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Why Sleep Matters - Noel Matthews


Sleep is one of the most important things we do every day, and yet so many people don’t get enough. We often hear that we need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, but some people only need 6 hours or less to feel rested. The truth is that it’s not easy to calculate how much sleep you should be getting because there are so many factors that affect your body’s sleep needs- like age, activity level, stress levels, etc.

In this post I will consider sleep and give you advice on recognising whether or not you have a sleeping disorder, ways to deal with insomnia and also look at some natural ways to get to sleep.

Do You Have A Sleep Disorder?

While many people with sleep disorders are well aware of their difficulties, there are many others that have sleep disorders, but don’t realize it. Could you be one of the 70 million people in the US alone that suffer from a sleep disorder?

Let’s find out.

There are several symptoms that suggest you might be suffering from a sleep disorder:

  1. Tired even after a full night of sleep. Do you still feel tired after having at least seven hours of sleep? Try to keep track of the time you fall asleep and when you wake up. If you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep and still feel tired, this is a strong indication that you might have a sleep disorder.
  2. Loud snoring, gasping, or you stop breathing during sleep. Does anyone tell you that you snore loudly? Or that you stop breathing during the night? Do you gasp for breath in your sleep? You might have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can also cause excessive fatigue since you’re not sleeping well.
  3. Fall asleep at the wrong times. Do you find yourself nodding off at work or in front of the TV in the early evening? This is another sign that your normal sleep is disturbed in some way.
  4. Difficulty falling asleep or can’t stay asleep. If you have either of these issues for more than a month, you may have a sleeping disorder. Waking up early and not being able to fall back asleep can also be a sign of depression.

Do any of these symptoms seem familiar? If so, you might have a sleeping disorder. The first step is to ensure that you’re getting enough time in bed each night. If that’s not the issue, it might be time to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

There are five primary types of sleep disorders:

  1. Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when breathing isn’t continuous during the night. This can either be due to an obstruction in the airway or a lack of coordination between the brain and the muscles involved in breathing.
  2. Insomnia. This is a difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep. There are many potential causes of insomnia, including stress and hormonal issues.
  3. Parasomnias. These are unusual behaviors that occur during sleep. These include:
    • Teeth grinding
    • Bedwetting
    • Sleepwalking and sleep talking
    • Nightmares
  4. Narcolepsy. This sleep disorder involves falling asleep very quickly when you should be awake. At the most extreme, a narcolepsy sufferer could suddenly fall asleep while driving. More mild cases might involve suddenly excusing yourself from the dinner table and lying down for a nap.
  5. Restless leg syndrome. This sensation is hard to describe if you’ve never experienced it. It feels similar to your foot or leg falling asleep. It’s not quite the same prickly feeling, but it’s close. It’s a very uncomfortable tingle. You also have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs to relieve the discomfort.

Sleep disorders can range from mildly annoying to dangerous. You can’t live indefinitely without sleep, and the quality of your sleep impacts the rest of your life. If you think you might have a sleep disorder, make an appointment with your physician and get checked out.

Dealing With Insomnia

Insomnia is perhaps the most common sleep disorder but there is good news for sufferers. The symptoms can include struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep. You may also feel tired and irritable throughout the day and have trouble thinking clearly. It’s important to understand the reason behind your insomnia, so you can figure out what to do about it. It may be tied to your lifestyle or to underlying health conditions. In some cases, insomnia may linger after other medical issues have been resolved, unless you change your habits too.

