Is regular sleep important?

Are you going to bed at a regular time each night? Do you usually, but not at the moment?

As we reach the end of November, it is likely that your schedule is starting to fill up with Christmas-related festivities. In the weeks ahead, your regular sleep pattern may be disrupted…or it may be that you rarely have regular sleep, bedtime or patterns.

In this blog post, Dr Lindsay Browning explores the question “Is regular sleep important?” and its relationship with sleep quality.

Does it matter if you go to sleep at different times?

In order to have truly beneficial sleep, having a robust circadian rhythm is key.

This allows your body to know when it should be tired and when it should be awake, allowing you to feel refreshed when you need to and, also, drop off easier when it is time for bed.

One of the best ways of doing this is to keep the same bedtimes and wake times all week, including the weekend. If you go to bed early and wake up early on weekdays, but stay up late and have a lie-in on the weekend, you are giving yourself “weekend jet-lag” – making it much harder to go to sleep early on a Sunday night ready for another early start on Monday morning.

Having said this, some people will still benefit from having blocks of sleep, at different times of day, not just night time, that adda up to the recommended amount of total sleep. This includes shift workers, for example, who may fit in a 1.5 hour nap before work and then 6 hours after work. This is better than regularly not getting enough sleep. However, it is important to get enough full 90-110 minute sleep cycles to feel well rested.

Is sleep quality more important that sleep regularity?

Sleep quality is extremely important as it doesn’t matter if you are getting 8 hours a night, if it is all poor quality. Poor quality sleep is caused by frequent waking, which interrupts the sleep cycles, meaning you are not getting enough of each sleep phase. Each phase has its own role in how it helps us. 

Sleep is made up of three main parts:

  • Dreaming sleep (REM sleep)
  • Light sleep
  • Deep sleep

These happen in sleep cycles throughout the night – always starting as light sleep, deep sleep, back to light sleep and then dreaming sleep, then the cycle repeats again. 

As much as “deep sleep” might sound like it is the most important part of sleep, that isn’t really true. We need all of the different parts of our sleep to be healthy, as they provide different functions. 

Think of it like eating a healthy balanced diet. You need to have protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. You would not be healthy if you only ate protein or only carbohydrates. Similarly, we need all of the different stages of sleep to be healthy.

At the beginning of the night, we tend to proportionately have more deep sleep and as the night progresses we tend to proportionately get more and more dreaming sleep. If you only get a small amount of sleep (say 3 hours) because you are woken much too early, you are unlikely to get the right proportions of the different kinds of sleep.

Dreaming (or REM) sleep is vital for helping us to process our emotions and make sense of what’s going on in our lives. If you are depressed or having a particularly difficult time in your life, you might find that your dreaming sleep is not functioning to help you process the painful emotions you are going through, especially if you are not sleeping for long enough or waking early. 

Coming back to sleep regularity, getting regular sleep is actually linked to quality. It is a way that better quality sleep can be achieved. The more you practise good sleep hygiene, which includes having regular bedtimes and wake times, the better sleep you are likely to have.

If you can’t commit to a regular bedtime, what should you do?

I understand that it isn’t always possible to get a full 7-9 hour block of sleep, every night, whether that is due to having young children or shift work, for example. In these cases, it is important for people to try and nap when they can. 

Naps can add up to help complete the 7-9 hours we need each day, but they either need to be very quick naps (20 minutes) or the full 90-110 minutes. Anything in between will cause grogginess as you are interrupting the sleep cycle.

If you can get regular sleep in 7-9 hour blocks, this is most desirable. If you go to bed later than normal or have the odd early start, remember it is important not to compensate for poor sleep by over indulging in caffeine.

It may be tempting to have a cup of coffee as soon as you wake up in the morning, but your body naturally has a cortisol spike which makes you feel more awake. Instead, wait until you have been up for an hour to an hour and a half before grabbing that cup of coffee. Also, remember that caffeine has an average half life of 5-7 hours. That means that 5-7 hours after your cup of coffee, half of the caffeine is still in your system, which can make it difficult to get to bed at your regular time, if you drink a caffeinated drink too late in the day.

How can I get regular and good quality sleep?

1. Good Routine.

2. Right Mattress , Pillow.

3. Right Sleepwear.

All of these things will help you to fall asleep at a regular time and to stay asleep to get you through full sleep cycles.

Speak to our Sleep Experts to help you fix this 

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