Sleep: Why it’s quality and not quantity you need, and how to get it

Not getting your eight hours of shut eye a night? Our sleep expert explains why we need to stop stressing about numbers

February is reportedly the worst month for sleep, with thousands of us fretting we're not getting the seven to eight hours 'essential' for optimum health, happiness and energy.

When we fall short, or wake up during the night, it’s natural to fear we’re sleeping badly and will suffer in the morning. But actually, sleeping fewer hours or even waking up in the night, isn’t necessarily something to worry about.Not getting your eight hours? That doesn't mean you aren't getting good sleep ©Rex

Sammy Margo, author of The Good Sleep Guide insists it’s quality not quantity of sleep that we need to focus on. But what counts as quality sleep?

“Don’t get hung up on how many hours or that you made it through the night in one go,” she says. “The way to tell if you’ve had a quality night’s sleep is that you wake up feeling refreshed.

 “What you need is a deep restorative sleep, which can be anywhere between four and eight hours depending on individuals. So you definitely shouldn’t start worrying about numbers. Being on countdown is definitely not encouraged.

“And similarly, if you’re waking up in the middle of the night it’s not the end of the world, many people are, be it mums or just people who need to go to the toilet – they’re not considered insomniacs. So try not to get stressed about it.”No matter how long you sleep for, if it's not good quality your energy will still suffer ©Rex

Sammy’s top tips for quality sleep:

Set aside time for a bedtime routine. Take at least an hour or 45 minutes to unwind and have quiet time. Have a bath, a hot milky drink, listen to gentle music and slowly dim the lights to let your body know it’s time to sleep.

Have a technology cut off time. And where possible have a confrontation cut off time. With busy lives, often the only time you have to chat about things is at the end of the day, just before you’re scheduled to go to sleep, which sets your mind going again.

Curb your caffeine intake. I’d recommend the cutoff point being lunchtime, but if caffeine affects you a lot, you may need to stop earlier.

Get your bedroom ready for sleep. Quiet, dark and cool. It should be around 16 to 18°C, use black out blinds or an eye mask and if you’re struggling with noise, consider moving bedrooms to a quieter position.

Get a new bed. If yours is eight years or older you should think about replacing it. There’s a lot to think about when getting a new bed, though, so don’t rush into it. Think about your sleeping position, personal requirements, whether it’s soft, firm, whether you’ve got problems that require any extra consideration.  And if you stay anywhere that you get a really good night’s sleep, keep a note of the brand of bed.

Eat sleep-inducing foods.  Certain food groups can help you get a good night’s sleep. They contain a substance that activates the sleeping hormone melatonin – try turkey, lettuce, marmite, almonds or bananas, which are basically a ‘sleeping pill in a peel’.

Try bed socks. Nighttime awakening is often down to cold feet so try and keep them warm all night.

“We spend a third of our lives asleep and for two thirds of us it’s a struggle to get a good night and it’s definitely on the increase,” Sammy adds. “And really that’s because we’re leading busy, stressful lives, meaning we’re mentally overactive and physically underactive. And we won’t sleep well until we redress that balance.”