Are you getting enough sleep?

Good quality sleep. Are you getting enough? Go back to sleeping like a baby…

Sleep is a state of consciousness that happens every 24 hours. It is a period of rest and recuperation for the body and much needed ‘down time’ for the brain.

People vary in the amount of sleep they need, depending on their age, lifestyle, diet, personality and environment. Generally, we sleep less as we age and our sleep tends to be more broken. Newborn babies tend to sleep for around 16 hours out of every 24, while adults average seven hours and the elderly only six.

The body clock
Sleep is regulated by an internal ‘clock’, which is tuned by the day–night cycles (circadian rhythm). When the sun sets, your brain starts to release melatonin, a sleep inducing hormone until eventually you feel the need to retire for the night. In the morning, the hormones adrenocorticotropin or ACTH from the pituitary gland and cortisol from the adrenal gland, send a message that alerts the brain to wake up. Exposure to daylight prompts your brain to release these hormones.

Sleep stages

Sleep isn’t a static state of consciousness. We all go through various distinct stages of sleep, over and over, every night. Generally, the brain moves from light sleep to deeper sleep and eventually to rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep occurs regularly, about once every 90 to 120 minutes.

Brain waves in REM sleep are faster than in non-REM sleep. REM sleep is associated with dreaming and with stimulation of the parts of the brain used for learning, while body repair and growth tends to happen during non-REM sleep. It is important to get the right mix of both REM and non-REM sleep to maintain your natural sleep cycle and help you wake rested and refreshed.

Common sleep disorders

Sleep seems to be a complicated state of consciousness, since it can be disturbed in so many ways. Some of the more common sleep complaints include:

  • Insomnia – Difficulties in falling asleep or staying asleep. The most common sleeping disorder  in adults.
  • Narcolepsy – Extreme tiredness with intermittent sleepiness during the day which can include voluntary napping.
  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder – Muscle spasms of the legs that often wake the sleeper.
  • Restless leg syndrome – This feels like cramps or some kind of irritation in the lower legs. The person feels they need to move their legs or walk around.
  • Sleep apnoea – The upper airway is blocked causing airflow and breathing to stop for a time during sleep.
  • Sleepwalking – This tends to affect children more than adults.
  • REM sleep behaviour disorder –  The sleeper acts out what’s happening in their dreams.


Some disorders such as sleepwalking, sleep starts and snoring often don’t require any treatment because they are harmless. Lifestyle changes can help relieve mild or occasional symptoms if they are causing an unwanted disruption to your life.

Insomnia, the most common form of sleep complaint, requires assessing and treatment of the cause (or causes) rather than insomnia itself. Some of the more involved sleep disorders need to be treated at a sleep disorder clinic. While snoring may be harmless (benign snoring), it may indicate a more serious medical condition, obstructive sleep apnoea.

Tips for improving your sleep

  1. Get out of bed as soon as you wake. Don’t go back to sleep or try to make up for ‘lost sleep’.
  2. Try to get up at about the same time each morning.
  3. Go outside into the fresh air.
  4. Do some physical activity, go for a walk.
  5. Do not nap during the day. If you nap, you’ll be less tired when you go to bed and you’ll probably take longer to fall asleep.
  6. If you’re worrying about things during the night, set aside some time for problem-solving during the day. Identify problems that are causing you stress.
  7. Keep a sleep-wake diary.
  8. Review your sleep-wake progress with your doctor at each visit.
  9. Avoid drinking caffeine after 4pm and try not to drink more than two cups of caffeine-type drinks each day eg. coffee, strong tea, cola or energy drinks.

Overcoming long term sleep problems

For some people, sleeping problems may last for weeks, months or even years. Not surprisingly this may lead to anxiety about getting to sleep, which in turn makes the problem even worse. It can be helpful to take specific steps to break the cycle of feeling anxious and restless in bed. Below are some steps to follow when you can’t get to sleep.

Get up if you can’t sleep after trying for 15 to 20 minutes. Staying in bed when you’re feeling restless and anxious is unlikely to result in sleep.

Do something quiet and distracting such as read or enjoy a warm bath. If your mind is very active or you can’t stop worrying, it may be helpful to concentrate on something else, such as doing a crossword or watching television. By distracting yourself from your worries, you may find it easier to wind down and become sleepy.

Go back to bed when you feel more relaxed and sleepy.

If you’re still awake after a further 15 to 20 minutes, get out of bed again. Repeat this process until you fall asleep shortly after returning to bed.

Remember, sleep disorders can be serious and should be investigated and treated at a sleep disorders centre.

Source:Better Health channel

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