How To Tell If You Got A Good Night’s Sleep

Expert Verified ByExpert Verified By: Dr. Shelby Harris
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How To Tell If You Got A Good Night’s Sleep

When you’re with a friend who keeps yawning or you notice your spouse mainlining coffee in the morning, your first instinct might be to ask, “How much sleep did you get last night?” But perhaps the better question might be, “What was the quality of your sleep last night?” 

While getting the right amount of sleep is vital for our overall health and wellness, sleep quality is just as important. Unfortunately, there are plenty of folks who don’t know what a good night’s sleep really is. 

Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and certified clinical sleep educator of the Better Sleep Council noted, “Too many sleep-deprived people lose their point of reference when it comes to waking up refreshed.” Waking up tired, caffeinating, and hoping for the best has become the status quo for many. But it doesn’t have to be that way — you just have to know what to look for in a good night’s sleep. 

Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. If you feel you may be suffering from any sleep disorder or medical condition, please see your healthcare provider immediately.

The Importance Of Sleep

If you’ve ever heard famed neuroscientist Matthew Walker talk about sleep, you might be familiar with his stance that sleep should have been “selected against” in the course of evolution. In a podcast with Rich Roll, Walker notes that while we sleep, not only are we not doing things that sustain life, like foraging for food, finding a mate, procreating, or minding our young, but sleep states leave us incredibly vulnerable to “predation.” 

So, why do we sleep, and why is sleep so important? 

Interestingly, with so much talk, research, and buzz about sleep, scientists have yet to clearly define why we sleep — or why it wasn’t “selected against,” so to speak. 

What we do know is that sleep is essential for our bodies (and our brains) to operate at peak performance. We also know that while we sleep, our bodies go into active repair mode and essentially do a bit of biological housekeeping. We may be asleep and “offline,” but our bodies and brain are aflutter with activity

While we sleep, our body and brain 

  • Sort and processes information from the day
  • Form memories 
  • Release the hormones and proteins our body needs to repair itself and fight disease or illness
  • Rid themselves of toxins
  • Work on restoring our energy 

There’s plenty going on while we sleep, so it’s easy to see why getting enough sleep is so important. While the amount of sleep we need changes throughout our life stages (infants and teens need more sleep), it’s generally recommended that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night

Those who fail to meet that minimum for an extended period of time will quickly find that insufficient sleep can exact a heavy toll on your physical and mental health. 

Short-term effects of inadequate sleep include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness 
  • Irritability 
  • Impaired cognition and judgment 
  • Attention deficits/poor focus,
  • Impaired motor skills 

Long-term effects of insufficient sleep include more serious health issues, such as: 

  • Obesity 
  • Diabetes 
  • Cardiovascular disease 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Stroke
  • Depression 

Sleep Quantity And Sleep Quality

While it’s clear that the quantity of sleep we get is incredibly important, so too is the quality of our sleep. You can certainly get seven or eight hours of sleep per night, but if it’s fragmented or of low quality due to stress, poor sleep hygiene, or sleep apnea, you may deal with some of the same effects as those who aren’t getting proper sleep quantities. 

“Many people suffer from fatigue and morning drowsiness, often despite getting ample sleep,” says Yunha Kim, Founder and CEO of Sleep Reset. “This is because the quantity of sleep is not the only factor determining how rested you feel in the morning. Sleep quality also plays a role, and most people don’t give it enough attention.” 

Kim suggests that those who find themselves wondering why they’re always sleepy may be struggling with fatigue due to low sleep quality, which often stems from struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night.

How To Tell If You Got A Good Night’s Sleep

According to Kim, “A good night’s sleep means that you were able to fall asleep quickly, you slept through the night, and you’re able to focus and get through all your tasks the next day.” In case you were wondering, falling asleep quickly means that you don’t lie awake for more than 30 minutes, and sleeping through the night means you didn’t wake up more than once (that you can remember). Here are a few signs to look for throughout the day that can indicate that you did, in fact, rest easy. 

