What is sleep efficiency in the first place? How can it be improved? And can it be improved in the first place?
Sleep efficiency is the total amount of time spent in bed, not just asleep. If one were to drift off to sleep at the exact moment their head touched a pillow, and get out of bed at the exact moment their eyes opened up in the morning, that person would have 100% sleep efficiency – and science would want to study this person. Why? Because we aren’t machines. There’s no switch that can be flipped on and off whenever we’d like. But each and every one of us can reach our maximum sleep efficiency.
Say, for example, person (a) goes to bed at 8:00 p.m., tosses and turns until 8:45, and finally dozes off at 9:00. Person (b) goes to bed at 8:50 and also falls asleep at exactly 9:00. These two people might fall asleep at the same time, but person (b) has higher sleep efficiency.
Why Does Sleep Efficiency Matter?
Well, people with poor sleep efficiency often wake up feeling lethargic and unrested, or sometimes oversleep. Those with high sleep efficiency, on the other hand, feel more wakeful and have more energy in the morning.
Lack of an appropriate amount of quality sleep may result in lowered alertness, impaired memory, stress, lowered quality of life, less ability to lose weight, and even an increase in the risk of getting into a car accident.
The Body’s Sleep Schedule: Sleep Cycles
Here’s a list of ages and the recommended time each should sleep, according to research on the topic.
- Older adults, 65+ years: 7-8 hours
- Adults, 26-64 years: 7-9 hours
- Young adults, 18-25 years: 7-9 hours
- Teenagers, 14-17 years: 8-10 hours
- School-age children, 6-13 years: 9-11 hours
- Preschool children, 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
- Toddlers, 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
- Infants, 4-11 months: 12-15 hours
- Newborns, 0-3 months: 14-17 hours
Sleep isn’t just a single stage of being unconscious. When you drift off, your body goes starts sleep cycles lasting 90 minutes each. As such, the minimum ideal amount of time spent sleeping (for adults 18 and up) would be 7.5 hours, or five 90 minute cycles. Here’s the tough part: Those cycles have to be uninterrupted. If you wake up at cycle number four, your body will fall back asleep and start the whole process over again, still craving those five cycles in a row.
So, the goal is to fall asleep quickly, stay asleep for five cycles, and be able to do it every night. If this can be done, you will be at your maximum sleep efficiency.
What Time Should I Go to Sleep? How Do I Wake Up?
The first step toward reaching optimal efficiency is knowing when you should go to bed. Here’s a handy sort of sleep calculator. Using the chart above, find your age and the number of hours recommended. If you usually wake up at 8:00 a.m. and it takes you one hour to get ready for work and twenty minutes to drive to your place of employment, shift the amount of time to fifty minutes needed to get ready – so wake up at 8:10. This makes it so that you have to force yourself out of bed when your alarm clock goes off.
Why? Well, sleep efficiency is all about spending as little time in bed as possible when not sleeping. Moreover, that slow wake up-time that some of us allow ourselves is actually bad for your sleep hygiene. If your body is used to having a slow start in the morning, it will expect it and make you actually feel more tired than you really are upon waking.
So, if you’re waking up at 8:10 and you need 7.5 hours of sleep, you’ll need to go to bed at around 11:00 p.m. But you wouldn’t be reading this if you merely needed to be told your bedtime.
Which leads us to …
How to Improve Sleep Efficiency
Unless you’re one of those few people who have a medical condition that forces your brain to pump out too many wakefulness chemicals, insomnia can be treated by making a few changes to your lifestyle. These changes seem difficult at first glance, but after a few days they become part of the routine.
1—The Bed is for Sleeping
If you are used to watching television in bed just before going to sleep, I have bad news.
The brain associates certain actions and periods of time with one another if performed enough times in conjunction. This action-association is called classical conditioning. Ivan Pavlov was a physiologist and behavioral psychologist. He would ring a bell just before feeding his dogs and, after a time, noticed that they would begin to salivate whenever he rang the bell, regardless of whether there was any food.
In the same way, if you watch television in bed, your mind will associate bed with not just sleep but with watching television. If you tell your mind to shut off and sleep, it won’t listen to you – and for good reason. You’ve trained yourself to think that the bed could mean more than one thing, and your mind punishes you for making it do something it doesn’t want to do when it could be doing something else.
The same goes for eating in bed. As a matter of fact, it would be best if the dining room was where you did all your eating to make absolute sure you won’t get up in the middle of night and bring food back to bed.
2—Remove Distractions (That Means Your Phone)
Having your attention grabbed is the very worst thing for sleep. Loud noises, lights, voices, vibrations and many other things are meant to wake us up. As such, there should be no lights, no music, no sounds, nothing at all as you lay down to sleep. In fact, even having an illuminated clock near the bed causes stress and distracts. Turn it away from yourself when you lay down.
