Feeling dozy during the day? Struggling to get to sleep at night? You are not alone. Adults are increasingly suffering from a lack of sleep. So how much sleep does your body actually need, and how can you tell if you have a sleep problem?
According to Darrel Wicks, Manager of the Epworth HealthCare sleep unit in Camberwell, there is no magic number of hours of sleep we need at a particular age, and it is all about the quality of sleep.
Listening to your circadian rhythm is all part of ensuring quality sleep.
Darrel says adolescents also need more sleep and have trouble waking in the mornings. While this is frustrating for parents, it is a result of a change in their circadian cycle.
Adults generally have a dip in their circadian cycle in the middle of the night (around 2am to 4am), and again in the early afternoon.
"While occasional late nights do not present a problem, if you are consistently and excessively sleepy during the day, you may need to look at your sleep patterns and see if you have an issue," Darrel says.
The two most common problems are insomnia and sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea occurs when breathing is constricted during sleep, and is more common in men than women. Most patients with sleep apnoea are not aware they have stopped breathing.
Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or waking up multiple times overnight and having trouble getting back to sleep. Women are more likely to experience insomnia than men.
If you are having difficulties sleeping, Darrel suggests a visit to your GP who can refer you through to a respiratory and sleep specialist. Insomnia is often treated through a psychologist and meditation, or with medication.
If your specialist suspects you may have sleep apnoea, they will most likely refer you for a sleep study. Centres such as the Epworth sleep unit provide overnight studies to diagnose sleep apnoea and the degree of the problem.
Darrel said the main purpose of the sleep study is to uncover any issues that may be causing sleep problems.
Sleep apnoea can be damaging over the long term. Symptoms include depression, fatigue, and dry mouth in the short term, and increase a person’s risk factor for diabetes, heart attack or stroke. So getting medical help is very important.
Your bed partner often plays an important part in the initial investigation into sleep apnoea – as they are generally the first to report a problem. When a partner report is coupled with excessive daytime sleepiness, Darrel says you have two strong indicators for sleep apnoea.
Five ways to improve your sleep quality
- Go to bed at the same time each night and wake with the sun if possible. This promotes a better sleep pattern.
- Avoid eating at least two to three hours before bedtime.
- Do not watch screens, such as televisions or computers or iPads, in bed at night. These can be stimulating rather than relaxing. This is particularly true of teenagers, so removing screens from the bedroom at night is vital to their sleep quality.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. Alcohol relaxes some of the breathing muscles, which in turn can cause breathing problems. If you are having trouble getting to sleep, try to avoid coffee for at least six hours before bedtime.
- Get the temperature of the bedroom just right. A room that is too hot will be difficult to sleep in.