We’ve all been there.
You’re sitting in the waiting room for your doctor’s appointment and wonder why you’re so sleepy.
Or you’re working at your desk, but you just can’t seem to keep your eyes open.
We all know the feeling of fatigue and being unable to concentrate during the day.
Unfortunately, it is often a result of sleep deprivation.
Many factors can cause this problem, such as stress, a bad diet, or even hormone imbalances.
Keep reading to learn how to improve your sleep quality and get a better night’s rest.
What is a good sleep quality?
When you look for studies about sleep, you can find many different terms. For instance, we have sleep latency, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency. They are all sleep parameters, and another we should know is sleep quality.
But what is sleep quality? In a sense, it is different from other sleep parameters because it is a subjective term.
Sleep quality refers to how well you sleep.
When you think you had a great sleep, that means sleep quality is good. But if you feel tired in the morning or had a bad night’s sleep, you’re probably going to say that sleep quality is not good.
More than the time you sleep in the evenings, sleep quality is a subjective measure of how well you are sleeping. As it is, sleep quality has a significant impact on your health and performance throughout the day.
But is it possible to measure sleep quality?
How do you measure sleep quality?
There are several ways to measure sleep quality. For instance, you can use a sleep diary.
A sleep diary or journal is a way to track your sleep patterns. It is a simple method of measuring your sleep quality by recording the time you go to sleep, wake up, and how rested you feel in the morning.
You can do this for a week and then compare your notes to previous weeks. This will give you a better idea of how well you are sleeping.
It can also be done more objectively by using a sleep quality scale, which scientists do to obtain a more standardized measure.
In such cases, you might need to answer a series of questions in the morning. It is best to answer these tests when you wake up, and they include easy questions such as how rested you feel and if you had any dreams during the night.
There are many different scales doctors can use to measure your sleep. For instance, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index or the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (1).
But if you’re not interested in going through a standardized sleep quality test with a healthcare professional, you can still answer these questions every day after waking up:
- How was your sleep?
- Did you wake up feeling refreshed?
- How much time did you spend in bed?
- Was your sleep interrupted?
- What were your dreams like?
- Were you able to fall asleep easily?
Do it consistently and compare your notes to understand more about your sleep quality and how it changes over time.
What causes poor sleep quality?
As mentioned above, poor sleep quality is defined as waking up tired or not being satisfied with the amount of sleep you get every night. But why does that happen?
It could be due to a medical condition like insomnia or sleep apnea. It could also be due to lifestyle choices, like being stressed out or having an irregular sleeping schedule.
The reason you’re experiencing poor sleep quality can be (2,3):
When we feel stressed, our body produces cortisol, adrenaline, and other chemicals.
It doesn’t matter if it is work stress or any other type. They all influence how the human brain works, keeping us awake as a nasty sleep spoiler. Stress can work in the background, even if we don’t feel anxious.
Worrying thoughts about your health, finances, job or anything else can keep you awake at night or give you nightmares. It is a prevalent cause of sleeping problems.
When you’re depressed, your thoughts can be dark and gloomy, and your brain chemistry changes. In some cases, depression and other mental health problems trigger sleeplessness. In other people, it causes insomnia.
Caffeine and substance dependence
There’s nothing worse than caffeine intake if you want to sleep more. It is a stimulant that makes you feel awake and alert. However, it can also make you anxious, depressed, and irritable.
It will impair your sleep if you drink beverages with high caffeine content close to bedtime. Other stimulant drugs have a similar effect, and you can experience insomnia during the withdrawal syndrome of recreational drugs.
Certain foods can cause problems with sleep if you eat them closely before going to sleep. Sleeping on a full stomach can also trigger gut health symptoms and impair your sleep quality.
Some people use alcohol to relax, but heavy alcohol consumption causes sleep pattern alterations. That’s why you don’t feel completely rested in the morning after consuming too much alcohol.
Exercising a bit before bedtime can help you wind down and sleep. But strenuous exercise increases your cortisol and adrenaline levels and causes poor sleep quality.
Some medications can cause insomnia. For example, it happens with Parkinson’s drugs, decongestants, and corticosteroids.
You might find that your sleep is affected by the temperature in your room or the time of the year. The quality of your bedding can also play a part in your sleep.
