Sleep is vital for the body. This naturally-recurring state is required for our overall health. Proper sleep boosts both physical and mental activities. On the other hand, the lack of sleep has a negative effect on key body functions. Having a good night sleep is vital for restoring our energy and enables the brain to store information and process important functions. It also decreases stress and tiredness and gives the brain a rest. However, many people neglect sleep. Some reasons for sleep neglect include having too many tasks to perform, thinking sleeping state is a waste of time or the individual is under great pressure. This has both short-term and long-term effects on health. Sometimes, the inability to sleep is triggered by some medical problem which requires treatment for the person to get back to his or her normal sleep routine. In other cases, stress can lead to restless nights.
Researchers constantly collect data and analyze sleep – they look at its patterns, what actually happens during sleeping, what causes poor sleep, how to deal with it and what are the negative effects on health. Restoring sleep can be done in many ways. Still, with the modern way of life, more and more people find it extremely hard to have a good night rest and this becomes more or less a worldwide issue.
Sleep Disorders and Problems
Snoring, insomnia, sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome can all have a negative influence on sleep. Good sleep quality is an important part of overall health. It affects hormone levels, moods, weight and cognitive functions. Normal sleep involves the constant repetition of the cycle of REM and non-REM stages. REM comes from the abbreviation of ‘rapid eye movement’ which is typical in that phase of sleep. Non-REM sleep has four separate stages. The first is the lightest state of sleep and the fourth stage is the deepest. All these stages repeat many times throughout the night. When that cycle is constantly interrupted, tiredness, fatigue, lack of concentration occur during the day which negatively influenced the daily activities of the individual. Moreover, lack of good sleep increases the risk of accidents.
This sleep disorder is fairly common. The patient has difficulty falling asleep. Constant awakening during the night is also observable in these cases. Insomniacs tend to wake up too early in the morning without feeling rested. Insomnia can be primary and secondary. Primary insomnia means that the individual does not suffer from other health conditions that may cause that problem. Secondary insomnia is triggered by health conditions. It can be also triggered by medications or substances. Asthma, depression, heartburn and arthritis can also affect sleep.
Insomnia can be categorized as acute or chronic, depending on how frequently it occurs and how long each session lasts. Logically, acute insomnia is a short-term problem. Chronic insomnia means that the problem exists on a long-term basis. Usually, acute insomnia lasts from a night up to several weeks. When the troubles with sleeping become regular, a person is diagnosed with chronic insomnia.
Causes of short-term insomnia can vary. Usually, the main reason for it is constant stress brought on by life events such as dismissal, deceased of a loved one, divorce or other stressful changes that brings disturbance. It can be caused by illness, emotional or physical discomfort. Sometimes, the factors can be external – light, noise, extreme temperatures. Medications also can trigger insomnia. Some drugs used for treating allergies, depression or asthma can lead to restlessness during the night and hinder good restorative sleep. Chronic insomnia has fewer trigger factors. Nevertheless, chronic insomnia could be more severe and has a bigger influence on the overall health. Depression and anxiety, chronic stress and pain during the night are the main factors for its occurrence.
- The usual symptoms of insomnia are
- Sleepiness during the day
- Easily irritated
- Have problem concentrating and memory issues
This common condition can affect anyone. Still, it is more often found in men and individuals who are overweight. Another peculiarity is that snoring tends to worsen with age. Everyone snore occasionally due to one reason or another. This cannot really affect your sleep. Nevertheless, chronic snoring can disrupt the proper cycle of your sleep. Usually, snoring impairs the sleep quality of the bed partner too. Medical assistance can restore the quality of sleep for both individuals.
Snoring is caused by the obstruction of air flow. Air cannot go freely through the mouth and nose in the process of breathing. Such obstruction may be caused by obstructed nasal airways. A sinus infection can affect the nasal tissues. Deviated septum and nasal polyps can also obstruct the nasal airways. Poor muscle tone in the throat and tongue can also cause snoring. If the muscles are too relaxed, they collapse and fall back into the airway. This is a normal part of aging. However, deep sleep, sleeping pills and alcohol can also contribute to snoring. Overweight people may have bulky throat tissues which also cause snoring. Innate long soft palate or uvula can also cause snoring. They can narrow the path of the air flow.
Habitual snoring is linked to serious health risks. Sleep apnea is one of them. Interruptions of breathing, regular and unwanted awakenings are linked to sleep apnea. It really can decrease the quality of your sleep. Snoring interrupts the normal cycle of sleep and thus restorative sleep is lost. This leads to sleepiness during the day. Not being fully rested leads to lack of concentration which may decrease the quality of the activities that are performed. This increases the chance of accidents.
Sleep apnea is a serious health condition. It is characterized by disrupted breathing during sleeping. The lack of breathing that occurs during sleep repeatedly can be really dangerous. This leads to low levels of oxygen in the body. There are two types of sleep apnea.
The first type is called obstructive sleep apnea and it is more common. It is caused by a blockage of the airway. The collapse of the soft tissues at the back of the throat is viewed as the most common reason behind that problem. The second type of sleep apnea is called central sleep apnea. It is characterized by the refusal of the brain to signal muscles to breathe and caused instability in the respiratory control center.
If you’re male and are overweight, you will likely suffer from sleep apnea. Age also contributes to the risk. People with large necks are also at risk. Large tonsils and tongue can also invoke this condition. It is also inherited. Gastroesophageal reflux can also contribute to sleep apnea. Nasal obstructions, sinus problems, various allergies and deviated septum block the airflow and could likely cause sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can lead to serious complications. People who suffer from sleep apnea can have high blood pressure. They are also at greater risk of stroke or heart failure. Their heartbeat can become irregular. This can lead to heart attacks. Headaches and depression are also linked to this condition. High cholesterol levels and diabetes are also connected to sleep apnea. Additionally, people who have sleep apnea cannot sleep properly which makes them tired throughout the day. The inability to concentrate impedes quality of work and can also lead to accidents.
- Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Sore and dry throat in the morning
- Waking up during the night due to choking
- Restless sleep
- Low libido and mood swings
- Regular awakenings during the night
This is a serious disorder that affects the brain. Narcolepsy is a neurological disease that disrupts the normal cycle of sleep and awake states, which really decreases the ability of a person to function properly. People who suffer from that condition have no control over falling asleep. Such episodes of falling asleep can happen anywhere any time. Another peculiarity of that condition is that the deep stage of sleep or REM sleep happens almost immediately after falling asleep. In the case of healthy people, the deep stage happens after 90 minutes of sleeping. This health condition usually begins in teenage years. Many people remain undiagnosed and the condition remains untreated. Still, science is not able to tell what causes narcolepsy. However, there are some breakthroughs. Scientists discovered the genes that are linked to it. These genes control chemical production in the brain responsible for sleeping and wakefulness. A chemical that regulates these states is called hypocretin. Some scientists believe that its deficiency is responsible for narcolepsy. Another cause is found in abnormalities of the brain. These abnormalities are in brain areas that are responsible for the regulation of REM sleep. There are various factors that when mixed together, cause neurological dysfunction. They also cause REM sleep related problems that are part of narcolepsy.
- Symptoms related to narcolepsy:
- Sleepiness throughout the day. This causes big trouble to the sufferer because the feeling of constant tiredness and sleepiness sometimes can make even simple daily tasks impossible. That feeling does not go away even if the sufferer has enough sleep. People who have narcolepsy are not able to think fast and clear. They lack energy and find it difficult to concentrate. Their memory is poor and have mood swings. The feeling of exhaustion is constant.
- Catalepsy is the condition in which a person is deprived of the ability to control their muscles. The muscles lose their tone and the person feels sudden weakness. Slurring or total collapse may occur. It can be triggered by sudden and strong emotions such as intense surprise, anger or happiness.
Hallucinations are also common in the people suffering from narcolepsy. They can be visual or can involve other senses. Such delusions trigger a whole range of emotions. They are usually accompanied by feelings of fear.
- Sleep paralysis is a common symptom. The inability to move or speak or total loss of muscle control is typical for that state. Usually, the loss of muscle control is short and happens while falling asleep or waking up. It can last up to several minutes. It is a scary experience. However, sleep paralysis disappears shortly and the person instantly regains his or her control over the muscles.
Restless Leg Syndrome
This is a neurological disorder. It is characterized by an urge to move the legs. Since it disrupts proper sleep, it is also considered a sleep disorder. The patient feels an urge to move his legs. He does that in order to relieve an irritating sensation resembling an itch. When the limbs are at rest, the sensation grows. The symptoms linked to this health problem can come and go. The severity of the problem may also vary. Nevertheless, during the night, restless leg symptoms can become intolerable. This disrupts the sleep of the patient and has a negative effect on their life. The restless leg syndrome affects both genders but is more common in women. It is a typical condition for middle-aged or old people. The problem connected to restless leg syndrome is often unrecognized and diagnosed incorrectly.
The reason behind restless leg syndrome is unknown but some genes are thought to play a role. There are various factors that are linked with the causation or worsening of the syndrome. The most common factors are chronic diseases, medications and pregnancy. The restless leg syndrome is related to iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and kidney failure. If those conditions are treated, the symptoms will be more or less abated. The symptoms are often worsened by some drugs. Antihistamines, antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs have a negative effect on the symptoms of the restless leg syndrome. Sleep deprivation and the usage of alcohol also make the symptoms worse.
The symptoms of restless leg syndrome may occur only at rest. Activity diminishes the severity of the symptoms and sitting and lying down makes them worse.
Symptoms of restless leg syndrome include:
- Deep and bizarre sensation in the legs; itching and feeling of ‘pins and needles’ are common
- An urge to move the limbs to get rid of the irritating sensation
- Restlessness in order to relieve the sensation
- Constant awakenings during the night and tiredness during the day
- Periodic limb movement disorder: the periodic jerking movements of the limb. It is involuntary movement that may occur anytime
Some patients may not have such symptoms for months. However, they re-occur. Those symptoms may deprive the patient of sleep which has a negative effect on his overall health.
What Causes Poor Sleep?
If you have trouble getting enough sleep but you do not suffer from the sleep disorders listed above, there may be something else that is disturbing your sleep. There may be some surprising reasons why your sleep is disrupted.
Do you get up during the night to pee? This is really uncomfortable and can really harm the quality of your sleep. The reason behind those awakenings can be harmless. If you drink too much liquid before bedtime, it is normal to get up to go to the bathroom. Try to decrease liquid intake before going to bed. This will improve your sleep. Other causes of these awakenings include certain medicines or medical problems, for example, a bladder infection.
- Alcohol consumption can also affect your sleep. Indeed, alcohol intake makes you feel sleepy, but that is just a temporary effect. After a few hours, that effect wears off and you feel more awake instead. Alcohol stimulates you and can decrease the quality of your sleep because it can make you toss and turn in bed. To avoid this, do not drink alcohol before going to bed.
- Heartburns can also disturb your sleep. When your body is in the horizontal position, it is easier for stomach juices to flow back up. To avoid heartburns during the night, try to have dinner at least 2 or 3 hours before going to bed. Do not eat spicy foods that may cause heartburn. You can also take some medicine or try to raise the upper part of your body with a pillow.
- Chronic conditions like arthritis can also negatively affect your sleep. The only way to control this situation is by taking medicines prescribed by your doctor. Unfortunately, many people suffer from such conditions and have a hard time getting enough sleep. There is not much that you can do about it.
- Caffeine can be your foe when it comes to a good night sleep. If you are addicted to coffee, you are likely to suffer from low quality sleep. Caffeine has a stimulating effect and does not allow your body to relax.To avoid that unpleasant sleepless state, try to limit your coffee intake. Cut down your daily coffee intake to 2 cups. Also, do not drink coffee at least 7 hours before going to bed. This way, you will avoid having a sleepless night.
- Stress is maybe the most common cause for the lack of good night sleep. The modern lifestyle can be really stressful. Almost half of the adult population states that stress triggers sleepless nights. Lying awake at night due to tension is a common problem. It can be related to work, family, partnership, or the recent decease of a loved one. Factors causing stress and sleep deprivation are countless. Racing thoughts can really turn the effort to sleep properly into a real nightmare. To calm down your thoughts, try to do something relaxing before going to bed. You can try to meditate, read a book or listen to some relaxing music before hitting the pillow.
- Sometimes, it is the surroundings that causes poor sleep quality. Some people tend to wake up because they feel too hot or too cold. Many people may find it extremely hard to find the right position in which the temperature feels right. This can also disrupt your sleep. Light or noise can also be irritating. Streetlights or noise from the street can deprive you of sleep. Try to sleep in a room with closed windows. Put heavy curtains to block out outside noise. Sometimes, pets can also make you have a hard time falling asleep. Cats can become extremely active at night. Try to avoid letting your cat into your bedroom if you want to sleep better.
How to Sleep Better
By making small changes to your daily routine, you can significantly improve your night sleep.
Your body has a natural cycle. Try to synchronize that cycle with your daily routine and you will see the difference that it will make. You may get enough sleep hours, but not feel refreshed and energized in the morning. The reason is because you go to sleep at different times. That confuses your natural cycle. You can easily change that. By making an attempt to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, you will significantly improve the quality of your sleep. By adjusting and regulating your natural clock, you will get fully rested during your sleep. Another important thing is not to oversleep during the weekends. If you need to sleep during the day, try to take naps that last around 15-20 minutes. Short naps will not to ruin your night sleep. Some people tend to get drowsy after a heavy dinner. If you succumb to the temptation to sleep after a heavy meal, you could ruin your healthy night sleep. Try to do something to fight the desire to go to bed.