You Feel Refreshed And Alert Shortly After Waking

As Dr. Shelby Harris, director of sleep health at Sleepopolis, points out, everyone can feel groggy when they wake up — it’s about how you feel shortly after that can tell you if you slept well.

“Right when you get up in the morning you can actually still be pretty groggy even if you got a full night’s sleep,” Harris says. “So about a half hour to 45 minutes later, if you feel well rested and ready to start your day, that’s a good sign.”

Harris also says your peak alertness time should be somewhere around three hours after waking, and it’s normal to have dips in energy throughout the day. “​​If you feel well rested and refreshed throughout most of the day but not all of the day, then you’re probably on the right track,” she says. 

You’re Able To Concentrate

Poor sleep quality can interfere with your ability to concentrate, stick to a specific task, or remember information. According to Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib, the head sleep expert at Wesper, if you’re “able to concentrate without struggling [….], focus, and recall information,” then you probably got a good night’s sleep.

You Feel Energized And Ready To Start The Day

“You should also feel physically energized and be able to do routine physical tasks with little to no effort,” says Rohrscheib. “If you exercise, you should be able to get through a workout without [too much of a] struggle.”

You Have Good Sleep Efficiency 

Sleep efficiency (SE) is the ratio of total sleep time (TST) to time in bed (TIB). If your sleep efficiency shakes out to somewhere around 85 percent, meaning you slept for 85 percent of the time you were in bed, then you’re probably in pretty good shape. For example, if you spend eight hours in bed and are asleep for six of those hours, your SE would be 75 percent. 

What Are The Signs Of Poor Sleep Quality? 

According to Dr. Rohrscheib, signs of poor sleep quality may include symptoms such as: 

  • excessive daytime sleepiness
  • poor cognitive function (for example, you may find yourself struggling to focus or remember things) 
  • Low energy
  • Irritability, or a reduced mood 

“Chronically poor sleep quality over time can have a larger impact on your health and wellbeing,” she adds, noting that it can increase your risk for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. 

How To Improve Sleep Quality

Your sleep quality can wax and wane for any number of reasons. If you feel like you’re not consistently getting a good night’s sleep, Cralle suggests reassessing your sleep hygiene to improve your sleep quality.

To improve your sleep quality:

  • Maintain consistent sleep and wake times to ensure sufficient sleep
  • Have a bedtime routine — they’re not just for kids; they help young and old alike smoothly transition from wake to sleep.) 
  • Optimize your sleep environment — keep your bedroom as dark as possible, and do everything possible to eliminate or minimize noise. Keep your bedroom cool, neat, and clutter-free (clutter is distracting).
  • Invest in a comfortable sleep surface and bedding. We spend a whopping 56 hours per week sleeping—so make every hour count. 
  • Get daily exercise
  • Practice yoga or tai chi
  • Get natural sunlight during the day 
  • Get pets off of the bed or out of the bedroom if they are interrupting your sleep
  • Track your sleep – within reason. While sleep trackers can provide some useful insight into specific patterns or routines you may want to tweak, if you find yourself becoming so anxious about what the sleep tracker says, you may want to speak with your doctor about how to improve your sleep. He or she will be able to come up with a plan that works for your specific needs.

The Last Word from Sleepopolis 

While most resources on sleep focus heavily on sleep quantity, sleep quality is equally important. Over time, deficits in the quality and quantity of sleep can lead to a host of physical and mental health issues. Ideally, you should aim to get seven or more hours of sleep each night. When you wake in the morning, take a moment to think about how you feel. If you’re waking up feeling refreshed and energized, and your concentration and focus remain strong throughout the day, chances are you got a good night’s sleep. If you find that you’re feeling sleepy, moody, irritable, and short on attention and focus, you might want to reassess your sleep hygiene to give your sleep quality a boost. 

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a freelance writer. She specializes in health and beauty, parenting, and of course, all things sleep. Sharon’s work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you might find her somewhere curating a wardrobe for her puppy.