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Quality of Sleep: Understand Your Sleep to Snooze Better

Always tired? Somewhat moody? Certainly not energised? If you relate to these statements, you may want to consider whether your sleep quality is up to par these days. Sleep quality influences your health, mood, and cognitive alertness, which is why you should take your time to work on it. From factors affecting it to tips on improving your sleep quality, today is all about the ZZZs!

quality of sleep - studysmarter magazine

The Benefits of Quality Sleep

Good morning, good morning, we’ve talked the whole night through. Good morning, good morning, to you!

Unless you’ve spent the night talking to Gene Kelly and his cohort, you probably should have slept a fair deal last night. Gene Kelly is totally excluded from all universal should-haves. Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for proper functioning – that’s just how we humans are. The recommended eight hours are there for a reason, including:

  • Better mood. This should be no surprise; everyone is cranky when they’re tired. Sleeping enough restores energy, which instantly boosts your mood and prevents small things from affecting you.
  • Stress reduction. Not getting enough sleep wreaks havoc on our beloved stress hormone, cortisol. When cortisol is pushed into overdrive, it causes tension, irritability, and overall unpleasantness, which brings about even more sleep deprivation.
  • Improved mental health. People who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and various aggressive disorders. Letting the body and mind rest is a great way to resolve these symptoms and prevent further complications.
  • Preservation of cardiovascular health. A poor combination of increased cortisol, high-stress levels, and insomnia can cause severe consequences for your heart and lungs.
  • Better blood sugar control. While it sometimes doesn’t visibly affect how you function, unbalanced blood sugar brings its own myriad issues. Did you know that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes? That’s because quality sleep promotes the proper production of insulin that allows glucose to enter cells (which is then used as energy).
  • Better memory. As you sleep, your brain clears up clogged (in layman’s terms) memory pathways, dismisses unimportant information, and preserves relevant pieces as memories. That’s why you always remember important dates but may not recall the faces of people you’ve met on public transport – you’d go mad otherwise.
  • Sharpened attention. In turn, higher productivity. Whether you’re a student or already working, you’ll be able to focus better if you have a good sleep routine.
  • Alleviated inflammation. Every now and then, your body suffers from inflammation or defenses against various external factors. Be it a war against viruses and bacteria or simply sore muscles, sleeping helps curb this. Prolonged inflammation can lead to heart disease, arthritis, and even premature aging, but many of these are preventable through prioritising quality sleep.
  • Mental disease prevention. People who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, among other mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
  • Longer life. When you put all other benefits together, you benefit from a longer and healthier life. So, maybe Freddy Mercury is right; we don’t need to live forever, but we should live the best we can, and quality sleep is a big part of that equation.

So, unless you had a blast last night (with or without Gene Kelly), I hope you’ve slept well.

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Two Measures of Sleep Quality

What determines whether you’re getting enough quality sleep, though? The two main factors that contribute to it are:

  1. The number of hours you’ve slept.
  2. How well you’ve slept throughout those hours.

The length of a sleep cycle is important because each sleep phase lasts for a certain amount of time, and for healthy sleep, the body needs to go through them all. Each sleep phase has its own function, and the body and mind undergo various changes. For example, the deep sleep of the non-REM phase is when the muscles relax and rebuild tissue. If you do sports (and you should!), your muscles need this time to recover properly and become stronger.

On the other hand, tossing and turning, having frequent nightmares, and getting up often indicate that you haven’t slept well.

Quality of sleep - studysmarter magazine

Factors Affecting the Sleep Quality of Students

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – being a student is not easy. There are so many things to balance, including lessons, exams, friendships, and personal development. As the human brain develops at least until the age of 25, it is also why some life events affect students more harshly than older people. For example, the first big break-up tends to be a nightmare, failing to meet your own expectations can be tough, and compromising on your dreams leaves a sour taste in your mouth. But all that stress also causes insomnia.

Typical factors affecting the quality of sleep among students include:

  • Exam stress. Sometimes it’s studying all night; other times, it’s the sheer nerves keeping you awake. Follow our tips on exam preparation and dealing with stress to get you through your exam period unscathed!
  • Rich social life. Partying is a part of any student experience, and sometimes you don’t get a chance to catch up on your ZZZs.
  • Bedroom setup. The amount of light and the temperature in your bedroom can affect how well you sleep. While you may be unable to control the temperature at all times (hello Summer!), you should keep your bedroom dark and as cool as possible.
  • Pain. Neck pain, back pain, the I’ve-been-sitting-all-day pain – all of them can affect your sleep quality. Buy a good pillow (there is something to those nice orthopaedic ones), and consider changing your lifestyle to prevent this.
  • Medication. If you’re taking medicine for any reason and have found you cannot sleep properly, you should talk to your health provider immediately. Don’t resort to over-the-counter sleep aids on your own, as they provide short-term relief only and can be addictive.