Insomnia is undoubtedly a major inconvenience but it can often be overcome with simple remedies. Try these strategies to help you enjoy more restful sleep:

Lifestyle Changes for Dealing with Insomnia

  • Learn to relax. Daily stress and disturbing thoughts can interfere with sleep. Find relaxation practices that work for you, such as listening to music or practicing deep breathing exercises. With time and practice, these skills will become second nature. You’ll be able to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
  • Block out noise. The noise of traffic, lively neighbors and the city can be distracting, but there are ways to block out these distractions. There is a way for you to sleep soundly at night while drowning out the noise with pink noise or rainfall recordings. These recordings will help you sleep better and stay asleep longer without being bothered by outside noises. Hanging blackout curtains may help too if you need to darken your bedroom at night.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. Take days off from drinking liquor and finish your last cup of coffee before 2 pm. Check labels for caffeine in other products like chocolate and carbonated beverages. Reducing your alcohol consumption will help you sleep better because of the effects it has on liver enzymes, which in turn affects how quickly you metabolize alcohol. Caffeine increases cortisol levels, which interrupts natural sleeping patterns by causing adrenaline to release at night time instead of during the day when we are active. By cutting back on both substances before bedtime, you’ll find yourself getting more restful sleep.
  • Eat light. It’s more difficult to fall asleep when your body is digesting a heavy meal. It’s more difficult to fall asleep when your body is digesting food, so if you eat dinner late at night it may be more challenging to get a good night’s sleep. Eat dinner earlier and if you must eat something late at night remember there are some foods that can help promote the onset of sleep. For example, bananas contain potassium and magnesium which are both essential for muscle relaxation and stress reduction in order to aid with sleep.
  • Exercise regularly. Design a workout program and stick to it. A survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that adults who are physically active are one third less likely to report sleep problems and half as likely to report daytime tiredness; this means that even if you can’t always find time for a full night’s worth of zzzs, taking the time each day for some light exercise will go a long way in helping with your quality of life.
  • Create bedtime rituals. It’s important for your health and sanity that you create bedtime rituals. These can be anything from reading a favorite book or having a warm bath before crashing out. The point is to prepare yourself for sleep so that it comes easily.

Medical Treatments and Alternative Therapies for Dealing with Insomnia

About 30% of adults experience insomnia occasionally, while another 10% have chronic conditions that can last for several months or more, according to the American Sleep Association. If insomnia is disrupting your life, your doctor may be able to help.

These strategies can help:

  • Get examined. A physical examination can help you receive appropriate treatment as soon as possible. Use a sleep journal to track your symptoms and write down questions you want to share with your doctor.
  • Go for counseling. Depression and anxiety can contribute to insomnia. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist for cognitive behavioral therapy, which can sometimes produce dramatic results in a short time. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that typically includes: relaxation training (deep breathing and meditation), stimulus control (changing sleep habits such as going to bed at the same time every night), sleep restriction (limiting hours in bed) and cognitive restructuring (challenging thoughts about why you can’t sleep)
  • Consider medications. Talk with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter sleep products. Proper supervision can help you minimize side effects and avoid taking any drug for longer than recommended. There are many options available and they can have different side effects from person to person. For example, some people experience dry mouth or daytime drowsiness when taking certain medications that help them sleep better. If you find a product that works for you but has negative side effects, consult your doctor on alternative treatments
  • Relieve pain. Physical discomfort makes it difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep can make you more sensitive to pain. Ask your doctor if physical therapy might help with your symptoms. If you are experiencing physical discomfort or pain here a few tips for easing your pain to help you sleep better:
  • Use an ice pack on the area that hurts
  • Take ibuprofen or other medication for inflammation
  • Apply heat packs on sore muscles before bedtime
  • Massage sore spots with lotion
  • Use herbs. Let your doctor know about any herbal remedies you want to try, so they can advise you on their safety and coordinate your treatment.Research shows mixed results, but many adults swear by them. Many adults swear by chamomile tea or valerian root supplements to help them sleep. They are available over the counter in health food stores. Here are some of the most popular options for insomniacs:
  • Valerian Root Supplements: Valerian is a natural sedative that can be taken as capsules or brewed into tea. It works best when taken about an hour before bedtime and it’s recommended not to take more than two capsules per day because it may cause drowsiness during the day.
  • Chamomile Tea: Chamomile has calming properties and is often used to make herbal teas. It’s also beneficial as an essential oil that you can put on your pillow before bedtime to help with relaxation. If you’re interested in trying this out, here are some steps:
  • Pour boiling water over the dried flowers of chamomile
  • Steep for 10 minutes
  • Drink hot or cold after brewing