As mentioned earlier with the television, if your mind thinks using the phone is one of your bed’s functions, it would rather have you do that than sleep. So, tragically, don’t use your phone in bed.
However, there is one thing that you can do in bed that will actually help: Reading. If you only use your phone to read, or if you read a book, your mind will associate the mentally tasking process with not just your bed but with tiredness. Or better yet, write. Become your own sleep tracker each night and morning, write down when you wake up and go to bed (and see number four on this list).
3—Avoid THESE Things
Anything that could interrupt or disrupt the sleeping process must be stayed away from in the time leading up to your predetermined bedtime. Caffeine is an obvious one, but less obvious is alcohol. If you fall asleep after drinking enough alcohol to make you tired, you will wake up as soon as that alcohol wears off. Moreover, alcohol disrupts those 90-minute sleep cycles because it starts to act like a stimulant.
Cigarettes have a stimulating affect, so they’re a no-go. Other stimulants you should stay away from include: Tea, soda, and chocolate.
4—Establish a Routine
Consistency is key. If you start out your new sleep routine on the first night by taking a shower, settling down, reading a book, and then going to bed, do that every night thereafter. Each and every step in that routine will bring your body closer to the sleep that’s right around the corner.
No stressful activities should be involved in that routine. No phone calls, no arguing. Stress releases cortisol into the body, which raises alertness – the opposite of what we want.
5—If You’re Tired, Sleep
I know, this one sounds obvious, but for some people, it isn’t. If you get tired in the middle of day and have the opportunity to, take a short nap – just make sure it isn’t late in the day.
Tiredness is the body trying to tell you that it’s sleepy time. So, sleep!
But, again, that tricky routine is taking priority. If you nap once a month, nap once a month. If you nap twice a week, nap twice a week. If you nap every day, nap every day. If you start screwing with your body’s sleep routine, it will backfire and mess it up even worse. So, nap or don’t nap, that is your choice – just stick to it!
Polyphasic sleep, or sleeping multiple times per day, isn’t more or less effective than regular, old sleeping once a day.
6—Eat Right and Exercise, Sort Of
If you do exercise, make sure you do so early in the morning and not in the afternoon. If you combine this with forcing yourself to get out of bed and establishing a routine, your mind will begin to associate waking up with having a lot of energy – which you expend while exercising.
And, finally, don’t eat before bed! Make sure meals are kept small after dinner and aren’t consumed just before bed.
7—Get Sun in the Morning (And More, If You Can)
So, you’ve forced yourself to wake up and started exercising. Good! Now go outside. More sun in the morning will make you more tired at night. Your body’s circadian rhythm responds very heavily to light.
At least 45 minutes of sun a day, on average, is recommended.
These Supplements Can Help
If you truly commit to the last seven steps on this list and still can’t seem to get that sleep efficiency you’ve never dreamed of, you may want to see your doctor. Spoiler: They will tell you to do everything outlined above and, when you tell them that didn’t work, they’ll likely give you some sort of sleeping medication; that isn’t good.
If your body becomes dependent on a drug to sleep, it will be very difficult to break that habit.
If your body is lacking in Vitamin D3, Vitamin B-12, or Vitamin-A/Retinol, the circadian rhythm can be thrown off, messing up your sleep. If you suspect you may be lacking in these, by all means, get them into your body.
Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant commonly associated with sleep. Melatonin has shown benefits in humans or animals for obesity, IBS, GERD, cancer, Alzheimer’s, immune disorders, cardiovascular diseases, depression, delirium, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, menopausal depression, gallbladder stones, sexual dysfunction and insomnia in the elderly, migraines and headaches, ALS, and tinnitus.
Melatonin decreases the amount of time needed to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep. (It also can cause vivid dreams.) 5mg before bed is best for those who have done the above steps and still have trouble getting down their routine. However, even if your sleep efficiency is absolutely the best it can be, taking 1 mg of melatonin before bed can make it even better. 1mg won’t be enough to make you drowsy, but it will be enough to make sleep come that much faster.
Magnesium has been shown in clinical trials to improve the quality of sleep, specifically the deepest parts of sleep. For some, it has a stimulating effect, but that’s rather rare.
Glycine taken at 3g has been shown to improve subjective sleep quality in clinical trials of healthy individuals. Why so much? In order for it to get through the blood-brain-barrier, copious amounts must be taken
Arginine can also help with improving sleep quality. More specifically, the nitric oxide inside of it. It’s cheap and effective!
There is a smattering of other supplements that some swear by, but they produce little to no results in real world trials – not even subjectively. Their impact is close to that of placebo.
If everything here is put into practice, it would be very, very difficult to stay awake. Good luck, and thank you for choosing Natrogix!
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