
md15garcia
Hi Larah! Thanks, I'm glad you find this article useful. Honestly, I've tried most of these tips even polyphasic sleep (taking naps). Sadly, it's not for me. I use chronotherapy though when my sleep-wake cycle is disrupted. I also use a sleeping app (deep sleep) or turn an electric fan on every night to help me fall asleep and stay that way until the sun is up. :)

I hope your husband find a good method/tip to help him sleep properly. Thanks again! :)
Aug 1, 2014 7:45am
McBob34
An outstanding article - easy to see that you took a lot of time with this one. Thanks for your insight.
Aug 1, 2014 7:02pm
md15garcia
Thank you so much for your positive feedback. :)
Aug 27, 2014 3:54pm
armckay
Great article! I have 4 young children and also work a shift pattern and I really struggle to feel properly rested - even though my wife would say I have more sleep than her. I'll be exploring some of the ideas you talk about to try and get a better quality sleep pattern.
Aug 29, 2014 10:25pm
md15garcia
Hi armckay! Thanks! :)

In my point of view, creating several sessions of sleep is a good choice if you have different work shifts. When I was doing my research I've encountered several sleeping patterns, but Everyman sleep is the most common. I'll try to expand this concept on my future posts. You can also check other IB articles regarding this topic. I've seen several articles about this specific topic.

Thanks again and good luck! I hope you find an excellent tip or method that you can easily apply in your daily activities. :)
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