When you are working on getting more sleep, it's important to think about sleep quality as well as sleep quantity. We overwhelmingly emphasize the importance of getting a certain number of hours of sleep, which is always a great goal. However, if you are tossing and turning during these hours, or lying awake, then you are not getting the intended benefit from them.
Therefore, as you make a goal to get into bed at a certain time and wake 7-8 hours later, it's important to also make sure that you are getting good quality of sleep as well. Here are some tips to think about as you are trying to get quality rest.
Address medical issues
Underlying medical issues can be both a cause and complication of sleep deprivation. It's important to try and manage medical issues, and if sleep turns out to be the main driver of the development of these issues, then it's important to try and optimize your sleep with the tips below.
High blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes are all underlying medical issues that can exacerbate sleep issues, and be exacerbated by sleep disorders. Having proper glycemic control, blood pressure, and maintaining optimal heart health can help to reduce the risk of disrupted sleep do to breathing difficulties, frequent urination, nightmares, heart palpitations, etc.
Another underly medical issues that needs to be addressed is sleep apnea, whether yours or your partners. The snoring and temporary cessations in breathing can be troublesome and nerve wrecking for everyone. If you or your partner struggle with sleep apnea, the snoring can be diagnosed and treated with a polysomnography and breathing device such as a CPAP or BiPAP.
Managing daily stress and anxiety
If underlying medical issues aren't the cause for your sleep disorders, daily stress and anxiety can be a problem stopping you from getting adequate sleep. Stress and anxiety can overflow into the nighttime, especially issues at work, school, home, and in life. Without proper management, then these anxieties and stressors may keep you tossing and turning with weird and disruptive dreams and thoughts throughout the night.
This can be antagonistic to getting good sleep quality. Therefore, it's important to find healthy ways to manage them. Alcohol or medication management of stressors and anxiety may further exacerbate sleep issues. Try working with a therapist or other mental health professional if your anxiety and stress is debilitating. If it is not, then stress mediating tactics like exercising, meditating, yoga/stretching, and doing other relaxing activities may be the best coping techniques.
Find what works for you, but going to bed with all of those thoughts is not positive for getting good quality sleep. If you like writing, then even try journaling your thoughts before going to bed to get them out of your head and somewhere else for the night.
Avoid late alcohol and caffeine consumption
Caffeine may be a great way to get your day started, however, if consumed too late in the day, then it can be antagonistic towards sleep efforts. Caffeine is a chemical that works on the alert signals in the brain. It's main function is to override anything in your brain that would make you feel tired.
However, late at night, you want these part of your brain to be working in full swing because you're trying to go to sleep. If you have caffeine still working, then you are preventing your brain from getting adequate rest. Drinking coffee, or caffeinated beverages in the afternoon or late at night can cause disrupted sleep.
Same with alcohol. A glass or two of wine is fine, but you should aim to have completed them at least an hour before bed time. Although alcohol has some sedative properties, it interrupts the natural architecture of your sleep.
You don't go into rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep which is a part of helping you feel rested, as well as improving memories and neural connections. It's the dreaming state, so even though you're "sleeping deeply" you are actually not getting the quality you think you are, which is why you wake up feeling groggy after a night of drinking.
Follow your chronotype sleep schedule
Chronotype is the biological predisposition of which part of the day you like to wake up. Early birds wake up early and night owls like to stay up late into the night. Even though you can shift this slightly, you are biologically geared towards one or the other.
If you have a job or class that requires you to be up early, then you have less control over this, however, if you can create a sleep schedule that more naturally aligns with your biological schedule, then you may have a better chance of getting higher quality sleep because your brain will have released the neurochemicals responsible for feeling sleepy and going to sleep.
Optimize your sleeping environment
An important aspect of your sleep quality is your sleep environment. An ideal sleeping environment is cold, quiet, and dark. If you have light coming through (from a TV or a phone lighting up) then this will disrupt your melatonin production which is controlled by the amount of light that goes into your brain.
Your body temperature drops in your sleep as your brain is not performing many of the metabolic processes that it is during the day. Therefore, you want your sleeping environment to be cool as well as you may find yourself feeling toasty throughout the night. Moving from under the covers and trying to find a position that cools you down is not conducive to getting high quality sleep.
Finally, you want it to be quiet. Noises from your TV, other people in the house, the neighborhood, etc. can cause your brain to become active as it hears and tries to processes the noises. When you are trying to get good quality sleep,the last thing you want is for your brain to be activated, trying to take in sounds from the environment.
If you are having trouble getting good quality sleep and think that it may have something to do with an underlying sleep disorder, then please click the orange button below to take a free online sleep test and talk with one of our sleep health professionals.