The quality of your life and your physical health are both directly influenced by a good night’s sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep everything seems to be thrown off balance: your energy levels drop throughout the day, you feel less productive and, in the long term, you might end up gaining weight. Sleep helps our brains work properly. Since it plays such an essential role to our overall health, it’s paramount to get the right amount of sleep every night. You might be tempted to sleep less during weekdays and take comfort in the idea that you’ll make up for it by sleeping in on weekends. But researchers point out that this might do more damage than good.
Sleep deficiency is a problem that most people have to deal with at least once in their lifetime. Whether it’s because of stressful exams, impending work deadlines or personal problems, individuals of all ages are bound to be sleep deprived at some point in their lives.
As a consequence, the damage can manifest itself under two forms: either in an instant or over a longer period of time. Immediate sleep deprivation effects include developing an increased risk for certain chronic health issues. Long term effects include, but are not limited to, affecting the way you behave, work, socialise, learn and even think.
THE 5 STAGES OF SLEEP
People usually go through 4 non-REM stages of sleep before reaching the fifth, final stage, which is called rapid eye movement or REM. The phases pass cyclically and each sleeper will go through stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM. Then, the cycle begins again from stage 1. A full sleep cycle ranges from 90 to 110 minutes and each sleeping phase ranges from 5 to 15 minutes.
The first stage of the sleeping cycle is characterized by falling in and out of sleep. In this phase, people can easily be awakened.
Muscle activity starts to slow down and the eyes move more slowly. Many people report experiencing a sensation of falling in the first stage of sleep.
This is owed to sudden muscle contractions that give the impression of falling, followed by a sudden awakening.
In the second stage of sleep eye movements stop and the body is starting to get ready for the deep sleep phase.
As the brain waves are getting slower, there are only a few rare bursts of rapid brain waves.
At the same time, the overall body temperature starts to decrease and the heart rate slows down.
The third stage of every sleeping cycle is also known as deep sleep.
Very slow brain waves are intermixed with shorter, more rapid waves.
During this phase, sleepers can experience night terrors or sleepwalking.
The episodes are also known as parasomnias and appear when the body transitions between a non-REM stage and REM.
The fourth stage of the sleeping cycle comprises only slow brain waves that are also called delta waves.
Sleepers who are woken up from stage four of sleeping will most likely be disoriented for a few seconds before becoming fully awake and aware of their whereabouts.
In the Rapid Eye Movement phase, the brain waves will resemble the activity of the waking state.
Despite the fact that the eyes are shut close, they move from side to side very fast, as a result of brain activity and intense dreaming.
During this stage of sleeping, the brain is super active, however, all the muscles of the body are paralyzed with the exception of the lungs and the heart.
Muscle paralysis is directly connected to conditions like sleep suffocation or sleep apnea, experienced by some people. The REM stage of the sleeping cycle becomes longer after 5 or 6 hours of sleep.
Why Can’t I Sleep?
Are you experiencing difficulty falling asleep regardless of how tired you are? Or are you waking up in the middle of the night, finding it hard to go back to sleep? The issue you are likely to be experiencing is insomnia. This is a very common condition that can all of a sudden take effect.
Unfortunately, insomniacs have to deal with even more annoying consequences than the condition itself. Insomnia causes mood swings and affects people’s ability to work and function during the day. Chronic insomnia can have severe effects on health, leaving the individual prone to fatigue, stomach problems, migraines, headaches and much more.
There are other reasons that might be keeping you up at night other than insomnia, including:
Overthinking might be the one keeping you up when you should be sleeping.
When you are going in and out of the first stage of sleep, you have no control over your thoughts.
As a result, it’s harder to rein in worries or negative thinking. This can easily keep you up for hours at a time or even the entire night.
As tempting and beneficial as it might seem at a first glance, sleeping in actually messes up your internal clock.
Lying more in bed on a Saturday or a Sunday will make it harder for you to wake up on following weekdays, and, as a consequence, will make it harder to fall asleep.
A Snoring Partner
If your spouse snores and you’re a light sleeper, it can easily rouse you and make it impossible for you to fall back asleep. The loudest snoring sounds can reach 90 decibels, which is as loud as a subway!
Even if you fall back asleep, you will feel fatigued and tired when waking up in the morning. The best way to deal with this issue is for your partner to start using a custom made anti-snoring device that will allow both of you to get a good night’s rest.
Women might experience difficulty falling asleep or sleeping due to hormonal changes prior or during their period.
The levels of progesterone and estrogen fluctuate, which sabotage sleep and cause sleepers to wake up during the night followed by difficulty falling back asleep.
If you are crash dieting and skipping dinner altogether, you might want to reconsider going to bed on an empty stomach.
Heading to bed hungry can hamper with your sleep.