Natural Ways To Get To Sleep

How long does it take you to fall asleep? The average time is about 10 to 20 minutes. If you fall asleep much faster, you may be sleep deprived. If you take much longer, you may find it difficult to get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of slumber. Whether medical, psychological or alternative interventions are for you or not there still practical actions you can take to aid sound sleep. Try these tactics and techniques:

  • Synchronize your schedule. You’re reading this because you’ve been having a hard time sleeping, and it’s not just on weekdays. You toss and turn in bed all night long, but the alarm clock never seems to go off. You might be wondering if there is any way you can sleep better or find more hours in your day. One of the best ways to improve your sleep is by establishing a routine that includes going to bed at regular times, even on weekends and holidays- no matter what. You’ll be training your body and mind to develop a rhythm for when to become drowsy.
  • Use relaxation exercises. Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are two popular methods for hastening sleep. It also helps to manage stress during the day and visualize pleasant images at bedtime. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves tensing and relaxing different muscles in your body, starting with your toes and working up to your head. Deep breathing exercises involve taking deep breaths from the stomach, filling the lungs all the way up for three seconds, then exhaling deeply through pursed lips for three seconds as well. These techniques can be done together or separately depending on what works for you.
  • Forget the clock. The worst feeling is when you are lying in bed, trying to fall asleep but can’t. You’re laying there thinking about how tired you are and it just makes things worse. It’s hard not to worry about the time and what your body needs, but worrying about falling asleep can keep you awake longer. Resist the urge to keep checking what time it is.
  • Leave the room. If you’re unable to relax, you may want to get out of bed. The reason for this is that your brain associates the act of sleeping with being in a specific environment. If you are in an area where there are many distractions or light, it will be difficult for your brain to calm down and fall asleep. It can also be helpful if you have trouble falling asleep because of anxiety or stress as well Go to another room and do something boring, it may help.
  • Keep a journal. Sleep issues can have many different causes. Keep a journal of what has been going on in your life so that when you go to bed at night, you can think about how well things are going and can let those thoughts drift away as you fall asleep. This way, you won’t be stressing over tomorrow’s problems while trying to sleep tonight Also, recording your habits in a journal could enable you to spot patterns and help you talk with your doctor if you need to explore medical reasons.
  • Adjust your temperature.The thermostat in your bedroom should be set to 60-67 degrees, so you can sleep better. This will increase the quality of your sleep through the night by regulating your body’s internal temperature throughout the night. Sleeping at a cooler temperature helps to decrease alertness during REM sleep and may also reduce nighttime sweating, which can cause bedwetting in children. A cool room will help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and have more energy when you wake up in the morning
  • Turn off your devices. Set a curfew on watching TV and browsing online. Technology has made our lives easier in many ways. But it can be hard to resist the temptation of just one more episode or a little bit more of browsing online. Shutting off electronic devices at least two hours before bed will minimize your exposure to bright screens and excess stimulation.
  • Check your bedding. How old is your mattress? It’s easy to sleep well if you have the right bedding. Check your mattress, sheets, and pillows for wear and tear. If they’re old or too soft, replace them with new ones that will be more comfortable. Visit a sleep store for the latest in memory foam mattresses, weighted blankets, and other products that might work for you.

We all know how important sleep is. A good night’s sleep is absolutely vital to our health and well-being. In fact, it’s so important that the World Health Organization has declared insufficient sleep a public health epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that poor or inadequate quality of sleep can lead to serious consequences including elevated risk for heart disease, obesity, stroke, depression, diabetes and more. I have explored here some simple steps we can all take to help us get a better night’s rest. Good luck in your quest to get rested!

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