Exposure to light also plays important role in your natural sleep-wake cycle. The main hormone that controls the cycle is melatonin. When it is dark, its secretion increases and makes you sleepy. When you are exposed to light, its secretion decreases, thus the body keeps itself awake and alert. To get the maximum melatonin, try to do the following things. During the day, especially in the morning, try to surround yourself with as much sunlight as possible. Go to the balcony and have your coffee and breakfast there. Or sit near a window. Try to spend as much time as possible outside in the sunlight. That will keep you alert. Try to be near windows during the day, let the sunlight in by opening wide any curtains or blinds. During night, avoid superficial light before bedtime. In that way, melatonin will be secreted in sufficient amounts. Try to avoid staring into screens before going to bed. At least try to turn down the monitor’s brightness. Do not watch TV before going to bed. That can stimulate you instead of making you feel sleepy. Instead of watching TV, try listening to soothing music or audio book. Try to sleep in a room that is completely dark or use a sleep mask. Heavy curtains will do the job and will protect you from the light outside. If there are some devices that glow in the dark – turn them off or cover them. If you need to get up during the night, try to keep the lights down. Dim nightlight is perfect for such occasions. Bright lights will irritate your eyes and make you alert. The dim light will help you fall back asleep more easily.
Physical exercises also improve your sleep. Regular physical activities keep you alert throughout the day and improve your quality of sleep at night. It relieves the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea by increasing the time you spend in the deep stage of sleep. Even the lightest physical exercise can be beneficial for your sleep, but you must bear in mind that it takes time to feel the benefit. You need to be patient and build an exercise routine that works for you. Physical activity benefits you in several ways. It improves your metabolism, stimulates the hormone secretion in your body and elevates your temperature. Still, it is not recommended to exercise before bedtime because you may get the opposite effect. If you train during the day, that will keep you alert and you will be tired enough to have a good rest and fall asleep easily. If you want to do some physical activity before bed, the recommended thing to do is yoga and stretching. This will relax you and will benefit your sleep.
Your diet also has an impact on the quality of your sleep. The things you consume influence your sleep cycle. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can disrupt your sleep. Caffeine can cause sleep problems even 10 hours after drinking it. Be cautious with coffee or other drinks that contain caffeine. Do not drink too much caffeine and try to avoid its consumption in the afternoon.
Cigarettes can also have a negative effect on your sleep. Smoking before bedtime can stimulate your body. Avoid smoking before going to bed to improve the quality of your sleep. If you love big meals for dinner, you may want to change that. Heavy and spicy foods can influence your sleep. Heartburns and digestive troubles will only worsen your sleep. Avoid eating at least two hours before going to bed. Alcohol also interferes with your sleep. It may feel like it makes you relax but that effect wears off in an hour or two. This can seriously harm the quality of your sleep. Drinking too much liquid may be considered healthy but avoid it before going to bed. Too much liquids mean that you will need to get up and go to the bathroom. Limit the drinking of fluids in order to improve your sleep.
Try to improve your sleep environment. By easy and simple alterations in your surrounding, you can significantly improve the quality of your sleep. The optimal conditions for good sleep are linked to darkness, temperature and noise. Make your bedroom quiet. Of course, you cannot fully eliminate the noise from the outside or people inside the house but try to muffle it somehow. Close the windows, turn on some sound machine or simply put on earplugs. Room temperature also plays an important role. The best temperature is 65F or 18C. Your bed needs to be as comfortable as possible. Your covers must allow free movement. The firmness of your mattress and pillow also matter. If you feel neck pain constantly, change your pillow.
The most important thing you should remember is that the bed is the place where only two things are allowed: sleeping and sex. Thus, the brain associates the bed as a place for rest. If you work, play games or watch TV in bed, your brain will associate the bed with those activities and will not be able to rest easily when you try to relax.
Meditation is really helpful for relaxation. Try to meditate before going to bed to eliminate the stress accumulated during the day. People who meditate sleep better. Try to make it a habit and you will benefit significantly. Stress is the main reason for many sleep and health disorders. Deep breathing and muscle relaxation really decrease its negative effect.
There are many ways to enjoy better sleep. Experiment and see which ones suit you best. Good night!