By Iris Hunter
Do you get the recommended “quantity” of hours of sleep per night, only to wake up feeling as though you didn’t get enough “quality” sleep?
If so, then you are not alone. There are countless individuals who currently suffer from the lack of sleep and/or the lack of quality sleep. Thirty-five percent of Americans report that their sleep quality is either “poor” or “only fair,” according to the National Sleep Foundation’s inaugural Sleep Health Index™.
Dr. Nancy Behrans of Novant Health Sleep has been practicing sleep medicine for nine years, and knows the importance of consistently getting a good night’s rest. She believes that most individuals do not get the proper amount of sleep during the week mainly because of their work and family demands, nightly routine and their lack of awareness of the recommended amount of sleep they should get per night.
Not getting the suggested amount of sleep or enough quality sleep can have a huge effect on your body. The short-term effects can include irritability, sickness and higher levels of depression and anxiety. Long-term effects can include a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, says Behrans.
Obvious signs of someone not getting the proposed amount of sleep per night include yawning and droopy or heavy eyes. However, in some cases, it may not be noticeable.
“Sometimes people don’t notice that they are sleepy if they are running around, but when they sit down to relax, then they really feel how sleepy they are…They can nod off,” she says.
In addition, sometimes an inadequate amount of sleep can affect an individual’s memory. If you are driving home and you don’t remember the last couple of miles or you missed an exit, then this likely occurred because you were sleepy.
Nearly 40 million American men and women suffer from sleep disorders, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you have been consistently suffering from lack of sleep, then it is possible that you may have a sleep disorder.
There are many types of sleep disorders, and they can be inherited. “There is a genetic predisposition towards pretty much all the sleep disorders, whether it’s insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless leg and sleep walking,” says Behrans.
The most common type of sleep disorder is insomnia. This occurs when individuals have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or have unrefreshing sleep. Insomnia can be caused by various factors, including personal habits, sleep apnea, health problems and medications. Some things that you can do to help prevent insomnia include figuring out your sleep requirements, avoiding caffeine after 2 p.m., exercising, using a sleep mask or earplugs and having a relaxing bedtime routine, she says.
Although sleep disorders can actually be caused by a medical problem, personal habits can also contribute. For example, individuals may find it hard to fall asleep if they use electronic devices before going to bed, watch television in bed, watch the clock or even sleep in late or take long or late naps.
“Light from these devices is registered on the retina at the back of the eye, resembling sunlight and giving the brain the false signal that it is still daytime. The brain then does not produce melatonin as it typically does when it gets dark. Melatonin helps the brain get drowsy for sleep. Therefore, the brain feels more alert than it should at nighttime,” says Behrans.
In some cases, an individual’s sleep pattern may not change even after they change their personal habits. If you’ve made the recommended changes and you’re still not sleeping well, then you may want to follow up with a physician or a sleep specialist.