How to Improve Your Sleep Efficiency

improve sleep efficiency - blog

Why 8 Hours Doesn’t Necessarily Matter

If you have trouble with your sleep, meaning:

  • you wake without feeling refreshed,
  • your energy crashes at some point during the day,
  • it takes you longer than 15-20 minutes to fall asleep at night, and/or
  • you’re up quite a bit during the night,

it’s likely that your sleep efficiency, or the quality of your sleep, is poor.

Two different people could say, “I got 8 hours of sleep last night”, but because of their sleep efficiency, one of those people will feel wonderful and ready to tackle the challenges of the day; the other will feel depleted and stressors may have a greater impact on them.

Tracking Your Sleep

You might expect a sleep improvement program to start with tracking what’s currently happening. Tracking your sleep can be useful for a few reasons:

  • get an objective view of what’s actually happening (i.e. get a baseline),
  • see what influences your sleep efficiency,
  • recognize improvements, especially the small ones, over time, and
  • ultimately (and ideally!), to help you “feel into” your sleep patterns.

As a Sleep & Well-Being Coach, I’m primarily interested in helping my clients feel into their patterns—meaning, tracking is temporary at best.

Calculating Your Sleep Efficiency

Determining your sleep efficiency is pretty simple, even without a tracker. Each morning, record the following:

  • time you went to bed,
  • time you woke up,
  • amount of time you think you were awake,* and/or
  • any things that might have influenced your sleep.

*This is obviously an estimate. For example, if you “got up” three times to use the bathroom but fell right back to sleep, you might say you were awake for approximately 15 minutes.

To calculate your sleep efficiency:

  • Find the number of hours you were in bed
    • e.g. to bed at 10 p.m. and up at 6 a.m. = 8 hours
  • Find the total number of hours you actually slept
    • e.g. 8 hours – 1 hour estimated time awake = 7 hours
  • Divide the total time you actually slept by the number of hours you were in bed, then multiply by 100
    • e.g. 7 / 8 = 0.875 * 100 = ~88%

So 88% is your sleep efficiency. Some, like the Hypersomnia Foundation, report that a sleep efficiency above 85% is “normal.” But in my experience, it’s much less about the number and more more about how you feel!

Common Influences on Sleep

What might affect your sleep efficiency? It’s different for different people, but here are some common things to watch out for:

Going to sleep after 10 pm

  • In Ayurveda this means you’re entering back into an active Pitta cycle; we often call it “second wind.”
  • I’ve had some clients whose sleep efficiency was greatly improved just by realizing they don’t spend enough time in bed (i.e. providing yourself with more sleep opportunity!)
Related: Learn more about natural rhythms & sleep timing in my #1 best selling book.

Drinking alcohol: You might see differences in timing, quality, quantity or type—e.g. wine vs. hard liquor

“Drama”: In household relationships, in what you’re thinking in your own head, stressors, etc.

Consuming caffeinated or sugary items: Also timing, quantity, type—e.g. espresso vs. frappuccinos; dark vs. milk chocolate

Screen usage

  • Includes watching TV, being on a computer or other electronic device
  • E.g. the nightly news, GoT, video games, Twitter, etc.
Related: Is your social media addiction keeping you up at night? If so, grab my free TechTox guide here!

Reading!? While reading is generally good, especially off-device, I’ve had clients negatively influenced by reading “work-related” documents or articles, violent or action-packed books, etc.

Exercise: What type? How close to bedtime?

Eating dinner or snacks:

  • What, how much, how close to bedtime?
  • Allergens could be a factor here as well—gluten, dairy, etc.

Bed partners: A significant other’s bedtime or sleeping habits, pets, etc.

Sleep environment:

  • Includes room darkness, temperature, noise-level, overall comfort. Look here for some nice ideas.
  • Are you in your own bed vs. a hotel room or on the sofa? (i.e. familiarity)

Why Tracking is a Mixed Bag

Tracking what influences sleep efficiency is most helpful. This is because it objectively externalizes the behaviors affecting one’s sleep. Sometimes we say things like, “oh, coffee doesn’t bother me,” but a record that it does can be enlightening. Someone who’s fatigued but is consistently in bed for only 5 hours a night can see a simple (though perhaps not easy) change to make.

To make it easier, you can view the change simply as an experiment. If your sleep efficiency is poor every time you watch the evening news, for example, you can try watching the morning news for a month or so instead. Did your sleep efficiency improve? If so, there you have it. If not, or you want to improve more, tackle the next biggest influencer on your sleep and work to improve that. I aim for 95% efficiency each night!

All this said, I do not feel tracking is effective as a long-term solution. It requires diligence, remembering to do it, and taking time to do it. All this energy could be better spent on actually doing the things that help improve your sleep situation! This is one reason why tracking for diet and weight-loss programs, for example, end up falling by the wayside. It’s just too much work to sustain.

Use the tracker to help set your baseline and initially identify the main influencers. For long-term success, however, more action is required


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