How to know if you got a good night's sleep

When someone asks how you slept, it’s a question that can be surprisingly difficult to answer.

Sure, you might say “not enough;” or perhaps, “I tossed and turned;” or if you’re lucky, “I was out;” but how good or bad was that night’s rest really?

And people want to know. That’s why there’s a big market for apps and devices that help evaluate sleep quality. But it seems like something we should be able to give a scientifically valid answer to without additional equipment.

Now, thanks to some recently published guidance from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), that should be easier to do. A new report recently published in Sleep Health, the journal of the NSF, helps clarify exactly what “a good night’s sleep” means — for all ages.

Unsurprisingly, falling asleep quickly and sleeping through the night are pretty basic indicators that you slept well. But the report gets far more specific than that.

In order to come up with measures of quality sleep, the NSF assembled a group of experts from their own organisation and from other medical societies. After initially looking at 3,928 studies about sleep, they selected 277 that would provide useful guidance on what “a good night’s sleep” actually meant.

They came up with measures related to both “sleep continuity” — how much someone slept in a night — and “sleep architecture” — the way the night was divided into the different phases of sleep.

There was less agreement among experts about how what quality sleep looked like in terms of sleep architecture, which is harder to assess on your own without recording brain waves. But it is easy to measure how much you slept and to see if it was enough to qualify as a good rest.

The team behind the study provides four easy ways to tell if you slept well:

  • For most adults and kids of all ages, falling asleep in 30 minutes or less qualifies as good. For adults 65 or older, falling asleep in 60 minutes or less is good.
  • Good quality means that most adults and kids wake up for more than five minutes no more than once per night. (Older adults may do this twice.)
  • If you do wake up, it’s for 20 minutes or less. (For the over-65 crowd, 30 minutes or less.)
  • You sleep for at least 85% of the time that you’re in bed.

Now, if you do happen to have access to measures of your brain waves throughout the night, the authors also say that there there was a consensus that getting REM sleep for more than 40% of the night is not a good thing for anyone but newborns. That would run against the popular assumption that more REM sleep is always better. But, the researchers add, we still need more data before making any firm conclusions in that area.

So for now, sleep well.

[H/T New York Magazine]

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