You might be awakened by hunger pangs, which disrupt your sleeping cycle and make you susceptible to having a hard time waking up the next morning.
A Cluttered Bedroom
This might seem trivial at first, but a messy nightstand does have the ability to interfere with your night’s rest.
The simple explanation behind this is that physical clutter and mess makes for a cluttered, stressed, anxious mind.
Researchers have found that stress is the main cause of sleep issues, including waking up in the middle of the night and experiencing insomnia.
Common Sleep Issues
Sleep is influenced by a wide array of factors and conditions. Things like stress, diet, environment, activity levels, temperature, noise and light all have an impact on how fast you fall asleep and the quality of your rest.
This sleep disorder causes difficulty to fall or to stay asleep. This condition results in non-restorative or unrefreshing sleep. Insomnia affects up to 35% of adults and can be very upsetting and frustrating.
The consequences range from mild to severe since insomnia can impact sleepers’ health, leaving them feeling drowsy, fatigued and sullen throughout the day. This sleeping condition can be distracting, impacting people’s concentration levels and mood. It can affect work or school and sometimes it puts mental health at risk.
Insomnia varies in its length and occurrence frequency.
- Short-term or acute insomnia can last one night or a few weeks. Some causes of acute insomnia include illness, physical pain or discomfort, stress, medication or external factors such as light, noise and temperature.
- Long-term or chronic insomnia occurs at least three or four times a week over the course of a month or more. Some causes of chronic insomnia include chronic stress, anxiety, depression and pain at night.
Types of Insomnia
Doctors have identified two different types of insomnia:
- Primary insomnia. Patients experience primary insomnia when the condition is not directly associated with another health issue.
- Secondary insomnia. Patients experience secondary insomnia when the condition appears as a “side-effect” of another health issue such as depression, heartburn, asthma or arthritis. Secondary insomnia can also occur as a side effect of medication or a substance consumed by the sleeper such as alcohol or caffeine.
2. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea affects a small part of the population. Individuals with this condition periodically stop breathing during sleep. The number of sleep apnea episodes a person experiences per night ranges vastly from a few times to dozens of times. When the sleeper stops breathing, the brain is disturbed from deep sleep stages and the person wakes up in order to restart breathing.
People who suffer from sleep apnea are prone to a poor night’s sleep. When episodes of sleep apnea happen dozens of times a night, the quality of sleep decreases drastically, making way for a wide array of medical issues.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea that vary in symptoms, intensity and causes.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Caused either by a complete or partial airway blockage during sleep, obstructive sleep apnea happens when the sleeper’s throat muscles relax and allow the tongue or the throat’s fatty tissue to fall back and block the airflow. This prevents air from moving past the obstruction and, as a result, blood flow to the brain is reduced. The brain is partially awoken in order to trigger the body into waking up to breathe again.
The severity of obstructive sleep apnea varies. Mild obstructive sleep apnea occurs five to fourteen times in an hour. Moderate obstructive sleep apnea happens fifteen to thirty time in an hour. Severe obstructive sleep apnea occurs more than thirty times in an hour.
Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea:
- Snoring – regular, loud and disruptive snoring is a prominent symptom of OSA.
- Headaches – morning headaches are a consequence of lack of oxygen during the night which stems from irregular breathing.
- Irritability – loss of sleep can heavily impact an individual’s well-being. Patients with OSA often experience irritability and even depression.
- Restless sleep – as the patient with OSA is constantly being awakened by their brain, sufferers are deprived of deep, quality sleep.
Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea:
Mild and moderate obstructive sleep apnea can be kept under control with a custom-made mouthpiece that prevents sleepers from snoring and keeps apnea episodes at bay. This is an affordable option, recommended by doctors that is comfortable and safe to wear each night.
2. Central Sleep Apnea
This condition occurs when the brain doesn’t signal the muscles in charge with breathing. Much rarer than Obstructive Sleep Apnea, CSA often appears as a consequence of medical conditions that impact the brainstem.
Symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea:
- Irregular breathing during sleep.
- Shortness of breath that leads to waking up.
- Severe drowsiness during the day.
- Chronic fatigue as a result of restless sleep.
- Mood changes often accompanied by irritability, as a consequence of a poor night’s rest.
3. Mixed Sleep Apnea
As the name suggests, mixed sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. 15% of individuals who believe to only have OSA might actually have CSA as well, a study from 2006 shows.
The condition was identified when patients who were undergoing CPAP treatment for OSA still had trouble breathing while asleep.
Other Sleeping Disorders
There are various sleeping disorders out there affecting 1 in 3 individuals. The symptoms range from mild to severe and each affects the individual’s quality of life in a different way. Here are three interesting sleeping disorders that are more common than you might think.
