In today’s society, feeling tired all the time is normal. Students are bogged down with work, parents are juggling jobs and kids, and everyone else is just trying to find a balance between work and personal life.
Various troubles may plague you at night, keeping you from sleep. Perhaps you’re up late working, burning the midnight oil while the kids are asleep, or you’re catching a flight for a business trip.
There are a million reasons to explain our constant state of auto-piloting through life, but most lead back to the same simple issue: we aren’t getting enough sleep at night.
In recent years, the National Sleep Foundation has actually changed its recommendations for how much sleep people should be getting at night.
Teens and adults are suggested to get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night. If you’re wondering why you feel so sleepy, the answer might be that you just aren’t sleeping enough in the first place.
This article will take a closer look at the importance of quantity and quality of sleep, how it affects you, and what you can do to get a better night’s sleep.
Circadian and Homeostatic Sleep Pressures
There are two pressures in your body that make you tired: the circadian and homeostatic sleeping pressures. Circadian rhythms are based on the sun and generally adhere to a 24-hour cycle. These rhythms are not perfect and are resynced each day in response to sunlight.
A lot of things in your body work best at certain times of the day. This makes sense because humans usually need to be doing things when the sun is out (moving around, working, exercising, etc.) and other things at night (sleeping).
It’s actually really cool – your individual cells make more or less of certain chemicals throughout the day, and if you put the levels on a graph you can see clear 24-hour cycles. One part of these cycles is that your body will make you feel more awake during the day, and more sleepy at night.
Homeostatic pressure is more straightforward – it increases as you stay up longer. That said, sleep is one of the most important things for us – our body does a ton of things while we sleep which aren’t done while we’re awake.
So our body has a master override switch: homeostatic pressure. The longer you stay up, the more tired you’ll feel no matter where you are in your daily rhythm.
Eventually, homeostatic pressure will become the overwhelming force and make you sleep regardless of where you are in your circadian rhythm.
When you’re up for too long, you’ll feel sleepy around the normal time because it’s night time and your body’s normal rhythm says you should be sleeping.
When the sun comes back out, your body thinks you should be awake, and that gives you a temporary boost, or “second wind”, of energy. This energy decreases the longer you are up and overrides the body telling you, “you should be awake because the sun is out”.
This is when your homeostatic pressure overrides your circadian rhythm and takes precedence.
Why Sleep Quantity Is So Important
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that nearly a third of American adults sleep less than 6 hours a night, which is below the minimum recommendation of 7 hours. Now, losing an hour or two of sleep may not seem like a big deal, but when you look at the big picture, it definitely matters.
Say you sleep 6 hours a night for a week. You’re losing one hour of sleep a night, but by the end of the week, you’ve lost a total of 7 hours of sleep: an entire night’s worth of sleep.
Losing consistent sleep leads to sleep debt, which is basically the build-up of unhealthy sleep deprivation. Take that one night of lost sleep a week and look at it for the year: 52 weeks, 52 nights’ sleep, or 364 hours of sleep debt. That’s a lot of sleep lost in a year, with no way of getting it back!
So what happens when you don’t sleep enough? Aside from the consistent drowsy feeling, sleep deprivation contributes to many physical and behavioral health problems:
- Immune system dysfunction
- Worsened vision
- Weight gain
- Faster aging
- Cerebral shrinkage
- Physical and emotional stress
- Poor judgment
- Attention deficit
- Memory issues
- Poor risk assessment
- Depression or anxiety disorders
Unfortunately, the troubles don’t stop there. Sleep deprivation also affects performance, causing higher risks for motor vehicle accidents and workplace mistakes. You probably lost that sale because you were sleepy and unable to concentrate. Maybe you’re wondering why your project didn’t get selected as you are suppressing a yawn… Well, you can blame a lot of things on lack of sleep.
Chronic sleep deprivation has an even bigger impact on the body; in fact, it can result in systemic, or body-wide, inflammation. Systemic inflammation creates a domino effect because it is associated with the development of chronic illness such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and in some cases, even cancer.
What Affects Sleep Quantity?
Usually, the amount of sleep you get is based on external factors you can’t control, such as job or schooling obligations. But there are some cases in which you could be robbing yourself of sleep, whether it be that you stay out late partying or travel a lot and get jet-lagged. Here are a couple more factors that can affect your sleep quantity:
This refers to the circumstances you create for the opportunity to sleep. Factors like your sleep space’s environment, the regularity of your bedtimes and rise times, and even what you do throughout the day contribute to your sleep hygiene. For example, using electronic devices right before bed can hinder your ability to fall asleep. Electronic devices emit blue spectrum light, which tells the parts of your brain that induce sleep to essentially turn off. Consistently using electronic devices before bed can lead to symptoms of insomnia.
