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What is the difference between good and bad sleep?

Although more and more people consider that they don’t sleep well, a good night’s sleep is actually measured both in terms of quantity (length) as well as quality (waking up early or during the night, problems falling asleep, etc.).

Specialists have tried to quantify a good night’s sleep through numerous recommendations, including spending 85% of your time in bed asleep, having a sleep phase of less than 30 minutes and only waking up for a total of 20 minutes during the night. 

What is the ideal sleep length?

No one is the same when it comes to sleep — there are long sleepers and short sleepers. It is essential to assess tiredness as relative to the individual so that you can appreciate how much sleep you actually need. This is also something that also evolves with age: we generally sleep less and less as we get older. 

How many hours do we need for a good night’s sleep? 

According to France’s Public Health Service (Baromètre de Santé Publique France), the French sleep for an average of 7h05 during weeknights and 8h10 over the weekend. However, over one-third of people say that they don’t get enough sleep during the week, and make up for it during the weekend, with an average of 1h30 more sleep per night.

On average, the ideal sleep duration is estimated to be between 7 to 9 hours for adults and 7 to 8 hours for seniors.

A report by America's National Sleep Foundation (NSF) classifies a restful night as one where 85% of the time in bed is spent sleeping.

Is it normal to sleep badly from time to time? 

Going to sleep should be carried out as a ritual, and any small change in this routine can disrupt a good night’s sleep. This is even more so when we are preoccupied with stress-inducing thoughts, either positive or negative. But there’s no need to worry, our natural sleep cycle resumes after a few nights. 

How to get a good night's sleep? 

Contrary to popular belief, good sleep isn’t continuous but composed of 90-minute cycles, between 4 to 6 cycles per night. It is the number of sleep cycles that divides people into long and short sleepers. 

Each cycle has 3 phases:

- Light sleep that lasts around 20 minutes. The first step in this phase is falling asleep where the cerebral activity starts to slow down and we transition into a deep sleep.

- Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), also known as deep sleep, is a restorative sleep lasting between 60 and 70 minutes. Waking up is difficult during this phase.

- Rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep or REMS) lasts between 15 to 20 minutes. The brain becomes highly active but the body stays inert — this is the moment when we dream.

Falling asleep: a sign of quality sleep

If general sleep length is measured in terms of quantity, then a good night’s sleep means even more when we look at it from a qualitative point of view. An essential part of this is falling asleep, a complex phenomenon that can be considered as initial insomnia.

Falling asleep: what do we know? 

This phase involves several mechanisms that are directed by our body clock. Two of which particularly important:

- Created over the course of the day, adenosine is a molecule that progressively inhibits brain function to promote sleep and then is gradually eliminated during the night. The higher the level of adenosine, the deeper and more restful the sleep. It is the day’s activities that produce adenosine, which is why physical exercise is so important for sleeping well.

- Working in parallel to this is melatonin — the sleep hormone. Its production is disturbed by blue light, which is why it is recommended to avoid screens at least 30 minutes before going to bed.

How much time does it take to fall asleep?

It is estimated that a good night’s sleep means falling asleep in under 30 minutes. That said, around 27% of people take longer than this average time. This is why it is important to pay attention to your sleepiness throughout the evening and go to bed as soon as you feel tired. Miss this window and you risk skipping a sleep cycle. 

Waking up during the night 

A good night’s sleep is also characterized by how much we wake up during the night and interrupt the sleep cycle. It is important to look at how many times this happens, the length and why these disruptions occur.

Characteristics of good sleep

The strict definition of a good night’s sleep is to wake up just once during the night and to be awake for less than 20 minutes. A more flexible characterization allows for up to 3 wake-ups, on the condition that the awake time doesn’t exceed more than 30 minutes. 

Characteristics of poor sleep

Amongst people who attest to having problems sleeping, 73% say they wake up at least once for more than 30 minutes. 

Waking up for more than 20 minutes reduces recovery time, and increases the risk of being tired or drowsy the following day. Of course, there are several reasons why people wake up during the night, such as needing to go to the toilet or body pains.

In these cases, insomnia is secondary and the cause behind the waking up can be treated. Drinking too much water or eating diuretic foods in the evening is often responsible for waking us up during the night, and therefore causing a bad night’s sleep.

Chronic insomnia or waking up early

Common amongst seniors or those with depressive tendencies, chronic insomnia is the final reason for poor sleep. In this type of insomnia, the subject will fall asleep quickly and easily but then wakes up after only a few hours. Once awake, it is then very difficult to fall back to sleep. 

From this point, the quality of sleep is altered and the subject starts the day tired and sleep-deprived.

How do we evaluate sleep problems?

If you are tired when you wake up or experience tiredness throughout the day, the first thing you should do is assess your sleep.

Today, there are several connected objects on the market that can analyze sleep. These have a key role to play because once you have a good diagnosis, you are halfway to solving the problem.

The next step is to try using natural sleeping aids to effectively treat insomnia. 

Assessing drowsiness

The Epworth Test helps to assess tiredness levels throughout the day.

This test quantifies your need to sleep in different situations, according to 4 categories: 0 = no risk of feeling tired or falling asleep, 1 = low risk, 2 = medium risk, and 3 = high risk.

Different situations include: sitting and reading; sitting and talking to someone; sitting after a lunch with no alcohol; sitting in a public place (e.g. a work meeting); sitting and watching television; sitting in a car (or public transport) without stopping for an hour; sitting in a stationary car for several minutes, or lying down in the afternoon.

Tools that induce sleep

Once we know what we are dealing with, it is much easier to find solutions. Depending on the symptoms, you can try sleep-inducing products (phytotherapy, dietary supplements, melatonin, etc.) or products that improve the sleep cycle and its length. Neurofeedback is an innovative medical technology that teaches the brain to produce more brainwaves that promote sleep. These good waves increase the chance of deeper and more restful sleep.

Thanks to connected objects, it is possible to naturally tackle sleep problems on your own at home . A bad night’s sleep will become a good one in no time at all!

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