How To Tell If You've Gotten A Good Night's Sleep

by Lily Feinn

We've all heard the same tired advice for getting quality shuteye — shut off electronic devices, stick to a sleep schedule, cut back on afternoon caffeine; but what does it actually mean to get a good night's sleep? Is there any way to tell you've gotten a good night's sleep in the first place? The term "good night's sleep" is frustratingly vague. Like other well-worn health recommendations, such as "eat a well-balanced diet" or "drink plenty of water," we've heard these phrases so many times that we assume that we know what they mean — but a clear scientifically-backed consensus can be hard to find. Thankfully, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is shedding some light on the hazy situation, establishing clear guidelines for how to tell if you got a good night's sleep.

When it comes to a successful snooze, quantity doesn't necessarily equal quality. In order to define a "good night's sleep," the National Sleep Foundation assembled a panel of experts to review and discuss  277 studies concerning sleep science. The experts isolated key indicators of sleep quality, including the time it takes to fall asleep (otherwise known as sleep onset latency), how many times an individual wakes throughout the course of the night, the total time one is awake after sleep onset, and the percentage time spent sleeping while in bed (known as sleep efficiency). ‌

The paper, published in the journal Sleep Health, judged a good night's sleep by these factors:

1. You sleep at least 85 percent of the total time you are in bed. You can calculate your percentage of sleep using this formula.

2. You fall asleep in 30 minutes or less after going to bed.

3. You wake up no more than once during the night.

4. If you wake up after falling asleep, you stay awake for 20 minutes or less.

"In the past, we defined sleep by its negative outcomes including sleep dissatisfaction," explained Maurice Ohayon, Director of the Stanford Sleep Epidemiology Research Center, in a news release. "Clearly this is not the whole story. With this initiative, we are now on a better course towards defining sleep health." How a person feels in the morning may not actually be a clear indication of their quality of sleep (after all, self-reporting can be flawed); instead, these guidelines allow us to measure the sleep itself.

For those who have trouble hitting these nighttime goals, The Sleep Foundation has some handy recommendations. Those who have trouble falling asleep in the designated 30 minutes (which, according to recent research, 27 percent of people do), may want to try establishing a relaxing bedtime ritual, cutting back on naps, and getting more daily exercise. Meanwhile, those who awaken multiple times during the night should evaluate their sleep environment to make sure that they have a comfy bed and pillows, and that their bedroom stays at a cool temperature.

Follow these guidelines and a really "good night's sleep" will be within your grasp. Pleasant dreams!