2. Health Conditions
Health conditions can have a big impact on how much sleep you get. Sleep disorders like insomnia and shift work disorder can impede sleep. Other conditions like depression, anxiety, asthma, neurological disorders, and chronic pain can inhibit your ability to fall asleep and keep you from getting the amount of sleep you need.
What Affects Sleep Quality?
So, getting enough sleep matters. But what if you already are and still feel groggy and run-down throughout the day? What if you sleep through the night, but still wake up tired? This means that you’re not getting the proper quality of sleep to function normally. Just as with sleep quantity, there are a few factors that disrupt the quality of your sleep, some of which are the same:
1. Sleep Hygiene
Like with sleep quantity, your sleep hygiene affects your sleep quality. Any disruptions through the night that you can control factor into your sleep hygiene. A pet that sleeps with you and wakes you multiple times a night, an unsupportive pillow, too much light or noise or your phone chiming throughout the night can all affect the quality of sleep you receive.
This is a surprisingly common issue that affects your quality of sleep significantly! Obstructive sleep apnea is a health disorder that causes blockage in your airways and episodes of breath-holding through the night. These episodes disrupt the quality of your sleep and can often wake sufferers up multiple times during the night.
3. Medical Conditions
Snoring is a common problem that disrupts one’s sleep and can also break up the sleep of their partners. The same can be said about movement disorders such as restless leg syndrome. Other medical conditions can disrupt sleep throughout the entire night. Diabetics may experience broken sleep due to changes in insulin levels. Those with bladder issues might need to go to the restroom a few times a night. Heartburn and acid reflux can also rouse someone from sleep. For older women, menopause is a huge disruptor of sleep due to the commonality of hot flashes.
4. Medications or Drugs
Medications can contribute to sleep disturbances as well, but this factor is often overlooked. Many prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, and recreational drugs can affect sleep. The same goes for drugs like caffeine or nicotine and alcoholic beverages. Additionally, if multiple substances are used, the reactions that occur can damage sleep quality.
What Can You Do?
There’s a lot that affects sleep quantity and quality. With so much to think about, it can be overwhelming trying to develop a better sleeping regime. You can do a few simple things to help improve your sleep:
1. Eat healthier and get regular exercise
The basics can play a big role in your sleep. A study even showed the science behind the relationship between exercise and sleep. Eating healthier foods that are nutritious and give you energy and maintaining a regular exercise routine, no matter how simple, can positively impact your sleep and help you get a better night’s rest!
2. Establish a bedtime routine
Establishing a routine before bed that winds you down is a great way to tell your body it’s time to sleep. Including some relaxation techniques like deep breathing, taking a bath, spaying your pillow with lavender scents, or aromatherapy can help you get to sleep quicker. The consistency can also assist your body and mind in recognizing when it’s time to start shutting down.
3. Set bed and rise times
Consistency is really important when it comes to sleep. Setting a time to go to sleep and a time to wake up and sticking with it will allow your body to adjust its internal clock and get better quality sleep. Drowsy mornings not included!
4. Don’t use electronics before bed
As previously discussed, electronics emit a blue spectrum light that keeps the brain from telling your body it’s time to sleep. Avoid using any backlit electronics before bed. Playing calming music or reading is a great way to wind down, but make sure you keep the electronics removed. Instead, read a real book and play your music through a small speaker, stereo, or your alarm clock.
5. Find and take opportunities to get more sleep
If your work schedule, for example, only allows for you to get 6 hours of sleep at night, look for opportunities to get a bit more sleep. For example, you could take a short nap during the day, or cut out a less important part of your morning routine to sleep in a bit longer.
6. Be aware of key symptoms of sleep disorders and see a doctor if needed
Sadly, many people are often unaware that they have a sleep disorder. It’s important to be aware of the key symptoms so you can make sure you don’t have to worry about something more serious and get help if needed. Here are a few things to look for:
- Taking at least 30 minutes to fall asleep every night
- Problems with waking up prematurely in the morning or frequently through the night
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Reports from bed partners or family members that you snore, choke, snort, gasp, or stop breathing during sleep
- Morning headaches
- Sore throat or dry mouth in the morning
- Tingling, creepy-crawly, or other uncomfortable or unusual sensations in your arms or legs at bedtime
- Leg or arm movement during sleep that wakes up your bed partner
- Sudden feelings of weakness during the day that happen after emotional episodes like laughing, crying, or fearfulness
- Feeling paralyzed the moment that you wake up
- Reports of sleepwalking, or finding yourself out of your bed with no memory of how you got there
If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to take action. A great place to start is at Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia! Our team of highly trained and certified sleep professionals makes the process of diagnosing and treating sleep disorders simple. With at-home sleep tests, online scheduling, and a secure telemedicine portal where you can communicate with sleep professionals privately and quickly, Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia will help you get a handle on your sleep and improve your quality of life.
Ready to take control of your sleep? Advanced Sleep Solutions of Virginia is here to help! You can schedule an appointment online or call us today at (703) 689-2480.