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
- you’re up quite a bit during the night
it’s likely that your “sleep efficiency”, or the quality of sleep you’re getting, 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
- ultimately, to help you “feel into” your sleep patterns
As a Sleep Wellness Coach, I’m primarily interested in helping my clients feel into their patterns–meaning, no tracking is required. But sometimes this takes time, and it takes some tracking to get there.
Calculating Your Sleep Efficiency
This is pretty simple. Each morning, record the following:
- time you went to bed
- time you woke up
- amount of time you think you were awake*
- any things that might have influenced your sleep
*This is obviously an estimate. For example, if you “got up” 3 times to use the bathroom but fell right back to sleep, you might say you were awake for 15 minutes.
To calculate your sleep efficiency:
- Find the number of hours you were in bed
- e.g. to bed at 10 pm and up at 6 am = 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”.
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!
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
- 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.
- 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.
Also, the change is simply an experiment: if sleep efficiency is poor every time one watches the evening news, for example, one can try watching the morning news for a month or so instead. Did sleep efficiency improve? If so, there you have it. If not, or you want to improve more, take the next biggest influencer and work to change 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, the concepts have to be internalized so tracking is no longer required. (We call this “mindfulness!”)