A to Z of Sleep

Let the specialists at Nithra help you understand the importance of achieving good sleep.

Sleep debt; the sense of not having sufficient sound sleep, is what affects several of usin ways that we don’t even realise and this is dangerous. Surveys reveal that over 60% of the adult population experiences sleep issues – even the occasional sleeping problem can add stress to your daily life or cause you to be less productive. However, only few people recognise the importance of adequate rest, or are aware that effective methods of managing sleep problems now exist.

How much sleep is enough?

In general, most healthy adults need an average of 6-8 hours of sleep a night. Some individuals are able to function without drowsiness with less than six hours of sleep while others can’t perform at their peak unless they’ve slept ten hours! And, contrary to what’s commonly mentioned, the need for sleep doesn’t decline with age; although the ability to get it all at one time may be reduced. If you have trouble staying alert on a regular basis, it means you aren’t getting enough good-quality sleep. Other signs include a tendency to be unreasonably irritable with people around you – family, friends or co-workers and difficulty in concentration.

Does that mean there are different kinds of sleep?

Normal sleepers have a relatively predictable “sleep architecture”- the term used to describe an alternating pattern of REM (rapid-eye-movement) and non-REM sleep.

REM sleep is when you dream, and it is characterised by a high level of mental and physical activity. Here, your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing are similar to what you experience while you are awake. The best sleep occurs when you have the right mix of REM and non-REM sleep, say scientists. Sleeping well without interruptions from the environment or factors like your breathing, is more likely to maintain your natural sleep architecture, therefore resulting in restful and restorative sleep.

Who is at risk for poor sleep?

Pretty much everyone suffers at least an occasional night of poor sleep but some individuals may be more vulnerable to longstanding difficulty. They include teenagers, students preparing for examinations, young adults with no fixed lifestyle patterns, shift workers, travellers, older adults and those suffering from acute stress, depression or chronic pain. However, many of the sleep stealers can combine in the elderly including impaired health, pain and increased use of medications.

What are the biggest “sleep stealers”?

  • Stress: Considered to be the leading cause of short-term sleeping difficulties, the common triggers of stress include education or job-related pressures; a family problem,a serious illness or death in the family – usually the sleep problem disappears when the stressful situation passes. But if short term sleep problems such as insomnia aren’t managed properly from the beginning, they will persist long after the original stress has passed. That’s why you should talk to a specialist at Nithra about any sleeping problem that recurs or persists for longer than one week.
  • Lifestyle: You may be doing things during the day or night (without much thought), including drinking alcohol or beverages containing caffeine in the afternoon or evening; exercising close to bedtime, following an irregular morning and evening schedule, and doing other mentally intense activities just before getting into bed.
  • Shift work: Sleep is particularly elusive for those who work shift-jobs. Shift work forces you to sleep when activities around you and your biological rhythms, signal you to be awake. Some studies show that shift workers are two to five times more likely than employees with regular, daytime hours to fall asleep on the job.
  • Jet Lag: Another sleep stealer;jet lag is the inability to sleep caused by travelling across several time zones, throwing your biological rhythms out of sync.It helps to avoid caffeine and alcohol during long flights.
  • Environmental interference’s: A distracting sleep environment such as a room that’s too hot or cold; too noisy or too brightly lit, can be a barrier to sound sleep. Also pay attention to the comfort and size of your bed as well as the habits of your sleep partner. If you have to lie beside some who snores, can’t fall or stay asleep or has other sleep difficulties, it often becomes your problem too!
  • Physical factors: A number of physical problems including arthritis, pains, backache, or bodily discomfort can interfere with your ability to fallasleep and sleep soundly. Sleep apnea (recognised by snoring and interrupted breathing), causes brief awakening and excessive daytime sleepiness. This calls for seeing a Nithra sleep specialist without delay.
  • Disorders: Involuntary limb movements during sleep, such as Restless Legs Syndrome, break up the normal sleep pattern causing you to have a less refreshing sleep, resulting in sleep debt or daytime sleepiness.
  • Pregnancy: Expectant mothers and those experiencing hormonal shifts from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or menopause and its accompanying hot flashes can also intrude on sleep.
  • Medication: Certain medicines like decongestants, steroids and some prescription tablets for high blood pressure, asthma or depression can cause sleeping difficulties as a side effect.

What is the secret to good sleep?

A visit to a sleep clinic like Nithra with a sleep specialist best way to begin. The doctor will ascertain whether there are any underlying problems that are contributing to or causing your sleep problem and proceed from there.

In many cases, your sleep specialist at Nithra will be able to recommend lifestyle changes that promote good sleep – but this isn’t universal and diagnoses differ from person to person. It helps to build into your schedule 6-8 hours of sleep, and follow this routine as regularly as possible (even on the weekends).

Here are a few more tips:

  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine and nicotine can delay sleep while alcohol may interrupt your sleep later in the night.
  • Exercise regularly, but do so at least three hours before bedtime. A very late workout actually keeps you awake because your body has not had a change to cool down.
  • Avoid large meals and strenuous exercise before bedtime and reduce use of stimulants including caffeine and nicotine.
  • Do not use your bed for anything other than sleep or sex.
  • Make your sleep environment as pleasant, comfortable, dark and quiet as you can.
  • If you have trouble sleeping at night; avoid napping during the day.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that allows you to unwind and send a ‘signal’ to your brain that it’s time to sleep. This includes avoiding exposure to bright lights before bedtime and taking a hot bath.
  • If you can’t go to sleep after 30 minutes in bed, don’t stay in tossing and turning. Get up and do something relaxing like listen to music or read, until you feel sleepy. Keep your mind clear and don’t attempt to solve your daily problems.

When should you seek help?

If your sleep problems persist for longer than a week and are bothersome or if sleeplessness interferes with the way you feel or function during the day, a Nithra opinion is advised. You’ll find that it is helpful to keep a diary and document your sleep habits for about ten days to identify exactly how much sleep you are getting over a period of time and the possible causes of interference with it.

The problems can be a) long while taken to fall asleep, b) staying asleep soundly or c) waking up unrefreshed. In these cases, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or behavioural approaches to treat the problem but where larger problems persist, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough. For a condition like insomnia, medication will be necessary to treat the problem; for sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, your doctor at Nithra may want to do a sleep study to gain more information about your sleep and breathing patterns.The specialists at Nithra advise caution while taking over-the-countersleep medicineswithout a proper prescription from yourphysician and you must never consume alcohol to aid you sleep.

Adequate sleep is as essential to health and performance, just as exercise and good nutrition. If you aren’t getting enough good quality sleep, talk to a sleep specialist at Nithra today. Good sleep rewards you with good health.