In addition to these, there are two other major factors affecting sleep quality that need a bit more attention.

 

The Effects of Caffeine on Sleep Quality

Go ahead and clutch your pearls, but it’s a well-known fact that too much coffee is bad for you. If you’re anything like me (and a good portion of the world), then you like to start your day with a proper cuppa, which is totally fine. However, if you catch yourself having your fourth espresso in the evening, you may want to reconsider your coffee habits.

In addition to insomnia (after all, you drink coffee to keep yourself awake), high caffeine consumption causes higher anxiety, irritability, and even paranoia in extreme cases. Drinking too much coffee actually causes fatigue – the irony – as a rebound for artificially increased energy produced by too many cups.

Additionally, too much coffee can lead to poorer digestion, as it can bring about increased acid reflux, as well as muscle breakdown, and, of course, addiction.

The only way to mitigate these effects is to reduce your coffee consumption. Many believe that quitting cold turkey is the most effective, but the withdrawal may be too difficult to bear. Instead, you should overhaul your lifestyle. Keep your morning and early afternoon coffee, but introduce other means of waking up when you feel you’re slowing down. Go for a quick walk, do some exercise, or have a piece of fresh fruit. Apples are better at waking you up than coffee, actually – how about buying a few?

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The Effects of Diet on the Quality of Sleep

How you eat also plays a part in how well you’ll sleep. It goes without saying that too much fast food, combined with processed sugars and fizzy drinks, is likely to cause many health problems. So what can you do about it?

It’s quite easy to fall into the fast-food trap as a student. Life is fast, so food must be faster during those years, and who’s got the time to cook? However, a healthy diet should indeed be your priority, as it improves your sleep and aids other bodily functions (not to mention helping you keep a healthy weight, whatever that looks like for you).

A balanced diet of fresh fruits, veggies, fibre, and lean proteins is the most promising way to improve sleep quality. You should aim to get enough complex carbs during the day (i.e. not processed sugars). A healthy diet ensures you also get enough micronutrients and vitamins. However, if you feel like your sleep quality still suffers, you may want to look into whether you’re missing out on calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K and find ways to introduce them.

Quality of sleep - studysmarter magazine

Improve the Quality of Your Sleep in 3, 2, 1!

In addition to cleaning up your diet and reducing your coffee intake, you can also boost your sleep quality with these tried and tested tips:

  • Exercise. Everyone has heard of the golden rule at this point: you should get at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity each day. From dancing to high-intensity sports, exercise boosts your mood, promotes healthy muscle development, prevents diseases, and improves sleep quality.
  • Have a sleep schedule. It’s time to develop an evening routine that has you in bed around 11. It may be difficult at first, but it pays off to go to sleep on time and follow the natural circadian rhythm.
  • Create a good sleep environment. Have a quality pillow and mattress, and avoid doing other things, such as eating or studying on your bed. This way, your brain won’t form work associations with it, and it’ll be easier to fall asleep once you hit the sheets.
  • Develop stress-busting practices. Meditation, walks in nature, watching anime (I recommend Laid-Back Camping) – find ways to incorporate whatever helps you relax into your day.
  • Reduce daytime naps. Power naps are great, but if you tend to fall into regular post-lunch comas, you might want to find another way to raise your energy levels.

Quality sleep depends on your lifestyle quality. The more you invest in improving your daily habits, the better you will sleep, so make sure to do your best to work on what still needs fixing.

 

Good Days for Good Nights

To recap, getting enough quality sleep promotes healthy bodily and cognitive functions, improves memory, fosters learning, and boosts your mood. Skirting sleep can have numerous health repercussions, from chronic pain to anxiety to mental illnesses.

To improve the quality of your sleep, you should:

  • Reduce coffee consumption.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Develop healthy coping strategies.
  • Create good sleeping conditions in your bedroom.
  • Have a fixed sleep schedule.

And, sure, if you want to spend the whole night talking to your besties, partying, or playing video games, that’s fine every now and then; just make sure to get enough sleep on most days to enjoy the benefits!

How can you improve the quality of sleep?

To improve the quality of your sleep, develop a good evening routine that has you in bed by 11pm every night. Sleep in a cool, dark room and avoid studying or eating in bed. Work on improving your diet and stress-management strategies, and get enough exercise.

How do you measure the quality of your sleep?

Good sleep is measured by how long you sleep and how well. If you consistently get less than 7 hours of sleep, the overall sleep quality is worse. Also, if you wake up a lot, toss and turn, and suffer from extensive nightmares, you should work on improving your sleep quality.

What affects the quality of sleep?

Poor diet, not enough exercise, too much stress, lack of a good bedtime routine, and too much caffeine can affect your sleep quality. Other reasons include pain, medication, and sleep disorders, in which case you must speak to your healthcare provider.