Dream On! Ways To Get Quality Sleep
by Joshua Wong, Senior Patient Care Pharmacist
After a long day at work, many can’t wait to relax in their plush bed and sleep their worries away. But what if sleeping adds more stress than it should?
To many, having a good night’s sleep is an unachievable dream. Sleep deprivation and disorders may not seem as important as other health conditions, but you should never take sleep woes lightly.
Types of sleep disorders
Most people will experience problems with sleeping at least once in their lifetime.
And besides insomnia, there are also many other sleep-related disorders that affect the quality of our lives, including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome (RLS) and narcolepsy.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which the person may stop breathing for a short period (10 seconds to 2 minutes) or have shallow breathing when sleeping. Types of sleep apnea include obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea caused by the obstruction in the upper airway is known as obstructive sleep apnea. Nasal congestion contributes to the risk of obstructive sleep apnea as it causes a narrowing of the upper airway and the individual struggles to breathe after short periods of not breathing.
On the other hand, central sleep apnea is caused by malfunctions in the brain centre that control breathing.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
Another common sleep-related disorder, RLS is the condition where a prickling or tingling sensation is present on the legs during sleep. These sensations can be relieved by moving, stretching or massaging the affected area, but will result in an interrupted sleep.
The common triggers of RLS include pregnancy, iron or vitamin deficiencies and kidney diseases.
Narcolepsy is characterised by excessive sleepiness in the day even after getting sufficient sleep. It may be accompanied by brief periods of muscle weakness or sleep paralysis, where the person is unable to move or talk when falling asleep.
A person suffering from this condition may fall asleep at any time, regardless of the situation or the location.
The most common sleep-related problem, insomnia is defined as the difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep. This in turn causes the person to feel extremely sleepy or have a lack of energy during the day.
Other effects of insomnia include finding it hard to concentrate, increased irritability, and feeling depressed.
In most cases, insomnia may be caused by one or more of the following factors.
- Having other medical conditions (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, depression, asthma)
- Consuming caffeine or alcohol late in the day, or exercising shortly before bedtime
- Doing mind-stimulating activities right before bedtime
- Having other sleep disorders (e.g. sleep apnea)
- Using oral decongestants, or other prescribed medicines
- Being pregnant, doing shift work or being involved in substance abuse
- Suffering from stress
Is 8 hours of sleep a must?
How many hours a person must sleep for the body to function optimally is not fixed. Sleep requirements vary with age group and from one individual to another.
Based on studies, a healthy adult may require about 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. However, there are individuals who can perform as good with 7 or 9 hours of sleep.
Infants require an average of 16 to 18 hours of sleep each day, while a pre-schooler needs 11 to 12 hours.
The quantity of sleep doesn’t matter as much as the quality – having 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep is better than having 20 hours of bad-quality sleep.
Sleep disorders & other health problems
Be it insufficient sleep or poor-quality sleep, sleep deprivation may result in serious health problems. The following are some of the many adverse effects sleep disorders bring.
Suffering from a lack of sleep may lead to a decline in the thought process, and the individual will find it hard to focus or pay attention during the day.
He/she may also feel more irritable and moody, and is at a higher risk of developing depression in the long run.
During sleep, there is usually a drop in blood pressure, which is important for your heart’s health.
However, insufficient sleep places the body under stress and triggers the release of stress hormones during the day. With these stress hormones circulating in the body, the blood pressure is likely to stay high even at night.
Other studies have shown that the lack of sleep can also trigger the release of inflammatory proteins, which may lead to an increased risk of atherosclerosis (i.e. the build-up of fatty substances on the arterial walls).
If you’re not having enough sleep, your body’s ability to fight against the common cold and flu may be reduced.
People lacking sleep tend to be overweight or obese with the preference for foods high in calories. This is because insufficient sleep affects the part of the brain which controls the appetite.
Not sleeping well or having enough sleep also puts individuals at a higher risk of getting type II diabetes.
Getting a good night’s sleep
For details on sleeping aids available in the market and tips on getting quality sleep, read ‘Say goodnight to insomnia’.