Sleep Tips for Adults
Taking time to fall asleep, waking frequently and having trouble going back to sleep? Feel groggy and lethargic in the morning? Do you feel drowsy during the day?
Sleep needs vary. In general, most healthy adults need seven to nine hours a night. Some people can function on as little as six hours; others need 10. And, contrary to the popular myth, the need for sleep doesn't decline with age.
Dr Alex Bartle New Zealand sleep expert and director of Sleep Well Clinics says sleep is a vitally important, active part of our lives.
“As we all know when we miss even one night of sleep, it can affect all aspects of our life, from physical health to emotional and psychological health.”
Issues that can arise include problems with immunity, tissue repair delays and even a lift in exposure to cancer while hypertension and diabetes are also more common in those who sleep poorly Dr Bartle says.
Poor sleepers can also suffer psychologically with depression, poor memory and impaired decision making all possible factors. People can become irritable and somewhat short tempered when they sleep poorly.
“A bed that is comfortable for each individual is most important. In general, bigger is better, in that you can have your own sleep space, but still be with a partner in the same bed. Each individual in a partnership is likely to have individual requirements for comfort,” Dr Bartle says.
How do you measure how much sleep you truly need? If you have trouble staying alert during boring or monotonous situations when fatigue is often ‘unmasked’, you probably aren't getting enough good quality sleep. Other signs are a tendency to be irritable or difficulty in concentrating or remembering facts.
Take any over-the-counter sleep medicine with caution. Your physician or pharmacist can advise on the different types of medications available and what’s most effective for you. If sleep problems persist for longer than a week or if sleepiness interferes with the way you feel or function during the day, consult a doctor.
Dr Bartle says some sleep clinics have people available to provide the important CBTI - Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia. Otherwise doctors tend to prescribe medication for insomnia and will refer to a hospital sleep unit or privately for possible sleep apnoea.
Sleep and Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of great joy, excitement and anticipation but can also be a time of sleep difficulty. Many women also feel very tired during pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters.
Changing hormone levels can cause fatigue and sleep problems during pregnancy. Rising progesterone levels can explain excessive daytime sleepiness; hormonal changes may result in snoring.
Interruptions such as these combined with nausea and other pregnancy-related discomforts can result in significant loss of sleep. Insomnia can be caused by emotions and anxiety about birth, motherhood and work and changing personal relationships. And for most women, getting a full night's sleep becomes even harder once baby is born.
Sleep and Travel
Drowsiness or fatigue has been identified as a major cause in traffic accidents. Jet lag is one of the known or suspected sleep disorders that impact millions of people each year. There is no question: sleep can affect travel and travel can affect sleep.
Air Travel and Jet Lag
Anyone who has ever flown is likely to have experienced some degree of jet lag. It happens when the body's biological clock is out of sync with local time. The result is that we feel abnormally sleepy during the day or wide awake at night.
In general, the severity of jet lag symptoms is directly related to the number of time zones crossed by a flight. Symptoms can include daytime sleepiness, night time alertness (insomnia), loss of appetite and other gastrointestinal dysfunctions, mood disturbances and difficulty concentrating or focusing.
Stress and Insomnia
Stress is a leading cause of short term sleeping problems. Common triggers include:
- School or job related pressures
- A family or marriage problem
- A serious illness or death in the family.
Usually the sleep problem disappears when the stressful situation passes. However, if short term sleep problems aren't managed properly from the beginning, they can persist.
Without realising it, you may be doing things during the day or night that can work against a good night's sleep - lifestyle stressors. These include drinking alcohol or beverages containing caffeine in the afternoon or evening, exercising close to bedtime, following an irregular morning and night schedule and working or doing other mentally intense activities before or after getting into bed.
Insomnia is an experience of inadequate or poor quality sleep as characterised by one or more of the following sleep complaints:
- Difficulty initiating sleep
- Difficulty maintaining sleep
- Waking too early in the morning.
Short term or acute insomnia is often due to a temporary situation such as stress, jet lag, change or loss job or relationship. It can last up to one month and is treatable. Effective and safe prescription medications can help.
Long term or chronic insomnia is experienced for a month or longer and can be secondary to other causes such as medical, physical or psychological conditions. It is important to get a medical diagnosis.
Fortunately, there are treatment options available for insomnia, ranging from behavioural therapy to the use of prescription medicines, or a combination of the two.
There are some general habits you can adopt that may help you sleep better. Not each of these practices may apply to everyone with insomnia, so you may want to focus on one or two that seem particularly relevant to your situation.
Sleep experts recommend the following tips to help you overcome sleep problems:
- Establish a regular bedtime routine and a regular sleep / wake schedule
- Don't spend too much time in bed
- Do not eat or drink too much before bedtime
- Create a sleep promoting environment that is quiet, dark and comfortable
- Consume less or no caffeine, particularly late in the day
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine, especially close to bedtime
- Exercise, but not within three hours before bed
- Avoid naps, particularly in the late afternoon or evening
- Keep a ‘sleep diary’ for one week to record sleep and health habits; share this record with your doctor or other healthcare professional.
While shift work does create potential productivity advantages, it also has some risks. Some of the most serious and persistent problems shift workers face are frequent sleep disturbance and associated excessive sleepiness.
Sleepiness / fatigue in the workplace can lead to poor concentration, absenteeism, accidents, errors, injuries and poor work. The issue becomes more alarming when you consider that shift workers are often employed in the most dangerous of jobs, such as fire-fighting, emergency medical services, law enforcement and security.
- Excessive sleepiness
- Disrupted sleep schedules
- Reduced performance
- Difficulties with personal relationships
- Irritability / depressed mood.