This condition includes all the abnormal things that people undergo while they are falling asleep or sleeping, excluding sleep apnea. Some examples of parasomnias are sleep paralysis, nightmares, sleepwalking, sleep aggression and REM sleep behavior disorder.
Parasomnia can happen during sleep or when a person is abruptly awakened. The latter includes sleep terrors or confusional arousals. Parasomnia is genetic but can also be a cause of brain disorders. Various medications are also known to trigger episodes of parasomnia.
Cataplexy is characterized by an uncontrollable and abrupt muscle paralysis or weakness. Caused by an autoimmune disorder, cataplexy is triggered by extreme emotions that include crying or terror. The condition affects up to 70% of patients who suffer from narcolepsy.
Cataplectic attacks are the result of muscular weakness that can vary from a mere slackening of facial muscles to full muscle paralysis. The episodes are brief and only last a few seconds or up to a couple of minutes.
This neurological disorder impacts the sufferer’s control over wakefulness and sleep. Individuals who suffer from narcolepsy have to deal with daytime sleepiness and impossible to control episodes of falling asleep during the day. Narcolepsy attacks can happen at any time of the day and during all types of activity.
Other Reasons for Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation has a slew of causes varying from medical problems such as depression or hormone imbalance to external and environmental factors like noise and excessive light. These are a few of the most common reasons you might be losing sleep or getting a poor night’s rest.
Also known as bruxism, grinding teeth on a regular basis can stem from anxiety, stress, an abnormal bite or a sleeping disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs at night, during sleep and can lead to teeth damaging and other oral health issues.
Since teeth grinding happens when you sleep, you might not be aware you have this habit unless someone else hears you. However, there are a few clues that will let you know you grind your teeth at night.
A sore jaw or a dull headache right when you wake up could indicate you suffer from bruxism. If you’re uncertain whether you have this condition or not, a dentist will help you shed some light on the issue. They will examine your mouth and look for signs of excessive wear on your teeth or jaw tenderness.
Tips to Stop Grinding Your Teeth:
- Refrain from consuming drinks or foods that have caffeine (chocolate, coffee, fizzy drinks).
- Refrain from drinking alcoholic drinks, since they promote teeth grinding.
- Do not chew gum as it gets your muscles used to clenching and increases the chances of teeth grinding during sleep.
- Notice when you tend to grind or clench your teeth and replace it with another habit. Try putting the tip of your tongue between your teeth, allowing your jaw muscles to relax.
- Start using a night guard that fits comfortably and eliminates headaches. This device will protect your teeth from damage and allow you to get a good night’s sleep.
With a self-explanatory name, sleepwalking is a condition that makes people get out of bed and walk in their sleep. Most of the time, sleepwalking occurs when the individual goes from a deep stage of sleep to a lighter stage of sleep.
During the sleepwalking episode, the person is not awake and can’t talk or respond to questions. The sleepwalker won’t remember the episode. In the instances when the sleepwalker talks, they are incoherent or don’t make sense. While sleepwalking occurs predominantly in children between 4 and 8 years old, some adults experience it too.
Sleepwalkers can either get up and walk quietly around their room or they can attempt to run and escape. When they are sleepwalking, people have their eyes open. If questioned, they usually don’t say anything or respond very slowly. If sleepwalkers get back to bed without waking, they will most likely not remember the episode the next day.
Causes of Sleepwalking:
- Sleep deprivation – being sleep deprived can lead to sleepwalking, especially when the person is under a lot of stress or suffers from anxiety.
- Hectic sleep schedule – irregular bed and waking up hours promote sleepwalking since they can completely throw off the body’s internal clock.
- Alcohol – episodes of sleepwalking can occur when the person has been drinking and went to sleep while still drunk.
- Medication – some drugs have been linked to causing sleepwalking episodes, such as stimulants used for boosting activity, neuroleptics used for psychosis or antihistamines used for allergy treatments.
- Fever – high fever can trigger sleepwalking, especially in kids.
- Psychiatric disorders – certain conditions such as panic attacks, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or multiple personality disorder can cause sleepwalking episodes, chiefly in adults.
A poor sleep hygiene can be the reason why it takes you hours to fall asleep or you’re not getting any sleep at all. Unlike medical conditions that cause sleep deprivation and can’t be managed, sleep hygiene is easy to handle and master.
These are the top sleep hygiene tips for promoting a good night’s sleep on a constant basis:
- Adopt a regular sleep routine. It might sound trivial, but going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning is the golden rule of good sleep hygiene. The schedule should remain the same on all nights of the week, with small exceptions permitted of up to 20 minutes +/-. This makes sure your internal clock knows what to expect, regulating your metabolism and making easier to fall asleep and to wake up immediately.
