How to Tell If You Slept Well Last Night and What To Do If You Didn’t

Three signs of a good night’s sleep.

It’s one thing to feel well-rested, but it’s another to actually sleep well.

I’ve read a lot about the science of sleep while putting together the For The Interested newsletter each week and it turns out the signs of a good night’s sleep may not be quite what you assume.

Here are a few ways to assess just good your night’s sleep actually was…

  1. Do you remember your dreams?

The less you remember your dreams, the better you slept.

I’ll spare you the full science lesson, but here’s a crash course in what happens when we sleep.

We work our way through several stages of Non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep highlighted by one which is the most valuable to our brain.

That stage is “as essential to our brain as food is to our body,” and it’s during that stage that our body repairs muscles, stimulates development, boosts immune functions, and builds up energy for the next day.

The Non-REM stages are followed by a REM stage, which accounts for about 20% of our sleep time and is the phase in which we dream.

REM sleep is a wild ride where you not only dream, but also your heart rate and blood pressure increase, eyes dart all over the place, and breathing becomes fast and shallow.

Some experts describe it as an actual psychotic state.

While your REM sleep and dreams serve a function —it’s when your brain processes learning and establishes memories — the reality is the more time you spend dreaming, the less time you spend in your other, most valuable sleep stage.

This is why the less you remember your dreams, the better your sleep likely was — it’s a sign you spent more time in the stage that’s most valuable.

You can read more about this concept here:

While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey

  1. Did you fall asleep quickly and wake up rarely?

The quicker you fall asleep, the better your sleep was.

It’s not surprising that hours of tossing and turning before you fall asleep are not a sign of a great night’s rest, but do you know what’s a reasonable amount of time to expect it to take to drift off?

The National Sleep Foundation recently published guidance about what constitutes a good night’s sleep and here were the standards they shared:

  • You should be able to fall asleep in 30 minutes or less.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, it shouldn’t be for longer than 20 minutes.
  • You shouldn’t wake up for more than five minutes more than once a night.
  • 85% of the time you spend in bed should be actually sleeping.

You can read more about these standards here:

How to know if you got a good night’s sleep

  1. Does everything feel better during the day?

If you’re reading this post I’m sure you already know sleep is important, but you may be surprised to see how much of your life it can impact.

One of the best ways to judge how well you’re sleeping is to gauge how well other things in your life are going.

For example, when you get a good night’s sleep, you…

  • Lose more weight and have a reduced appetite.
  • Take 10–30% longer to become physically exhausted when exercising.
  • Feel less depressed and anxious.

You can read more about the impact of a good night’s sleep here:

The best thing you can do for your health: sleep well

What to do if you didn’t sleep well last night…

If everything you read above has you a little worried about the quality of your sleep, here’s a quick exercise you can try tonight to fall asleep faster.

It’s based on an Army tactic developed to help soldiers fall asleep in two minutes when necessary despite stressful, chaotic conditions.

Here’s what you do…

  1. Sit on the edge of your bed with no distractions and only a bedside light on.
  2. Relax your facial muscles.
  3. Let gravity pull your shoulders toward the ground and let your arms dangle.
  4. Breathe in and out, listening to your breath, and relaxing your legs.
  5. Clear your mind for 10 seconds. If thoughts come, let them pass.
  6. Visualize yourself lying in a canoe in a calm lake with clear blue skies above you or in a velvet hammock, gently swaying in a pitch-black room. Do this for about 10 seconds.
  7. Lie down, turn off the light, and you should fall asleep in a couple minutes.

The above method was proven to work for 96% of soldiers. It may not work for you immediately, but try it for a few days in a row and it likely will.

You can read more about it here:

What happened when I tried the U.S. Army’s tactic to fall asleep in two minutes