The Truth About Sleep Tracking—It’s More Than A Number

man and woman sleeping in a bedYou probably know that you should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night to be well-rested. You may even use a sleep tracker to gauge whether or not you’re meeting that goal. But according to experts in sleep medicine, there are other metrics you should be considering.

Real Measures of Good Sleep

In a recent report, the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group, defined what they consider to be the key indicators of sleep quality, which include…

  • Being asleep for at least 85 percent of the time you spend in bed
  • Taking 30 minutes or less to fall asleep (or up to 60 if you’re 65 or older)
  • Not making up more than once per night for more than five minutes (or twice if you’re 65 or older)
  • Spending less than 20 minutes total awake per night after initially falling asleep

These indicators come from the findings of 277 peer-reviewed sleep studies, the results of which were then analyzed by a panel of experts and specialists from organizations including the American Academy of Neurology…the Society for Research of Human Development…and the Society for Women’s Health Research.

Sleep Tracking Helps, But We’re All Unique

The indicators are intended to give people a more complete picture of what a good night’s sleep entails. “Now more than ever, people are using devices to track their sleep and generate a tremendous amount of data without providing the tools people need to understand it,” stated David Cloud, chief executive officer of the National Sleep Foundation, in an email to the Huffington Post.

“Just because you aren’t able to perfectly meet these four guidelines, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have poor-quality sleep,” said Sabra Abbott, a neurologist who specializes in circadian rhythm and sleep disorders at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “The indicators can be useful targets”, Abbot says, “but not everyone’s sleep patterns will look the same.”

Take advantage of your unique sleep data

The indicators can help you spot areas where your sleep habits could improve. For example, if you struggle with sleeplessness, and often spend more than 20 minutes lying in bed after waking in the middle of the night, you may be creating an unhelpful link between your bed and not sleeping, the National Sleep Foundation researchers say. Rather than staying in bed, try getting up and doing something that helps you relax, like listening to music or reading.

The indicators can also help you determine whether you might have an as-yet undiagnosed sleep disorder, like sleep apnea or sleep-wake phase disorder, meaning your body clock does not run on average time.

Do You Feel Tired?

Perhaps the single most important indicator of whether or not you’re getting good quality sleep, however, is how you feel when you wake up and throughout the woman covering her mouth and yawningday. If you frequently struggle to wake up, and find yourself yawning as you go about your day, you could probably be getting better rest.

Sleep has just as substantial an impact on your health as diet and exercise, so it’s definitely worthwhile to pay attention to it. “The intent was not to diagnose the public with potential sleep disorders,” stated Cloud, “but rather to provide information to empower people and help them gauge their sleep health.”