As you fight to get going every morning, you might think, ‘So what if I don’t get enough sleep? That’s basically the whole experience of adulthood, right?’ Although lack of sleep and its effects are shockingly common in the United States, you still have plenty of reason to attend to it. Poor sleep is tied to so many short-term problems and chronic health issues.
Bad sleep habits could be ruining your life in 10 different ways without you being aware of the cause of any of them. Fortunately, improving your sleep doesn’t have to take a long time or a ton of work. Looking at how inadequate sleep affects your daily function and health can give you the incentive to get it under control.
Symptoms of Poor Sleep
Once you fall into a habit of inadequate sleep, it may start to feel like life. Slipping into unhealthy sleep patterns can happen in as little as a week or two. You know that you are struggling to get good sleep when you notice these symptoms:
- Routinely snoozing or turning off the alarm to go back to sleep
- Trouble getting started in the morning
- Needing caffeine several times a day to keep going
- Difficulty driving a car or operating equipment that requires quick thinking
- Falling asleep unexpectedly throughout the day
- Taking less than five minutes to get to sleep at night
The presence of these symptoms can change with age, activity and overall health. The longer you stick to a bad pattern, the more likely you’ll keep picking up symptoms.
Sleep Quality vs. Quantity
Contrary to popular belief, insufficient sleep can happen regardless of the time you actually spend in bed. If you hit the sack six hours before you wake up, it’s easy to tell that you are not getting enough sleep. People who go to bed at 10:00 and wake up at 7:00 may also be suffering from poor sleep.
The difference is quality vs. quantity. Someone who sleeps like a rock for seven hours may be getting better sleep than a person who gets ten hours of interrupted rest. In fact, sleep that is frequently interrupted may be the reason people feel like they need more sleep. This is why it’s important to pay attention to the cause. Staying in bed longer often isn’t the most effective solution.
Causes of Lack of Sleep
Inadequate sleep is a big problem for American adults. More than one in three adults gets less than seven hours on a regular basis. About 60 million have a sleep disorder. Common causes can be broadly divided into behaviors and health conditions. Behaviors that influence sleep include:
- Alcohol or Smoking: Drinking alcohol or smoking influences a person’s sleep cycle, making restful sleep harder to achieve.
- Diet: People who eat heavy meals or consume caffeine before bed may take longer to get to sleep.
- Exercise: Insufficient activity during the day can lower sleep quality.
- Sleep Hygiene: A bedroom that is full of activity and bright lighting promotes alertness. This trains the body to think of the bed for other tasks instead of sleep.
- Sleep Schedule: Not allowing enough time for sleep, or keeping an inconsistent sleep schedule, denies the body the regular rest it needs.
- Environmental Interruptions: If you have a young child at home who wakes frequently, or a noisy neighbor, you may not get enough sleep.
Besides habits, people may encounter health-related concerns that affect their ability to sleep, such as:
- Medications: Certain medications affect the sleep cycle or sedate people to the point that they struggle to wake up.
- Insomnia: Trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep means that people spend less time in bed actually sleeping.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: The inability to breathe or get sufficient oxygen during sleep is one of the most frequent causes of poor sleep and snoring.
- Mental Illness: Common illnesses like depression and anxiety can change how people get to sleep or how much sleep they feel they need.
- Chronic Pain: Pain or discomfort while resting makes it harder to find a comfortable spot. This can aggravate insomnia or lead to frequent waking.
Considering the causes helps people to determine if they have troublesome habits that make good rest more difficult, or if they should consult a doctor about health issues influencing sleep quality.
Side Effects of Lack of Sleep
Like many other issues you may have to deal with, poor sleep gets worse the longer it lasts. Even one night of bad sleep can create the following effects:
- Lack of energy for normal activities
- Struggle to pay attention or remember important information
- Increase in stress, depression or anxiety
The approximately 5% of adults who say they nod off while driving once a month can tell you that getting behind the wheel while drowsy may be deadly. Researchers found that people who are sleep deprived make decisions about as well as people who are drunk.
If the immediate effects aren’t enough to get your attention, there’s a whole host of long-term health problems that you could develop if you are chronically sleep-deprived:
- Mood disorders
- Autoimmune disease
Insufficient sleep presents a multi-faceted attack on your health. If you’re already at risk for these conditions due to genetics, age, physical health or other factors, poor sleep increases your chances. If you already have one or more of them, inadequate sleep can make it harder to manage. Treating sleep as one of the most important things in your life may improve your long-term health in ways you could not have imagined.
How to Know You’re Getting Enough Sleep
The idea that adults are supposed to be tired all the time is practically baked into our culture. People grab a latte on their way to work and a Monster in the afternoon. This can make it harder to know what adequate sleep looks like. Simply put, good sleep is what you need to feel rested and refreshed when you first wake up. It can be more difficult to determine if you have chronic health problems that lower your sleep quality, or nighttime medications that make you feel groggy when you wake.
Most adults need around 7-9 hours per night on a consistent basis. This doesn’t mean that sleeping seven hours one night and nine hours the next counts as healthy rest. Your body works best on a routine that you can follow seven days a week. Try out different sleep routines to see how you feel. Keep in mind that adjusting your sleep schedule can take a few weeks to notice benefits. You will know that you have a good balance when you’re comfortably waking up at the same time every day and feeling less reliant on that first cup of coffee.
Tips to Improve Sleep Quality
As anyone with insomnia can tell you, there’s more to sleep than just heading to bed at the right time. If you’re sleeping badly on a regular basis, you may need to change your entire approach to get to the level of sleep quality you need. Think about the various aspects of your sleep environment, and consider the following:
- Use bedding that is clean, comfortable and not too warm
- Replace your mattress if it is several years old or provides inadequate support
- Set your bedroom temperature a bit cooler at nighttime
- Declutter your bedroom to minimize bedtime distractions
- Install window treatments to block light and drafts
- Improve your diet, especially in the hours before rest
- Set a goal for 30 minutes of light exercise daily
- Address snoring, which can be a sign of poor sleep
- Seek regular care to manage chronic health problems
If you have a common condition like Obstructive Sleep Apnea that affects sleep quality, you may have a variety of treatment options to manage it. Many people with OSA benefit from using a sleep apnea mouthpiece to hold open their airway and cut down on the number of sleep interruptions.
Poor sleep causes so many problems that ignoring it may seem nonsensical. The right solution could mean the difference between life and death for you and the people around you. At Premier Sleep Associates, our dental sleep medicine experts can help you make noticeable improvements to your sleep quality. Schedule a consultation or contact us at (425) 698-1732.