A chronic health condition can also impair the quality of your sleep, especially when it is a source of chronic pain or constant worries.
Now that you know the main causes, you probably realize that you can make some changes to avoid them altogether. Being self-conscious about your sleep will help you achieve what we know as sleep hygiene.
13 ways to improve sleep quality
You probably heard before that seven to eight hours of sleep are the standard goal for most of us each night. However, sleep debt and sleep quality go beyond that. Therefore, in order to improve your sleep, you want to focus on avoiding the causes of poor sleep quality described above.
Here are some sleep tips and sleep hygiene suggestions (4,5):
1) Avoid napping too much
Be careful with naps and nap length. If you are tired during the day, it is ok to take a nap, but limit napping to 30 minutes or less.
2) Be mindful of dietary habits
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime. Eat a healthy diet and avoid large meals close to bedtime. Avoid fatty nighttime snacks, especially if you have a sensitive digestive system.
3) Body temperature
Play with your body temperature. Take a shower or bath before you go to bed to prompt a sleepiness response in your body as the temperature cools down.
4) Get comfortable
Ensure the blankets, pillow, and mattress are comfortable and at the right temperature. High-quality bedding may help you sleep tight.
Get enough exercise throughout the day. You could aim for 30 minutes of physical activity.
6) Create a routine
Adopt a regular sleeping schedule, even on weekends. Wake up and try to go to bed at the same hour every day, and remember it may take a while before you feel the difference in your body clock.
7) Daylight in the morning
Daylight and sun exposure are essential as the first thing you experience in the morning.
8) Morning exercise
Morning workouts can sometimes help you activate your body faster and reduce sleeping problems.
9) Limit screen time before bed
You can try to limit the time you spend in front of screens and other devices.
10) Relaxation techniques
You might want to look at taking up meditation or yoga. These have a calming effect and also improve your sleep.
Try different relaxation methods—for example, a breathing or body scan exercise. Try to achieve complete muscle relaxation as you try these methods.
11) Natural remedies
Wind down with natural remedies and herbal supplements. For instance, you can use melatonin supplements in tablets or lavender capsules.
You can also try lavender essential oils and other pleasant aromas to soothe your mind.
12) Limit noise
Use earplugs or try to sleep with soothing sounds or white noise with headphones or a machine if your room is not completely quiet.
13) Use a sleep mask
You can use a sleep mask if your room is not entirely dark or you feel disturbed by nightlight. Ideally, it would be best if you bought blackout curtains.
How can you tell if your sleep quality is improving? If you’re sleeping better, you’ll be feeling more energetic. You’ll also have more energy during the day.
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How do you fix poor sleep quality?
In some cases, poor sleep quality responds to a baseline sleep disorder you need to solve. For example, insomnia and sleep apnea.
What can you do if you’re suffering from insomnia?
- You can try using relaxation techniques, like meditation or breathing exercises.
- You can try natural insomnia remedies like valerian, chamomile, or lemon balm.
- If you can’t sleep after 20 to 30 minutes, leave your bed and do something soothing such as reading a book or light cleaning your kitchen surfaces. Then try to sleep again.
- You could visit your doctor for medical help and take prescription drugs. Take caution and use them as prescribed.
What can you do if you’re suffering from sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition where you have pauses in breathing during sleep. This happens when your airway collapses. Your body stops breathing, and you probably wake up several times every night.
There’s perhaps an anatomical problem causing sleep apnea, but most patients find relief using these methods (6):
- Keep a healthy weight.
- You can try using a CPAP machine to support your sleep
- You could try to sleep with a nasal strip or a mouthpiece.
- Buy a sleep apnea pillow. Some of them come to support a CPAP machine and make it more comfortable for you.
- Don’t hesitate to visit your doctor or a sleep medicine specialist for medical help.
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Good sleep quality refers to feeling proper rest after a full night’s sleep. It is a subjective parameter you can measure with a scale or evaluate by simply using a sleep diary and writing down the answer to the same questions every morning.
There are many sleep hygiene changes you can implement to improve sleep quality. You can start by trying lifestyle changes.
For example, waking up every day at the same time and creating a sleep routine. Avoiding caffeine and large meals before bedtime is also important. Other solutions to improve sleep quality include herbal sleep aids to speed up your results, such as melatonin supplements or lavender pills to regulate your sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythm.