In recent years we have become very aware that as a society we simply do not get enough good quality sleep. We have also found links to sleep difficulty and obesity, chronic pain and a number of other health conditions. On average we get around 5 to 7 hours per night. Not everyone needs 8 or 9 hours like we were told previously; how much we need varies by individual. It is important to not only measure sleep according to how much but also quality.
So how do you know if you are getting enough or if your sleep is good quality? While there are a range of questionnaires and online tools available that help you grade your sleep quality, we like a simple approach. Take a look at how you feel. If you feel perpetually tired, get sleepy during the day, have trouble falling or staying asleep or wake up frequently there is a good chance you are not getting enough good quality sleep. There can be many reasons for this but one thing is for sure; If you take certain simple sleep improvement steps it can’t hurt; then if the problem persists talk to your doctor about more formal sleep evaluations.
Before we give you sleep improvement tips it is important to talk about possible medical issues related to poor sleep. For many people, sleep disturbances including some associated with overweight are the cause of restless nights and drowsy days. One of the most common medical causes of poor sleep – Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is increasingly common as our nation’s weight continues to climb. Obstructive sleep apnea can be very serious if it isn’t treated. Some key signs you may want to seek medical evaluation for OSA include a large neck circumference, long pauses in your breathing (and for some the appearance of choking) during sleep, waking up tired and feeling very drowsy later in the day (for some frequent nodding off). While not everyone who snores loudly has sleep apnea, if you are a snorer, and have also noticed any of the other things listed here, talk to your doctor about scheduling a ‘sleep study.’ This appointment will involve doctors watching you sleep and performing several diagnostic tests to see if sleep apnea is your issue. If it is, then there are some very comfortable and portable breathing devices that can be worn to help keep the airway open and improve breathing during sleep (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure; CPAP). These will make remarkable improvements in your sleep quality and quantity. Weight loss is also an ideal way to improve sleep apnea for most overweight people.
There are so many things that can cause poor sleep. We lead busy lives with many stresses that can keep us up at night. Psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression can also cause what people commonly refer to as insomnia. Insomnia can take on many forms like having trouble falling asleep, lying awake at night, having trouble sleeping through the night and frequent waking, or restless sleep (which may also include a medical condition called restless leg syndrome). Any one of these may require specific medical and/or psychological treatment. However, for many people a good starting point is to do everything we can to improve our sleep habits through a process we call “Sleep Hygiene.”
Relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing and meditation may also help to reduce stress throughout the day (and improve sleep). These may also help you to relax while in bed and help you to drift off.