Most adults aged between 26 and 64 should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but in Lebanon as in the rest of the world, many people are falling short of this requirement. A 2014 study on Lebanese university students found that over 12% of those surveyed sleep less than six and a half hours nightly and over 50% scored poorly on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. The results show that sleep quality and quantity are not the same thing. While it is important to enjoy a specific number of hours of rest, doing so without sleeping well, is likely to leave you tired and moody, and to affect your work or school performance. Poor sleep over the long term is linked to a host of serious conditions, including heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes.
The difference between sleep quality and quantity
A study by J Pilcher et al, published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, observed people who slept an average of seven hours a night. The researchers found that “average sleep quality was better related to health, affect balance, satisfaction with life, and feelings of tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion than average sleep quantity.” In other words, to feel healthier and happier, it is vital for both health professionals and individuals to stress the importance of sleep quality.
What is sleep quality?
Lebanon does not have its own Sleep Foundation, but we can take cue from the American National Sleep Foundation, which has conducted vast research into sleep and its importance for our health. According to this foundation, enjoying good sleep quality involves sleeping at least 85% of one’s total time in bed; falling asleep in half an hour or less; waking up no more than once per night and being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep. It is also important to enjoy 1.5 to 1.8 hours of deep sleep to feel fully rested. According to Psychology Today, deep sleep, also known as delta sleep, “is necessary for your body to repair itself and recharge for the next day. Your organs detox, your kidneys clean your blood, and your body replaces cells, heals wounds, and builds muscle tissues as well.” During deep sleep, your heart rate and breathing rate slow down and your muscles relax to the point that you are hardly moving.
How can you improve sleep quality?
In order to get good sleep quality and to achieve your required hours of deep sleep, proper sleep hygiene is key. This involves creating a bedtime routine and sticking to it regularly; avoiding caffeine and other stimulants late at night; consuming a sound diet; and sleeping at night, in line with our body’s natural circadian rhythms. Your bedroom should be comfortable, cool, and dark. If light and noise are an issue, consider blackout curtains and soundproofing. To improve deep sleep in particular, it is important to avoid waking up frequently. Avoid drinking too much liquid in the couple of hours leading up to bed and don’t use gadgets and computers late at night, since it may be harder to feel sleepy. Avoid making a decision or writing an important email before you go to sleep, since you could end up thinking all night about it, tossing and turning instead of resting and solving problems in the morning.
Keeping stress at bay
Stress is one of the primary reasons why people get too little sleep. To prevent stress and anxiety, consume magnesium-rich foods such as leafy greens, nuts, and unprocessed whole grains. Make time for daily exercise, found in numerous studies to boost sleep quality. Embrace holistic activities such as yoga and mindfulness meditation, which are also proven to lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and to enhance energy, mood, and wellbeing.
To feel well rested and revitalized, good sleep quantity and quality are key. Try to establish a bedtime routine and adopt good sleep hygiene habits. Create a comfortable place in which to rest, keeping devices, televisions, and gadgets outside the room if possible. Finally, keep stress at bay through a sound diet, exercise, and mindfulness-based practices that will ensure your mind is already in a calm state by the time you get into bed.
contributed by Jane Watson.