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Quality sleep is, without a doubt, one of the most important pillars of our overall health—but what does it actually feel like? Sometimes it can be hard to gauge whether we actually had a night of deep, restorative sleep because, of course, we’re sleeping through it! So, we asked experts about the best ways to gauge sleep quality, which is often measured by the amount of time you spend in deeper sleep stages like slow-wave sleep and REM sleep. Here’s what they recommend looking out for:
Sleep duration doesn’t guarantee sleep quality, but spending enough hours in bed every night can certainly help set you up for success.
The deep and restorative sleep you’ve always dreamt about*
Doctor of chiropractic and functional medicine expert Stacie Stephenson, D.C., CNS, tells mbg that the number of hours you slept is one of the first things you should consider when gauging how well you slept.
“Subtract the time it took to fall asleep and the times you were awake during the night,” she adds. And remember, not everyone needs the standard eight hours, so figuring out how much sleep is sufficient for you is important.
2. How you feel when you wake up.
Now, not everyone is a morning person, especially right when the alarm goes off. But how you feel when you wake up and get moving, according to Stephenson, is another important factor to pay attention to. She suggests looking at whether you feel awake and ready for the day or groggy and lethargic. Once you get going, feeling energized is a good sign of quality sleep.
3. How often you woke up.
It’s perfectly normal to wake up once or twice during the night, whether you have to use the bathroom, have pets or children, or due to any other number of external disturbances. But according to Stephenson, “a really good-quality sleep should be straight through the night, or waking up no more than once.”
4. How you feel during the day.
You probably saw this coming, but one of the best indications of how well you slept is how you feel during the day.
According to sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Solution W. Chris Winter, M.D., you want to ask questions like, “How sleepy am I during the day? Do I nod off at movies or during classes or meetings? Do I desperately want to take a nap all the time?” These could all mean that your sleep quality (or quantity) is not great, Winter says.
Stephenson also adds considering your performance during the day. Things like forgetfulness, irritability, and general drowsiness aren’t signs of good sleep. “If you feel alert and able to concentrate, and you don’t feel tempted to take a mid-afternoon nap, you are probably getting a high-quality sleep,” she adds.
5. How well your sleep tracker tells you you’re doing.
And lastly, when in doubt, consider investing in a sleep tracker if you really want to dive into the ins and outs of your night’s sleep. “Whether it’s with a watch, a ring, a bracelet, or a bedside monitor,” Stephenson says, “in the morning you can see how many hours you actually slept, how much time you spent awake, how much time it took you to fall asleep, what your heart rate was, and how fast you were breathing.”
Some trackers will even tell you how much time you spent in the different sleep stages. “Monitors can help you understand your sleep quality, tell you if you are getting enough sleep or enough time in each sleep stage, and report whether your heart rate or breathing rate was too high,” Stephenson adds.
Knowing and understanding whether you got a night of quality sleep is important because it allows you to make adjustments as necessary. Listen to the cues your body provides, Stephenson says, “and if you determine from your own body’s feedback that you aren’t getting enough sleep or a good-quality sleep, then intervene by improving sleep hygiene.”