When it comes to sleep, quantity and quality are equally important. And, not every hour of shut-eye is created equal.
According to the American Sleep Association, a sleep cycle consists of five distinct stages, with the third and fourth stages representing "deep sleep" associated with improved cognition and memory. Unlike rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, our body and brain waves slow down during deep sleep. We need deep sleep to feel refreshed and razor-sharp when we wake up in the morning.
Here are five ways to improve your sleep quality:
1. Develop a Routine and Stick to It
Consistency is key. According to the Mayo Clinic, going to bed and waking up at the same times each day is the most effective approach to getting the sleep you need. Don't try to "catch up" over the weekend by sleeping in. In fact, your sleep schedule should not vary by more than an hour, day to day. Feel like you need a little extra rest? Take an early-afternoon nap. But don’t sleep for more than 30 minutes; excessive napping can make it harder to fall asleep at night, cause grogginess and throw off your circadian rhythm.
2. Create a Comfortable Environment
A cool, dark and quiet space is crucial to getting your best rest, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Research shows that the ideal sleep environment is between 60 and 67 degrees, with limited noise and light. Black-out curtains, eyeshades, earplugs, fans, white noise machines and other tools can help. Avoid using computers, TVs, phones and other electronic devices in the bedroom. And of course, a comfortable and supportive mattress can complete your sleep space and improve your sleep quality.
3. Manage Stress
Stress can make it difficult to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. That’s why the National Sleep Foundation suggests spending at least one hour before bedtime decompressing with a quiet, calming activity like taking a bath or reading. Developing a nighttime routine helps separate sleep time from stimulating activities. If you struggle to fall asleep after 20 minutes, the Mayo Clinic recommends leaving your bedroom and doing something relaxing like reading or listening to soft music before returning to bed. This way, the bedroom is clearly associated with sleep versus other activities.
4. Exercise Regularly
Harvard Health reports that physical activity can improve sleep. Regular aerobic exercise such as walking, running or swimming leads to better, more restorative sleep, but avoid working out too close to bedtime. Exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly, and sleep deeply until that morning alarm sounds.
5. Watch What You Eat and Drink (and When)
Foods and beverages can affect sleep quality in a big way. When you go to bed weighed down by a heavy meal, you’re likely to wake during the night with indigestion. The National Sleep Foundation suggests avoiding large or heavy meals within two or three hours of bedtime. A light snack 45 minutes or so before lights-out usually helps stave off hunger. Be sure to lay off caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep quality.
Improving the quality of your sleep is important, so give these tips a try and start each morning truly refreshed and ready to conquer the day.