Sleep Quantity vs. Sleep Quality
Importance of Sleep
Sleep tops the list of important activities for your health and well being. It’s right up there with diet and exercise for your overall welfare.
Without sleep, you can't perform during day time, and are more vulnerable to infections and disease. You’re also prone to putting on weight, a reduced sex drive, and can even experience a shorter lifespan if your body isn’t getting enough rest. This means without the right length, or right kind of sleep—a life span can be cut short. But while sleep quantity is important, just as essential is the quality of sleep you’re getting every day. This begs the question—what even is sleep quality?
Before going into that, let’s take a quick look at the concept of rest for humans and animals.
It’s a little surprising that sleep is a critical feature of life selected by evolution. Especially because sleep hugely increases the risk of attack by predators. But outweighing this risk of attack, are all the benefits derived from a night’s rest. Sleep is fundamental for learning and memory formation—the ultimate survival benefits for all organisms. In addition, it recharges and repairs your body plus brain for the day’s activities. These sleep benefits are important to survive and thrive in daily life.
Every time you wake up feeling well-rested and pumped to begin the day, there’s a good chance you enjoyed good quality sleep the night before. Sleep quality is how well rested you feel from hours asleep.
Interestingly, above a very low hurdle, the length of sleep doesn’t necessarily impact longer survival, or a higher level of learning performance. Humans, for example, sleep much shorter than most animals while spending a much longer time in deep sleep. Deep sleep has proven to be critical for learning and memory formation. Humans over the years have appeared to evolve a much higher sleep efficacy. This enables our mental and cognitive performance.
In addition—given its role in learning and memory formation, sleep can be highly variable based on our daily, individual needs. For example, if you face days with high levels of new inputs—think university exam preparation—sufficient deep sleep is important to learn and memorize this new knowledge.
Given the demands of modern life, a huge abundance of new inputs has become almost standard. This makes sufficient deep sleep almost universally important for high sleep quality. In contrast, if you’ve had a day of high physical effort, sleep duration is key for sleep quality because full body recovery—and very importantly, muscle recovery—is required. For an athlete facing both high cognitive and physical demands, sleep quality is determined by the amount of deep sleep, plus overall recovery time for the brain and body.
The good thing is that by nature, we are really good at assessing our sleep quality when asked in the morning. This makes it very important to pause and listen first to yourself before (!) looking at a sleep tracking device. Both data sets together—your subjective view of the night’s rest, and the objective data from the sleep tracker—are the best to see what matters to you individually, and how to improve your sleep.
Although sleep quality is very personal, there are a few universal indicators to show high-quality sleep:
- First, falling asleep within 15-30 minutes is an indicator of good sleep quality
- Second, a minimum period of 1-2h in deep-sleep is critical, independent of your learning needs. The duration of deep sleep can only be tracked in a sleeping lab or with certain sleep trackers, like Oura or Whoop.
- Third, waking up in a good mood and with high energy
So—how do we get there? How can we get sleep that is of better quality? First it’s important to embrace the fact that evolution has equipped you with the perfect machinery for sleep: your brain. With all the right ingredients for your brain, you can be sure of improved sleep quality. These ingredients include physical exercise, mental exercise, minimal negative stress (a tough ask!), but importantly—the right nutrition. They are all required to fuel our brain.
Nutrition is fundamental because high-quality sleep is orchestrated through a set of biomolecules that the body and brain cannot produce. The food you eat is the primary source. Available in the right quantities, your brain can activate biomolecules in time, and in accordance with your needs. Without these biomolecules, the chances are next to zero of securing high-quality sleep.
Your brain needs five key biomolecules for the orchestra:
Glycine—the amino acid that enables fast onset of sleep and fast entry into deep sleep phase.
Omega-3 fatty acids—DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) are essential for providing building materials to form memories, and stay long in deep sleep.
Tryptophane—the essential amino acid that is converted by the brain to melatonin or serotonin, depending on your needs.
It's important to note that these biomolecules are not sleeping agents that actively push you to sleep, even if you don’t want to. Your brain only activates them based on your needs. The main objective is to improve optimum sleep quality. Ultimately, we experience this by a high energy level and performance the next day. We are calm and ready, independent of how our day may look like.
If you’re not satisfied with your sleep quality, consider trying BrainLuxury DELTA. Data from an ongoing observational study of BrainLuxury DELTA:
- 74% report improved sleep quality
- 71% report faster onset of sleep
- 84% report feeling better in the morning