The Science Behind Sleeping Well

What is a good night’s sleep look like? I’m sure you can picture it in your mind’s eye. It‘s eleven pm, the kids are all in a deep sleep, and you just got out of a warm bath. There is a nice, cozy comforter, waiting for you. Maybe there is even a white noise machine on in the background, the sounds of waves lapping gently at the sand lulling you off into dreamland…


Just writing that made me drowsy! It sounds like heaven. That perfect setup might be easier said than done for us busy moms and dads.

Real life sometimes gets in the way of prioritizing sleep. After all, as a parent, you have to take care that everyone else is getting a good night’s rest. And it’s only when all the kiddos are asleep that you can get down and dirty into the business of managing a household. Time gets away from you, and suddenly it’s one in the morning, and you have to be up for work at eight!

Well, dear reader, I’m here to remind you of something you already know: sleep is important! It’s not just something you should be shoving to the bottom of your priority list. Just as important as setting aside the time to sleep, however, is making sure that you are actually sleeping well.

Shoddy, unrestful sleep for seven hours is less beneficial for you than five hours of deep, high-quality sleep. Ideally, you would have a long, deep sleep, but if you can only manage one, go for quality of quantity. In one study, participants reported less sleepiness and decreased depression on days when they had better quality of sleep the night before as compared to days when they had had only more quantity.

How do you measure the quality of your sleep? Sometimes it can be hard to tell, if you are stuck in the same sleeping pattern for years on end. But there are some indicators that you are (or are not) getting a good night’s rest. For starters, you should wake up only once per night at most (if at all), and an upwards of 85% your time in bed should be spent sleeping.

Aside from medical issues such as insomnia, your comfort level in bed is likely the number one factor in determining how well you sleep. If your environment is quiet and calm enough so that it is not inhibiting sleep but you are still having trouble staying asleep throughout the night, you may be uncomfortable in your current sleeping setup.

You would think that you would know if you are uncomfortable. However, over time, we have a tendency to just get accustomed to things. It is much easier to adjust to the status quo than to make big changes. That said, your body might be sending you subliminal messages that it is not getting what it needs.

If you find that you are constantly waking up in the middle of the night or that you wake up feeling drowsy no matter how much sleep you get, evaluate your current sleeping set up. Are you getting hot and sweaty no matter the temperature of the room you are sleeping in? Maybe you should try integrating more breathable materials into your bed, like a bamboo pillow.

Another reason you might not be getting what you need from your bedtime routine might be the things you drink during the day. Things like coffee and alcohol both can inhibit your body’s ability to not only fall asleep, but to sleep soundly. When consumed too near to bedtime, alcohol makes you sleepy while still disrupting a normal circadian rhythm.

You should be very careful about how late you choose to consume caffeine, too. You might think a cup at six or seven pm in the evening might not hinder your ability to fall asleep in a few hours, and you might be right. However, the pesky caffeine in your system might make an appearance later when it wakes you up from a sound sleep and keeps you up.

Sometimes, the easiest answer is the hardest to implement. Your body might just not be tired enough to fall asleep at the end of the night if you are not getting enough exercise during the day. A sedentary lifestyle can be seriously damaging to your health on the whole, but it might be the thing literally keeping you awake at night.

Sleep is so important, but it is so easy to take for granted if you are managing to get by with so-so sleep. Taking care that your sleep is high quality can make a big impact on your life and wellness. Sleep tight!

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