Sleep expert on why people should prioritize sleep quality over quantity


When it comes to maintaining heart health, it’s not just how long you sleep — it’s how well you sleep that matters equally, if not more, said Dr. Shelby Harris, a behavioral sleep psychologist and clinical associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“Poor quality sleep really can influence our heart health as well,” Harris told “CBS Mornings” in an interview during American Heart Month

Harris said the body’s balance of ghrelin and leptin, hormones that regulate hunger, is also disrupted by poor sleep, leading to increased consumption of high-sugar and high-fat foods. 

Sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia are closely linked to heart health. Sleep apnea, characterized by snoring and breathing pauses, affects both men and women, though women are evaluated less frequently for it. 

Strategies for improving sleep quality include limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, reducing screen time before bed and managing how much liquid you drink before bed. 

“Once you have better quality then we try to work on the quantity of sleep possible,” Harris said.

For those struggling to achieve a longer sleep duration, getting a good quality amount of sleep but shorter is ideal when you first are trying to tackle this goal. 

“For some people, I might have them go to bed later and then I might slowly have them go to bed earlier over time as opposed to that shifting back and forth. Because that can create a lot of problems for people as well,” she said. 

Harris said that sleeping pills and aids are not ideal for most people, but said cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia may offer an alternative solution to medication. 

She said most people try four to eight sessions of the therapy and if that doesn’t work, then she would recommend sleeping aids. 

“You work on not just the hygiene but you work on the timing of sleep. … We work on thoughts about sleep, a lot of people put pressure on themselves to sleep and they worry about what’s going to happen if they don’t sleep and so we work on that aspect,” she said. 

Harris said dietary choices also play a role in a good night’s sleep. She said people should avoid consuming large or heavy meals, such as a big dinner, before going to bed.

Instead, opting for a small, light snack that includes a mix of protein and carbohydrates can be beneficial. “That’s a really good mix to help you throughout the night so you don’t wake up hungry, which a lot of people do as well,” said Harris.


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