Regardless of what you call it — shuteye, 40 winks, or Zzzzs — sleep is essential to our physical and mental well-being. Sleep Awareness Week, March 12-18, 2023, promotes the significance of good sleep habits and highlights the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation. It happens in conjunction with the start of Daylight Savings Time when people in a majority of states in the US forfeit an hour of sleep to reset the clock.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
The importance of sleep cannot be overstated, as it plays a critical role in many aspects of our lives. According to the National Institutes of Health, a lack of quality sleep can result in various health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Additionally, lack of sleep can affect our mood, cognitive function, and overall quality of life. A lack of sleep can also affect memory and attention span. Research shows that sleep deprivation can contribute to developing mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Conversely, getting enough quality sleep can improve mood and reduce the risk of developing these disorders.
One factor that can affect sleep quality is stress. When we experience stress, our bodies release cortisol, a hormone that can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle. Individuals can practice relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to reduce stress and promote better sleep.
Despite the numerous benefits of sleep, many people struggle to get enough of it. The American Sleep Association reports that 50-70 million adults in the US have a sleep disorder, with insomnia being the most common. In addition, approximately 35% of adults report getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night.
Common Sleep Disorders
There are several types of sleep disorders, which are medical conditions that can affect the quality and duration of sleep.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, affecting millions worldwide. Characteristics of insomnia include difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking up too early, or feeling unrefreshed upon waking. Many factors, including stress, anxiety, depression, medications, caffeine, and alcohol, can cause insomnia.
- Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep, leading to brief awakenings throughout the night. It can cause snoring, gasping, choking sounds, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by a physical obstruction in the airway, and central sleep apnea, which is caused by a failure of the brain to signal the muscles to breathe.
- Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs, like itching, burning, or crawling, that can only be relieved by movement. It often occurs in the evening or at night, leading to difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden sleep attacks. It can also cause sleep paralysis, in which a person is temporarily unable to move or speak and experiences vivid hallucinations upon falling asleep or waking up.
Parasomnias are a group of sleep disorders involving abnormal behaviors or experiences during sleep. Some common examples include sleepwalking, sleep talking, night terrors, and nightmares. These conditions can be distressing for the person experiencing them and their sleep partner.
- Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Circadian rhythm disorders disrupt the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to difficulty falling asleep or staying awake at the desired times. Some common examples include jet lag, shift work disorder, and delayed sleep phase syndrome.
Bruxism is a sleep disorder that involves grinding or clenching the teeth while sleeping. It can cause tooth damage, jaw pain, headaches, and other problems.
5 Tips To Improve Sleep
- Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate the body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up. Developing a consistent sleep schedule helps maintain your circadian rhythm — your mental, physical, and behavioral changes following a 24-hour cycle.
- Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment
A comfortable sleep environment promotes restful sleep. For example, a cool, dark, and quiet bedroom; a comfortable mattress and pillows; and breathable bed linens all contribute to a relaxing environment. In addition, eliminating noise and light exposure can also help.
One area that’s gained attention in recent years is the impact of technology on sleep. For example, the blue light emitted by electronic devices, like smartphones and tablets, can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. As a result, using these devices before bedtime can disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to fall asleep.
Many devices and apps now offer “night mode” settings that reduce blue light emissions in the evening to address this issue. In addition, some sleep-tracking apps can help people monitor their sleep patterns and identify areas for improvement.
- Avoid Stimulants Before Bedtime
Consuming caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bedtime can interfere with sleep quality. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can increase alertness and disrupt your sleep cycle. While alcohol may initially cause drowsiness, it can disturb sleep and cause you to wake during the night.
- Practice Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help reduce stress and promote restful sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, practicing mindfulness and meditation can improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia symptoms.
- Limit Daytime Napping
Although a short nap during the day can be refreshing, excessive daytime napping can interfere with your sleep cycle and lead to difficulty falling asleep at night.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
If you think you may have a sleep disorder, please contact the Vail Health Sleep Disorder Center. Our healthcare team offers noninvasive, painless tests to determine a treatment plan to ensure you get the sleep you need. Sweet dreams!
This article was reviewed by Suzanne Torris, MS, RN, FNP.