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Sleep Quantity vs. Sleep Quality: Which One Makes the Biggest Difference?
Sleep can be a confusing thing.
Some days, you’re so tired you wish your bed would swallow you whole… despite sleeping for a full eight hours.
But on other days, you wake up ready to tackle the day after sleeping for just six hours.
What’s the deal? It’s not clear, on the surface — but dig into the research, and you’ll find that two primary factors determine how well you sleep: sleep quantity and sleep quality.
Read on to learn more about these metrics and determine which one is the most critical for you to work on, to improve your sleep.
What’s the Difference Between Sleep Quantity and Sleep Quality?
Sleep Quantity, Defined
Sleep quantity is defined as the number of hours of sleep required to fully restore your energy.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, seven to nine hours is the ideal sleep quantity for adults aged 18 – 64.
That said, the number of hours you sleep may vary depending on your age, lifestyle choices, and overall health.
To determine the right sleep quantity for you, assess yourself based on your answers to these questions:
- Do you feel productive and happy after sleeping for seven hours? Or do you need to sleep up to nine hours to be ready to face the day?
- Do you rely on caffeine to get through the day because you didn’t get enough sleep?
- Do you feel drowsy while working or driving?
- Do you have health issues or sleep disorders?
If you’re not feeling ready to get up and go after seven hours of sleep, your sleep quantity may be to blame for your sleep challenges. Try sleeping longer, but less than nine hours.
If you’re not ready to get out of bed after nine hours, you need to work on the quality of your sleep instead.
Sleep Quality, Defined
Sleep quality refers to how well you sleep.
While more difficult to measure than sleep quantity, the quality of your sleep can be determined by assessing how closely you match the following statements:
- You fall asleep in no more than 30 minutes
- You spend at least 85% of your sleeping time in your bed
- You wake up only once per night, if at all
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re asleep again in no more than 20 minutes
If none of those statements apply to you, your poor sleep quality is likely the primary reason you have trouble sleeping.
Is Sleep Quantity or Sleep Quality More Important?
You may need more help in one area than the other, but the perfect formula for healthy sleep combines both sleep quantity and quality.
Without the proper quantity of sleep, you’ll fail to function. But at the same time, adequate sleep quantity combined with poor sleep quality will leave you exhausted and impact your alertness during the day.
If you want to improve your sleep quantity and quality (and you should!), here are five tips to help you do it:
Tip #1 — Make Changes to Your Bedroom
Establish a sleep-inducing environment in your room by making it quiet, dark and cool around your bedtime.
To counter ambient noise, use earplugs or a white noise app/appliance. Heavy curtains or an eye mask can block the light and help you fall asleep faster. As for your room’s temperature, keep it between 60 and 75°F.
Another important thing to do is keep your electronic devices and work materials outside the bedroom. This will help you associate your bedroom with sleep, putting your mind at ease and ensuring you get ample sleep.
Tip #2 — Only Sleep When You’re Really Tired
If you’re generally not asleep within 20 minutes of your head hitting your pillow, leave your bed and do something that relaxes you in another room.
For instance, you can play music or read a book until you’re tired and sleepy. Make sure to keep the lights dim to avoid messing up your internal clock. For similar reasons, stay away from noisy areas and electronic devices.
Tip #3 — Take Naps Before 5 PM
Many people prefer taking naps during the day. However, if you have trouble sleeping or staying asleep, your naps may be responsible.
Evening naps can decrease your sleep appetite, making it difficult for you to fall asleep at a reasonable hour.
If you must nap, make sure to do so before 5 PM. Also, keep it short to avoid affecting your sleep quantity and quality.
Tip #4 — Add Exercise to Your Routine
Exercising for even 10 minutes a day can positively impact the quantity and quality of your sleep. It can also reduce the risk of developing sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
Just make sure to exercise at least three hours before you sleep. Because your body is stimulated during exercise, it generally takes a while to relax enough to sleep after intense movement.
Tip #5 — Start Documenting Your Sleep
Start and keep a sleep log. Every evening and morning, jot down your bedtime, wake time, duration of your sleep and the number of times you woke up.
You can also include the activities you did throughout the day and the foods you ate to determine how they affect your sleep.
You, or the medical professional you share this log with, may be able to determine which factors improve or compromise your sleep quality.
Focus on Both Quantity and Quality for Better Sleep
Sleep quantity and quality are inextricably linked.
To sleep as well as possible, you need to optimize both the amount of time you sleep and the things that impact the quality of your sleep.
So, which one of our sleep optimization tips are you going to try tonight? Did we miss any of your go-to strategies?
(1) Weinberg, Michael. “Sleep Quantity vs. Sleep Quality." Rise and Shine by reBloom, 11 Sep. 2016, www.theriseandshine.com/sleep-quantity-vs-sleep-quality/
(2) Phebus, Angelina. “Quality or Quantity? Why Don’t You Sleep On It." Lifehack, www.lifehack.org/643556/quality-or-quantity-why-dont-you-sleep-on-it. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.
(3) “QUALITY OF SLEEP VS SLEEP DURATION: WHICH IS BETTER?” Premier Sleep, 21 Nov. 2018, www.premiersleepassociates.com/blog/quality-of-sleep-vs-sleep-duration-which-is-better
(4) "How is Sleep Quantity Different than Sleep Quality?" Sleep.org, www.sleep.org/articles/sleep-quantity-different-sleep-quality/. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.
(5) "41 Tips on How to Get Better Sleep." Develop Good Habits, 30 Sep. 2019, www.developgoodhabits.com/get-better-sleep/
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