- Avoid naps. Even when you feel extremely tired during daytime, you should refrain from lying down on the bed and taking a nap. People need a specific amount of rest and sleep during 24 hours. Whenever we take a nap during the day, we practically take away some of the time we need to sleep the following night. This can lead to sleep fragmentation as well as difficulty falling asleep. A haphazard sleeping schedule consisting of long or frequent naps can lead to insomnia.
- Don’t lay in bed if you’re awake for more than 10 minutes. When you’re experiencing difficulty falling asleep, you’re most likely tossing and turning in bed, listening to the clock ticking and dreading being awake. This is a counter intuitive way of falling asleep. A better way to make yourself sleepy is to go sit in a chair without turning the lights on. You’ll know it’s time to return to bed when you’ll feel sleepy again.
- Refrain from reading or using gadgets in bed. Watching TV in bed will inevitably make you associate your bed with wakefulness. If your aim is to fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, you should educate and train your body to associate it exclusively with sleep. In order to achieve this, you should refrain from reading, watching TV, browsing the internet on the laptop or listening to music while you are in bed.
- Exercise on a regular basis. A good night’s rest is only one of the many benefits of exercising on a regular basis. Vigorous exercise should always be completed by 2 pm. Reserve light stretching or basic yoga for evenings. Exercising promotes a healthy metabolism and helps you fall asleep much easier.
- Create a quiet, serene sleeping environment. Ideally, your bedroom should only contain your bed and a couple of nightstands. If possible, don’t add a TV or other furniture in your bedroom, even if it might seem bare or insufficiently accessorized. A minimalist approach is ideal when it comes to your bedroom since it creates a peaceful atmosphere that, in its turn, encourages sleep and rest.
How to Get to Sleep
Falling asleep might come naturally to some, but it’s not so easy for others. People who have difficulty falling asleep or who have to deal with various sleeping disorders have to suffer long-term consequences that impact their overall quality of life.
These are some of the most commonly asked questions related to sleeping and a good night’s rest.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Everyone is different and, as a result, there is no universal answer to this question. However, researchers agree that young adults and adults need anywhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night.
Best Sleeping Position
While this is a personal preference issue, there are some sleeping positions that will help you avoid medical conditions. Although it’s not a popular position, sleeping on your back is regarded as being the best from a medical point of view.
The explanation behind this is that the neutral position enables your spine, neck and head to rest naturally. As a result, there is no pressure on any area and you’re not likely to experience any pain. While sleeping on your back is great if you have acid reflux, it might not be a good idea if you suffer from sleep apnea.
OSA patients’ best sleeping position is on their side. Similarly to sleeping on your back, this position makes sure the spine is elongated, keeping neck and back pain at bay. It’s also a good position for people who are prone to snoring, since the airways are always open, making it perfect for individuals who experience sleep apnea.
Best Earplugs for Sleeping
If you’re a light sleeper, you might find relief in earplugs. They cancel out the noise so you can rest without hearing snoring, dog barks, or traffic noise. When you’re shopping for the best pair of earplugs, you should factor in their effectiveness and the material they are made from. Earplugs made from wax and foam expand when they are inserted into the ear, cancelling out all noise.
You should also consider the comfort level. A good pair of earplugs should not put any pressure on your eardrum. They should fit snuggly in the ear canal and neither go too deep or stick out. Choose the right size of earplugs in order to avoid discomfort and pain.
General Sleeping Tips
- Temperature. The temperature in your bedroom should be on the cooler side rather than warmer.
- TV. If you do have a TV in your room, make sure to turn it off before going to sleep. You should not expose yourself to bright screens and TVs at least 30 minutes before going to sleep.
- Pets. Keep pets outside of the bedroom if they have the habit of waking you up in the middle of the night.
- Create a relaxing pre-sleep routine that takes you from wake time to sleep time. For example, you can take a shower or a bath, take your makeup off or read a book. Avoid stimulating activities that make you more awake than sleepy.
- Dine light. Refrain from eating junk food or too many carbs at least three hours before going to bed. Stay away from foods that might give you indigestion. Choose warm, light foods that are easy to digest and are not very spicy or overstimulating.
How to Stop Snoring
More than 45% of adults snore constantly or occasionally. Besides being a nuisance, snoring can also indicate a sleeping disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea.
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring appears when the flow of air passing through your nose and your mouth is obstructed. Air obstructions happen from an array of causes, ranging from allergies, poor muscle tone and bulky throat tissue.
Snoring does not only affect the person in cause but also the spouse who shares the bed. Fortunately, there are several devices available on the market that can reduce and eliminate snoring in a safe and gentle way.
A custom-developed mouthpiece is the quickest and most affordable way to tackle both snoring and sleep apnea at the same time. Highly effective, this device is very easy to adjust and can safely be used every night. The twin polymer technology is BPA and latex free, ensuring the highest quality and safety. The success of the device is owed to the improved air intake which offers more tongue space and larger breathing holes.