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New research suggests how well you believe you’re sleeping at night can affect your mood and life satisfaction more than what the data from a sleep tracker tells you. miniseries/Getty Images
  • A new study has found sleep perception has an impact on well-being and mood.
  • The findings suggest that our perception of sleep quality matters more for mood and well-being than what our sleep-tracking devices say.
  • Experts say perceived sleep quality is affected by various physiological, psychological, and emotional factors.
  • You can feel better rested by practicing good sleep hygiene and shifting your perspective.

How do you judge a good night’s rest? You might use a tracker and consult your sleep data from the night before, or perhaps you simply gauge how rested and recharged you feel when you wake up.

New research suggests that it’s not only how well you sleep that can impact your mood and well-being the next day, but how you perceive the quality of your sleep.

The study conducted at the University of Warwick found that how people feel about their sleep has a greater impact on their well-being than what sleep-tracking technology says about their sleep quality.

Over two weeks, 100 participants aged 18 to 22 years kept a sleep diary, documenting what time they went to bed and got ready to fall asleep, how long it took them to fall asleep, what time they woke up, what time they got out of bed, and how satisfied they were with their sleep in general.

Participants were also asked to rate their positive and negative emotions and how satisfied they were with their lives the following day. Throughout the study, they also wore an actigraph on their wrist to measure their movement, sleep patterns, and rest cycles.

Researchers compared the actigraph data with the participant’s perceptions of their sleep to find out how their sleep quality related to their mood and life satisfaction the next day.

Commenting on the findings, lead author Dr. Anita Lenneis, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology said, “Our results found that how young people evaluated their own sleep was consistently linked with how they felt about their well-being and life satisfaction.

When participants reported that they slept better than they normally did, they experienced more positive emotions and had a higher sense of life satisfaction the following day.

“However, the actigraphy-derived measure of sleep quality, which is called sleep efficiency, was not associated with next day’s well-being at all,” Lenneis explains.

In short, the study shows that your perception of sleep quality matters more for mood and well-being than what your sleep devices say.

A sleep-tracking device might say you’ve slept poorly, but if your perception of how well you’ve slept is positive, you may be in a better mood that day.

Dr. Naheed Ali, a physician and senior writer at Sleep Bubble, isn’t surprised by these results. “Modern sleep tracking technology, while helpful, can only quantify certain aspects of sleep but can’t capture the personal, qualitative experience. As with many other health-related matters, perception often plays a significant role,” he notes.

You shouldn’t put your sleep tracker to bed just yet though. Ali says they provide an objective measure of physical manifestations of sleep, such as movement, which can be useful, but they fall short when it comes to measuring things like your mood upon waking, dreams you may have had, or simply how ready you are to face the day.

“These nuances can’t be captured by a device, which goes some way to explaining the discrepancy between actigraphy data and personal sleep evaluations in this new research,” he explains.

Similarly, sleep psychologist LeMeita Smith, PhD says this research is in line with what she sees with her patients.

She says our perception of sleep quality is influenced by many factors, including stress levels, daily experiences, and our preconceived notions about sleep.

“Psychological research has consistently highlighted the power of one’s beliefs and perceptions on various aspects of life, including sleep and well-being, so it stands to reason that if someone believes they had a good night’s sleep, they may wake up with a positive mindset, leading to an improved mood and life satisfaction throughout the day,” she notes.

Conversely, even if the sleep tracker indicates adequate sleep, someone’s negative perception of their sleep may lead to a less satisfying day emotionally.

Smith puts the difference between sleep perception and actigraph data down to the subjective nature of human experience.

“Sleep is a complex phenomenon that involves not only physiological but also psychological and emotional aspects,” she points out.

“Some people may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep because of stress, anxiety, or negative thoughts, and these factors can affect how they feel about their sleep quality, even if they get enough hours of rest.”

So, what can you do if you aren’t getting the rest you need? Ali says practicing good sleep hygiene is key.

You should establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day — yes, even on weekends. It’s also a good idea to create a calming bedtime routine, by reading a book, listening to soft music, or practicing relaxation techniques.

“Make sure your bedroom is a sleep-friendly environment,” Ali advises. “Keep it dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature – and consider using earplugs, an eye mask, or a white noise machine if needed.”

The blue light emitted by phones, tablets, computers, and TVs can disrupt your sleep so it’s a good idea to shut these off a few hours before bed. Pay attention to what you eat and drink as well. Ali warns against consuming large meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime.

Though some of these suggestions may seem obvious, Ali says they can make a world of difference when it comes to how well you sleep.

And if you do wake feeling groggy and unrested in the morning? Smith believes you can turn things around with a few mindset shifts.

“If someone has slept poorly, they can improve their perception of their sleep by focusing on the positive aspects of their sleep experience, such as the duration, comfort, dreams, or the benefits of sleep for their health and well-being,” she explains.

If you want to go one further, Smith says you can challenge the negative or unrealistic thoughts you have about sleep. Smith uses “I need to sleep eight hours every night to function well” and “I can never sleep well” as examples.

To change the perception of how well you’ve slept and in turn, improve the way you feel that day, Smith advises changing these thoughts with more realistic ones, such as“I can still perform well even if I sleep less than eight hours sometimes” or “I have slept well before and I can do it again”.

Ali says the key takeaway from this study is the critical role of personal perception in sleep quality and overall well-being. It suggests, from a psychological perspective, that we have a degree of control over how we frame sleep quality and how we feel the next day.

“While sleep trackers can provide helpful data, they don’t tell the whole story. Personal experience, feelings, and perceptions significantly influence our sleep quality and overall well-being,” Ali surmises.