Most people understand that getting enough sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being, but not everyone realises that the quality of their sleep is just as important.
Getting the right amount of restful sleep reduces stress levels, allows us to stay alert during the day and perform at our best and is also important for our health and immune function. However, many people struggle with getting enough quality sleep. In this article, we explore the impact of poor sleep quality, what the causes may be and how to address them.

What happens when you sleep?

Most people don’t realise there are four stages of sleep and each stage has an important function for our health and well-being. So what exactly is happening between the time we get to sleep at night and wake up each morning?

Stage 1 of sleep

When we first drift off, we enter the lightest stage of sleep, known as stage 1. This stage lasts for around five minutes, and this is when our eyes move slowly from side to side. 

Stage 2 of sleep

We then enter stage 2 sleep, which is a deeper form of sleep. Our eye movements stop, and our brain activity slows down. We may also experience brief bursts of brain activity known as sleep spindles.  Stage 2 sleep lasts for around 20 minutes. 

Stage 3 of sleep

After stage 2, we enter stage 3 sleep, which is the deepest and most restful stage of sleep. Our brain activity slows even further, and we may experience Delta waves – slow waves of electrical activity that help us to feel refreshed when we wake up. Stage 3 sleep lasts for around 30 minutes. 

Stage 4 of sleep

Finally, we enter stage 4, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when we dream. Our eyes move rapidly from side to side, and our breathing becomes irregular. REM sleep helps us to process emotional experiences and to store memories.  It typically lasts for around 20 minutes.

On a typical night, a person will cycle through four to six of these stages of sleep several times during the night.  Not all cycles are the same length, but each lasts, on average, around 90 minutes.

What causes poor quality sleep

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to poor sleep quality, such as lifestyle habits like consuming caffeine late in the day or alcohol before bedtime.

There are also medical conditions like sleep apnoea and insomnia, medications, stress and anxiety, and even environmental factors like noise or light. Identifying the cause of your poor sleep quality is key to developing an effective treatment plan.

For Sleep Apnoea

It is important to get an accurate diagnosis of sleep apnoea because, if left unchecked, it can have lasting effects on your health and quality of life.  The only way to diagnose sleep apnoea is with a sleep study, which importantly also measures the severity.

SleepWise Clinic, in Melbourne and Geelong, conducts sleep studies and provides medically proven customised treatment options.

For Non-apnoea sleep disorders and psychological problems

Your sleep problems may be due to non-apnoea sleep conditions such as restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy or insomnia.  It could also be related to psychological issues such as anxiety, depression and stress.

If any of these conditions apply to you then we recommend that you visit your GP.  If required, they can refer you to a sleep psychologist. 

The effects of poor quality sleep

Not getting sufficient good quality sleep can have a number of side effects, both short-term and long-term. 

In the short term, it can lead to fatigue, irritability, problems with memory and difficulty concentrating. 

In the long term, it can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Poor quality sleep can also adversely affect mental health, leading to increased anxiety and depression. Furthermore, it can impair cognitive function and memory. In other words, poor quality sleep can have a serious impact on both physical and mental health.

How can you check the quality and quantity of your sleep? 

A good night’s sleep is important for a variety of reasons. It helps to improve mood, cognitive function, and overall physical health. However, many people have trouble achieving restful sleep on a regular basis. If you’re struggling to get enough quality sleep, there are a few things you can do prior to seeking professional help to assess your sleep quality. First, take note of how long it takes you to fall asleep once you get into bed. It should only take about 15-20 minutes to drift off if you’re truly sleepy. If it takes much longer than that, it could be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep. Next, pay attention to how often you wake up during the night and how rested you feel when you wake up in the morning. If you’re frequently waking up and struggling to get back to sleep, or if you wake up feeling exhausted, it’s a sign that your sleep needs improvement.

Finally, keep track of any other symptoms you experience that could be related to poor sleep quality, such as daytime fatigue, irritability, or difficulty concentrating. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis, you should consider professional help.

Improving your Quality of Sleep

If you’re struggling with getting enough quality sleep, there are a few things you can do to help improve your situation. One of the most important steps is creating a consistent routine that includes winding down before bedtime and avoiding screens at least one hour before bedtime. Additionally, creating a comfortable sleeping environment free from noise and light can also help improve your quality of sleep. 

You should also make sure you’re exercising regularly and eating healthy meals throughout the day, as these activities can also positively impact your night-time restfulness. 

Here is a summary of the steps you can take to improve your quality of sleep:

  • Create a consistent routine before bedtime
  • Avoid screens one hour before sleep
  • Create a sleep environment free from distractions

Lastly, if you’re still having difficulty sleeping after making these changes, consider professional help regarding other options that will be beneficial in helping you get a better quality of sleep.

References

Sleep Spindles 

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-spindles

Sleep Stages

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30252388/#:~:text=Excerpt,wave%20patterns%2C%20and%20eye%20movements.

The effects of poor quality sleep

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20354018#:~:text=Sleep%20deprivation%20can%20affect%20your,or%20increased%20movement%20during%20sleep.

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