How well we sleep has a direct impact on how well we perform when we're not sleeping. If you're one of the millions of Americans who suffer from sleep problems, none of this is news to you.
Sleep problems typically manifest as overall tiredness or fatigue throughout the day. They can make a workday feel exceptionally long, and can prevent you from spending quality time with those you love.
While there are multiple factors that measure how well a person sleeps at night, sleep latency is one of the most important. Sleep latency refers to the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep after you've turned off the lights and settled in bed. Those who tend to drop off right away have a higher sleep latency than those who have trouble sleeping.
Sleep Latency Versus Sleep Efficiency
Your sleep latency directly impacts your sleep efficiency score as well. If you're an efficient sleeper, this means you spend the majority of time in bed actually sleeping. A healthy sleep-efficiency score hovers around 85 percent -- any lower, and you're probably not getting enough sleep at night. Your sleep efficiency, or how well your body uses those hours devoted to rest, helps determine how you feel the next morning. If you wake up slowly, feeling sluggish and unrested, your sleep efficiency could be the culprit.
How Sleep Latency is Measured
Sleep latency is measured using a Multiple Sleep Latency Test, or MSLT. During an MSLT, a participant is hooked up to various monitors that measure things like heart rate, oxygen levels and muscle activity. The person is then settled down in a comfortable bed in a quiet room and allowed to fall asleep. Instrumentation measures how long it takes for the participant to pass into the first stage of sleep. An average, healthy sleeper can usually drop off within 5 to 15 minutes, says the Alaska Sleep Clinic.
This type of test measures sleep latency, but it can also detect a number of other issues as well, such as snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia or narcolepsy.
How to Improve Your Sleep-Efficiency Score
Unable to sleep? You may be able to improve your sleep-efficiency score by practicing a number of behavioral and mental strategies like those outlined at SleepMed.com:
- Set a regular sleep schedule and stick to it.
- Avoid eating and drinking foods with stimulants such as caffeine.
- Don't let yourself nap throughout the day.
- Try to get between 15 and 30 minutes of outside time each day.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco.
- Make your sleep area quiet, comfortable and dark.
- Avoid eating large meals or working out right before bed.
- Give yourself time to wind down before turning in for the night.
In addition, it's helpful not to try and force yourself to sleep. If you find yourself still awake long after lights out, leave the bedroom and go read or watch TV instead. Try again once you begin feeling sleepy.
Being unable to fall asleep can become a sort of vicious cycle -- the more you worry about it, the more on edge and wide-awake you become. The next time you're having trouble falling asleep, try these techniques instead. And stop worrying -- you're certainly not the only late-owl on the block.