Falling asleep at the end of a long day can be one of the best feelings in the world. For some folks, sleep is a constantly elusive state, just out of reach. As with any habit, the way we think and talk about sleep affects our relationship to it. So we asked a few sleep experts to share the specific language they love to hear when helping people achieve their sleep goals—as well as the words they wish their patients would stop saying. While every person’s sleep journey is different, take these words into consideration when thinking and speaking about your sleep habits. Chances are you might just improve your nighttime routine.
Two words sleep experts love
Dr. Peter Bailey, MD, is a family physician and a contributor to Test Prep Insight, who regularly works with patients struggling with sleep issues. “My favorite word to use, and to hear from patients, when discussing sleep is ‘restorative,’” says Dr. Bailey. “Sleep restores your energy supply, sharpens your cognitive abilities, and provides your body much needed rest and recovery.” (In fact, studies have also shown that healthy sleep can improve memory…as well as a bunch of other stuff.) So, when a person considers sleep as a way to recharge their body and mind, it can improve their relationship to it. Sleep, when seen as a restorative process—instead of a chore or a something on the to-do list—can then become part of a person’s entire well-being alongside things like nutrition and exercise.
Dr. Paul Greene, a psychologist currently serving as the Director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, works with patients who suffer from insomnia. He credits regular sleep routines and consistent habits with helping his patients overcome their insomnia. “When patients say they've decided to adopt a regular wake time and stick to it, I'm very pleased,” says Dr. Greene. “In my experience, this change ends up being very impactful for people with insomnia.”
Dr. Frida Rångtel, PhD, a sleep educator and science advisor at Sleep Cycle, agrees. “Our brains like predictability. If we usually go to bed around the same time and get up at the same time, our bodies will be better prepared for bedtime and wake up time.”
Two words sleep experts hate
Dr. Bailey says he really doesn’t like to hear the question “how much?” when discussing sleep with his patients. “Patients often dwell on the number of hours of sleep they get. They constantly ask how much is enough, how much is too much, how much an article they read told them they should be getting,” he says. “The reality, however, is that sleep should be focused on quality, not quantity.”
This is why he loves to use the word “restorative.” Sleep should restore energy. “What good is eight hours of sleep if you're on an uncomfortable mattress, tossing and turning and waking up every 20 minutes to a car alarm? I would much rather have six hours of deep, restorative sleep,” says Dr. Bailey.
Dr. Rångtel adds that it’s easy to misinterpret all the data out there on sleep time and the ideal number of hours to rest. “It's very common that the measure ‘number of hours asleep’ is thought of as a more or less perfect measure of good [or] bad sleep. But that is not the case…It is also about sleep timing, regularity and how well rested we feel.”
So, the next time you wake up feeling groggy or exhausted, consider the quality of your sleep and how consistent your habits are rather than the number of hours you spent in dreamland.