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By: Kevin Asp, CRT, RPSGT on January 22nd, 2020

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Quantity of Sleep vs Quality of Sleep: Why This Is Important

quality sleep | quantity of sleep | quantity vs quality sleep

When you've had a good night's sleep, you can definitely tell. You wake up feeling full of energy, refreshed, and you're ready to begin your day. Sleep is important for both mental and physical well-being.

It helps with things like:

  • Mood

  • Memory

  • Decision-making

  • Judgment

  • Ability to learn new things

  • Reflexes

It also impacts your work performance as a sleep technologist, and how you carry out day-to-day tasks like driving. Lack of sleep has been negatively associated with a greater risk for an array of health problems, including: 

  • Heart attack

  • Obesity

  • Stroke

  • Diabetes

  • Depression

  • Immune system damage

But, many individuals simply aren't getting enough sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, one in three individuals in the U.S. doesn't get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night as they're supposed to. 

And, the problem gets even messier when you take the quality of sleep into consideration. Individuals who have trouble falling and staying asleep or obtaining deep sleep (REM sleep) could face the same issues as those who aren't obtaining enough sleep every night.

Here you'll learn the importance of quantity vs quality of sleep, the importance of a good combination of both and which sleep disorders could be affecting your sleep.


Quantity of Sleep 

Your quantity of sleep is also impacted by your quality of sleep. Ten hours of fragmented or poor-quality sleep won't be as healthy as seven hours of decent, restorative sleep. One study that looked at 1.1 million individual’s sleep patterns over a six-year course, found sleeping five hours a night could be better than sleeping eight if it’s quality sleep.

This is why it's essential you make sure you've considered all factors of obtaining a good night's sleep for you and when discussing sleep needs with your patients. These include factors such as:

As a sleep technologist, you likely get asked this question often: “How much sleep do I need?” Most adult individuals should strive for the seven to nine hours of recommended sleep each night. However, younger adults who are aged 18 through 25, might require only six hours each night of sleep, whereas others may need up to 10 or 11 in order to completely restore their energy. Since every person is different, you should gauge how rested and alert you feel after you've had eight hours of sleep, and if not, maybe perhaps add an hour or two.


Quality of Sleep

The key indicators of good quality of sleep were released recently by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). These include:

  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less

  • Being asleep longer while in bed (a minimum of 85% of the total time)

  • Being awake for 20 or fewer minutes after falling asleep initially

  • Not waking up more than once each night

According to the National Sleep Foundation, it doesn't come as a surprise to learn the quantity of sleep you obtain will determine your overall health. But, it isn't as simple as simply assuming if you laid in bed for eight hours, your sleep will impact you positively. Your quality of sleep is just as important to your well-being and often more strongly relates to your overall health than does the quantity of sleep. 


Ways To Improve Sleep Quality

Some ways of improving your sleep quality include:

  • Stop using electronic devices like a cellphone or laptop or watching television a minimum of 30 minutes before you go to bed. The blue light emitted can make it harder to fall asleep.

  • Ensure your sleep schedule is consistent. Having poor bedtime habits like going to bed too late (when you're overtired) or too early (when you're not tired) could make it harder to sleep soundly.

  • Set the thermostat in your bedroom to between 60 and 67 degrees F. When you sleep in a room that's too cool or too warm, it can interfere with how your body drifts off.

  • Avoid beverages with caffeine around six hours before you go to bed and alcohol within three hours.  Caffeine can make it difficult for you to fall asleep and alcohol can cause disrupted sleep.

  • Come up with a relaxing pre-bedtime routine, like reading a book or taking a bath. Your likelihood of a simple transition to sleep is lowered when you engage in stressful or high-energy activities.

  • Limit your consumption of alcohol to one to two drinks per day if at all.  Try not to drink alcohol too close to bedtime so not to impact your quality of sleep.

Also, for good quality of sleep we need to go through the five stages of sleep, which includes both NREM and REM.

Why the Perfect Combination of Both is Important

So, why is quality of sleep as important as quantity of sleep? 

For you to feel your best, focus on both sleep quality and quantity. Just like not obtaining enough sleep could make it difficult to function, poor quality of sleep could also leave you tired and fatigued the following day and even affect your frame of mind. Decent sleep quality could improve your mood better than quantity since uninterrupted sleep lets you obtain the optimal amount of restful and restorative sleep.


How Much Deep Sleep (N3 Sleep) Should You Get?

In healthy individuals, around 13% to 23% of your sleep is in deep sleep (N3 sleep). Therefore, if you sleep for eight hours that's around 62 to 110 minutes.

But as you age, you don't get as much deep sleep.

When you're in deep sleep, various functions take place in your body and mind, such as:

  • Physical recovery occurs

  • Memories are consolidated

  • The brain detoxifies

  • Emotions and learning process

  • Metabolism and blood sugar levels balance out

  • Your immune system becomes energized

When you don't experience deep sleep, functions like these can't take place and sleep deprivation symptoms kick in. But, it doesn't seem as though you can get "too much" deep sleep.


How Much REM Sleep Should you Get?

While there's no official consensus on the amount of REM sleep you should strive for, dreaming often occurs during this stage and it's dreaming that helps you solidify certain memories and process emotions.

For most adult individuals, REM accounts for around 20% to 25% of sleep, which seems to be healthy. But, some interesting questions have been raised by sleep research. For instance, one study suggested higher REM sleep amounts might be linked with depression. But, it isn't clear which is causing which.


What is Sleep Fragmentation?

Sleep fragmentation refers to many short arousals during the night. These aren't the natural microarousals that occur for most individuals during sleep at night. Microarousals occur in both humans and other mammals during sleep cycle transitions and are normal and don't generally cause daytime fatigue.

Fragmented sleep, instead involves awakenings you recall later. Individuals with fragmented sleep have a hard time falling back to sleep after these awakenings, which reduces their total sleep time and causes daytime fatigue.


Sleep Disorders That Can Fragment Your Sleep

Certain sleep disorders can fragment your sleep. 

Sleep disorders that could be fragmenting your sleep include:

1. Sleep-Maintenance Insomnia

Individuals who experience sleep fragmentation might have sleep-maintenance insomnia. At bedtime, they can fall asleep, but are not able to sleep through the night. Sleep onset insomnia, by contrast, occurs when individuals struggle to fall asleep.

2. Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is linked with sleep fragmentation because of repeated occurrences of nighttime end-apneic arousal. Stimuli from upper airway obstruction and oxygen desaturations provoke arousals. 

3. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy could also cause sleep fragmentation with hallucinations, vivid dreams and brief paralysis when falling asleep or waking up.

You could use the Sleep Fragmentation Index (SFI) for measuring how much sleep disruption your patients experience with fragmented sleep. You determine the SFI by dividing the sleep stage shifts and the total number of awakenings by total sleep time.

4. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

RLS generally occurs at night and causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. Many people with RLS have fragmented or disrupted sleep

About Kevin Asp, CRT, RPSGT

Because of the implementation of his best practices of Implementing Inbound Marketing in its Medical Practice, he turned the once stagnant online presence of Alaska Sleep Clinic to that of "The Most Trafficked Sleep Center Website in the World" in just 18 months time. He is the President and CEO of inboundMed and enjoys helping sleep centers across the globe grow their business through his unique vision and experience of over 27 years in sleep medicine.

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