Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Health Minute

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When it comes to a good night’s sleep, there are a number of frequently asked questions that our doctors hear. Hopefully we can clear up a few of myths and provide some of the facts you need to catch some Zzz’s.

Eight hours of sleep each day is a good baseline for most adults. Some people need as few as five hours or as many as ten hours of sleep each day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Women in the first three months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual. The amount of sleep a person needs also increases if he or she has been deprived of sleep in previous days. The NIH compares getting too little sleep or a "sleep debt" to being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand the debt be repaid. We don't seem to adapt to getting less sleep than we need; while we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are still impaired.

Here are some signs you need more sleep:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Napping
  • Trouble focusing or remembering things
  • Feeling irritable or short-tempered
  • Needing caffeine or other stimulants to stay awake
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep at night (insomnia)

What is sleep apnea?

If you’ve ever had a stuffed-up nose, you know the feeling of trying to breathe through a very narrow passageway. This is what happens in your throat when you snore. 

While you sleep, structures in your throat partially block your air passage, narrowing the passage and making it difficult to breathe. If the entire passage becomes blocked and you can’t breathe at all, you have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when blocked airways cause breathing to stop for a few seconds to a few minutes during sleep. This can be a significant obstacle in getting a good night’s sleep.

It’s usually a partner who notices the symptoms, which include snoring or choking or gasping for breath during sleep. This causes fragmented sleep, causing fatigue all day. Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, heart enlargement, abnormal heart rhythms, poor memory or concentration, irritability and depression.

A sleep study can diagnose sleep apnea, but treatment depends on the cause and severity. For example, if you are overweight and have a mild case of sleep apnea, losing weight and sleeping on your side may be enough. In moderate to severe cases, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask might be needed to force air into your nose and mouth so you don’t stop breathing. In rare cases, surgery might be needed.

Is Caffeine the Answer?

You may know that caffeine stimulates your brain. But did you know its effects can last long after your energy boost wears off? That’s because it takes your body three to seven hours to metabolize a half serving of caffeine. So if you rely on coffee, tea or soda to get through the afternoon, you could be paying the price at night. You may have trouble falling or staying asleep. And, once you do sleep, the caffeine can disrupt your sleep patterns, keeping you from getting the restful, restorative deep Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep you need.

What is REM?

It takes time to reach the REM stage, so if your sleep is often interrupted during the night, you could be missing out on some important REM sleep. REM or rapid eye movement is a deep sleep, where your body gets some of the most restful sleep. This is the stage where you dream, have more brain activity and move around less. Although your brain is active, it’s very relaxing and restorative sleep.

Throughout the night, you cycle through several sleep stages. Stages one and two are light sleep, stages three and four are deeper, REM is deepest. During the night, you move back and forth between the sleep stages and each time you reach REM it lasts a little longer.

What Does Too Much Sleep Mean?

It is possible to get too much sleep. In fact, if you sleep more than seven or eight hours a night and still feel tired the next day, it could be a sign of an underlying health problem. You should see your doctor to make sure you don’t have anemia (too few red blood cells) or a thyroid problem. These conditions often make people feel very tired.

Some studies have linked sleeping too much with higher risks of developing diabetes, obesity, headaches, depression, back pain and heart disease. So if you’re worried about sleeping too much, you shouldn’t ignore it. And, if you think a sleep disorder could be to blame for your drowsiness, keep a sleep journal and go over it with your doctor. Jot down what time you went to bed, about what time you fell asleep and woke up, how well you think you slept, how you felt when you woke up and how you felt through the day.

Talk to your doctor if you often wake up tired and discuss how to improve your sleeping habits.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.