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Sleep Tips

How Do I Know If I Got a Good Night's Sleep?

Determining whether you got a good night’s sleep can be particularly tricky, especially when it isn't just about logging a certain number of hours like many may think. However, by tracking your sleep, you can prioritize quality sleep over quantity and begin to learn what good, restful sleep truly is.

To help you on your search for your best sleep ever, here’s what you need to know about getting a good night’s sleep and feeling your best every morning:

What is “good sleep”?

Because everyone's sleep pattern and sleep needs are different, it's often hard to define "good sleep.” However, in broad terms, individuals often “feel" good sleep physiologically, even if they can't quite define what it looks like (e.g. number of hours spent in bed or amount of time spent asleep).

“After a good night of sleep, physically your body will feel more inclined to move," says Jeanine Joy, Ph.D., SleepTips.org sleep expert, “Mentally, it will be easier to focus, and you will think with greater clarity."

While good sleep typically can help us feel better physically, sometimes that isn’t enough to measure our sleep quality. So, in addition to physical symptoms, there's also a handful of factors the National Sleep Foundation has pinpointed as signs of good sleep:

  • Falling asleep in under 30 minutes.
  • Remaining asleep for 85% of the night.
  • Remaining awake for less than 20 minutes if up in the night.

For those who take longer than an hour to fall asleep, wake up four or more times and stay awake for longer than 41 minutes in the middle of the night, it's likely that the sleep you are getting is actually poor quality, no matter how many hours you may have logged.

How to Measure a Good Night’s Sleep

So, what is considered a good night’s sleep and how to we know? Thanks to a measurement model called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), we have a way to truly quantify good sleep. Previously a self-reported questionnaire, the PSQI is a way to measure how effective your sleep is. In this model, the number of hours you're spending in bed becomes moot, and the quality of sleep you’re getting reigns supreme.

The PSQI measures seven components of sleep to get to a total overall (or “global") score:

  • When you go to bed.
  • The consistency of your bed time.
  • How long it takes you to go to sleep after you go to bed.
  • How much sleep you actually get (not just time spent in bed).
  • What time you get up.
  • Whether you wake up during the night.
  • Whether you have difficulty returning to sleep after waking up during the night.
  • Whether you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Thanks to the PSQI scale, you can actually calculate whether or not you’re getting a good night’s sleep. But, if you know your sleep quality isn’t the best and you’re looking to improve sleep naturally, there’s a few things you can try to improve your sleep quality and quantity on a regular basis.

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

1. Find ways to effectively manage stress

One of the most common factors preventing a good night’s rest is stress. Stress can quickly deplete the energy reserves provided by a good night's sleep, but effective stress management can go a long way toward helping you get better sleep. If therapy is cost-prohibitive, there are many low-cost ways to effectively manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, regular walks and exercise, and journaling (especially if it's before bed).

2. Diligently practice strong sleep hygiene

Abiding by the concepts of good sleep hygiene can go a long way in promoting deep, restful sleep. By now, the detrimental effects of blue light on sleep are well known. But, if you already put your cell phone in another room at night and you're still experiencing tiredness the next day, Joy recommends taking it one step further by avoiding exposure to bright light late in the evening. Harvard Health Publishing recommends avoiding blue light altogether at least 2-3 hours prior to bedtime. And, to really up your sleep hygiene, Joy also recommends avoiding caffeine after noon, eating a lighter dinner and taking a warm shower or bath 90 minutes before bed as part of a strong sleep hygiene practice.

3. Get a watch with Actigraphy

A watch with actigraphy allows users to see how well they slept. But, don't spring for the FitBit or Apple Watch models (unless you want to). “You can get a watch with actigraphy that measures your sleep for as little as $20," Joy recommends, “Every morning, check the app to see what the watch says. The data will help you recognize attributes of a good night's sleep and how a good night's sleep feels." And once you know what is working for your body and what’s not, you can do more of the positive and less of the negative.

What if I get a good night’s sleep and still feel tired the next day?

Surprisingly, you can sleep well and still feel lethargic the next day. While they are often correlated, sleep deprivation and fatigue are two separate issues. Sleep deprivation is defined as a chronic lack of sleep, while fatigue is a temporary condition of feeling tired. You can feel fatigued for a variety of reasons, such as physical and mental exertion, dehydration, travel and stress.

However, sleep deprivation and fatigue frequently get confused because the culprits for both are often the same. Allergies, medications, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and cumulative sleep debt can all lead to both sleep deprivation and temporary fatigue.

So, if you're getting "good sleep" and still wake up feeling tired, try combating common causes of fatigue by getting more exercise, eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, drinking more water and practicing good sleep hygiene. If all else fails, consult with your doctor.

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