Sleep is an unavoidable and crucial part of life. When people think of sleep, they often think of recommended amounts as a kind of suggestion – but what they might not know is that if you want to stay healthy, it’s just as important to get proper sleep as it is to eat the right foods. In fact, sleep is right up there with breathing as a vital basic function!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30% of adults don’t get the sleep that they need for their bodies and brains to function at their best. The type of sleep also needs to be factored in here – a person can get eight hours of sleep every night and still not have the adequate quality of sleep they need. So, even if you’re sleeping the amount you think is necessary, you could be missing out on the benefits of good-quality sleep and not even realize it.
But what is sleep quality, exactly? And what do we know about how quality of sleep can influence energy levels and general health?
While sleeping may seem simple, it can actually be quite complex. During sleep, the body goes through various stages. These patterns of sleep are designed to help you get the most out of your shut-eye.
There are five particular stages through which each person cycles throughout the night:
Sleep quality revolves around the stages of sleep. When a person gets through the full sleep cycle several times a night and then wakes up in light sleep, they’re likely to have experienced good-quality sleep. However, if the cycles are disrupted, or if a person wakes up without going through enough cycles or from deep or REM sleep, this can lead to inadequate sleep quality.
Sleep and energy often go hand in hand because without adequate sleep, you’re likely to wake up tired and drained. When looking at the stages of sleep, the time where the body replenishes the energy lost throughout the day is stages three and four – the deep sleep portion of the cycle. During this deep sleep stage, the body’s ability to produce an energy molecule known as ATP is enhanced. As mentioned above, deep sleep is also the time when other areas are repaired for the following day.
When the body cycles through sleep properly, all the repair that needs to take place does so, and enough ATP is produced to help you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. When cycles are disrupted, you will experience groggy wake-ups that make it feel as though you haven’t gotten enough sleep, even if you’ve spent the entire night in a sleep state. In this case, it’s not the amount of sleep that’s the problem – it’s the poor quality, which has resulted in a lack of energy that was supposed to be produced while you slept.
As mentioned above, the amount of sleep a person gets does not necessarily play a role in how refreshed they are, because there are sleep cycles that need to be experienced in order for energy to be there upon waking. If you sleep too little, you will not have gone through an adequate number of cycles in the night for your body to prepare for the next day.
The same issues can arise when you sleep too much. This is because sleep cycles depend highly on the internal biological clock that every person has. If you sleep for too long, that clock can be thrown off. On a cellular level, the clock is supposed to tell certain cells how to regulate energy levels, and too much sleep gives those cells misinformation that leads to tiredness.
Waking up tired can happen for many reasons. The phenomenon is referred to as sleep inertia and is often characterized by grogginess or drowsiness. If you’re waking up tired, it’s likely because you didn’t get good quality sleep; you didn’t cycle through the stages of sleep properly throughout the night and possibly woke up in the middle of a cycle that had not yet finished.
There are many reasons that sleep cycles may be disrupted, including:
There are also specific disorders that are defined by disruption to the sleep cycle, such as irregular sleep–wake syndrome. Other conditions that can disrupt your body’s natural sleep stages include:
When you don’t get good quality sleep, regardless of how many hours you spent in a sleep state, you will wake up tired, groggy, and drained of energy. Because of this, focusing on sleep quality over sleep quantity is the best way to reap all the rewards of a good night’s rest.