In the months since the pandemic took hold, there have been a series of reports on how the outbreaks are affecting our sleep, from the quality of our rest to our new, weird dreamscapes.
Some findings are surprising. A study of 435 adults in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland conducted over the course of six weeks, from mid-March until the end of April, found that people were sleeping about 15 minutes more each night. In a similar, but a smaller study conducted in the U.S. at the University of Colorado, 139 university students reported that their nightly sleep duration increased by about 30 minutes during weekdays and 24 minutes on weekends.
Good for them, right?
But here’s the thing: While both studies showed people were sleeping more, they also uncovered the quality of sleep still wasn’t up to par. In fact, the sleep quality declined in both cases.
We focus a lot on the number of hours we get, but the actual effectiveness of the sleep you’re getting may differ for a variety of reasons. So, what actually makes a good night’s sleep? And how can we get better sleep more seamlessly and efficiently?
Sleep helps us rest, but there’s more to it
You may have heard of the four stages of sleep, through which our bodies and brains move from drowsiness, to stable and deep sleep, and then into REM, but the function of each is what makes them most important, explains Dr. Setsuko Hosoda, MD, a physician for Care Medical.
“The deep sleep is really important in a restorative way, for your immune function, for muscles and joints and for your energy supplies to be restored,” Hosoda says. “And then the REM sleep has important functions in terms of emotional consolidation. Sleep helps to consolidate your memories. If you lack sleep or are losing a lot of sleep, that emotional regulation gets affected, and you will tend to be more anxious or irritable.”
Not all sleep is created equal
It’s normal to think that you can make up for lost nighttime hours by napping, but experts don’t recommend it. The cycles of sleep work best in their entirety.
“As you reduce sleep or as you interrupt different parts of your sleep cycle, you're actually losing different components of your sleep,” Hosoda says. ”So, if I sleep deprived you, your body would try to make up the deep sleep first because that's the most important, it'll try to catch up on deep sleep and then cut out more of the REM sleep.”
So while naps might give you a small afternoon boost, Hosoda explains they don’t offer the same benefits of a full sleep cycle, especially in the long term.
“If you're having sleep issues, the nap is actually contributing to your sleep problems. When you have insomnia or sleep issues, sleep therapists really try to consolidate that sleep, and by breaking it up and napping during the day, you've decreased that desire to sleep later in the evening.”
Good sleep hygiene starts before you head to bed
Less is more when it comes to developing positive sleep habits:
- If you have the space, try to stay out of the bedroom. “A lot of people do everything in their bedroom, but generally, it's advised that you only use your bedroom for sleep and sex,” Hosoda says.
- Positive sleep hygiene is also about developing a routine, so that means going to sleep and waking up at the same times each day.
- Cool temperatures, total darkness, and making sure your bed is as comfortable as can be can also set you up for a great night’s sleep.
But, obviously, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes life -- or that after-midnight dream about being late to a high school math test -- gets in the way.
To help you find your best sleep, Care Medical clinicians can work with you one on one to identify your sleep issues and help you manage better nighttime habits. They’ve even developed a “sleep kit,” which includes items like an eye mask, ear plugs, sleep journal, and essential oils to ease you into your next, more restful slumber.
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