Why the answer to this everyday question might have greater health significance than you realize.
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates believed that immoderate sleep could give rise to disease and modern medicine agrees. Researchers have identified that changes in sleep patterns correlate with underlying disease or disorders, but the appreciation of sleep itself is still lacking.
Studies in the past quarter century have revealed that disruption in circadian rhythm and poor sleep play a role in changes in natural gut flora linking to gastrointestinal disease. Sleep insufficiency has been linked to decreased immune response to infections. Recent neuroimaging research has revealed that, during sleep, there is a shift in brain blood flow likely playing a role to clear toxins out of the brain. Interesting studies in men have shown the importance of the amount of sleep to maximize testosterone levels. I’ve noted many of these correlations during my time in the U.S. Army assessing sleep-deprived special operations military members and specifically identifying low testosterone levels in these otherwise “elite athletes.”
One of the more obvious important aspects of sleep is its impact on mood. In psychology, studies have shown that tackling insomnia and depression together has better outcomes than focusing on depression alone.
So what does quality sleep look like? To me it means that you wake up feeling well-rested without abnormal sleepiness that impacts you throughout the day. Although there is a natural lull in the middle of the day—reflected in the “siesta” which and similar downtimes practiced in some cultures—but this is another topic in itself. Poor sleep quality occurs when someone wakes up with a persistent feeling of sleepiness that disrupts their daily functioning, which may lead to requiring naps. There may be an impact on concentration and mood. Children may not present with sleepiness, but they may show signs of increased hyperactivity and irritability instead.
What can you do about it? Consider these meaningful tips on how you might experience better quality sleep tonight.
Ensure the bedroom is only for sleep and sex—meaning no wakeful activities in bed, including reading a book or watching television.
Give yourself a 60-minute wind-down time in which you minimize screen time. This can be a good time for mindful meditation.
Wake up at the same time every day, even during off-days. Consistent sleep patterns are often key but, while you can’t control when you fall asleep, you do have control of when you wake up.
Stimulus control: If you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, remove yourself from your bedroom environment and reset yourself outside of this space. Return once you feel sleepy and try again. Allowing yourself to stay in bed looking at the clock provokes anxiety, so break that habit.
When you sleep matters. Unfortunately, work/school/life schedules tend to get in the way of your circadian rhythm preferences. But if you can, follow the same sleep schedule on both work and non-work days.