Getting a full eight hours of sleep a night is often a struggle. To make matters worse, there are times when one continues to feel tired despite supposedly having gotten sufficient sleep.
Truth is, there are many reasons to explain tiredness persists even after getting the recommended number of hours. One of the simplest explanations is that it could be due to your body requiring more rest than the average person. However, it is also likely that your tiredness is due to the lack of quality sleep at night, rather than the quantity of it. In fact, the things you do before bedtime can have an adverse effect on your sleep quality.
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4 activities that affect the quality of sleep
1. Consuming alcohol before sleeping
Many people mistakenly presume that having a nightcap makes achieving a deeper sleep easier, but the truth is that alcohol severely restricts the amount of quality sleep you get. While you may fall asleep faster after having some alcohol, the alcohol actually prevents your body from easing into a deep sleep, which is the time when your body begins to restore and repair itself.
2. Having a caffeinated drink late in the day
Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea or even sugary drinks such as cola can keep your brain alert and “buzzed” for up to six hours. As such, drinking caffeinated drinks past midday is ill-advised if you're trying to optimise your body's ability to enter a deep sleep come night time.
3. Using digital devices before bedtime
Staying on your mobile device when it's close to bedtime has a detrimental effect on the quality of sleep you get at night. This is because the blue light emitted from your device screens suppresses the production of melatonin – a sleep hormone – in your body. This affects your sleep cycle and inhibits restorative sleep.
4. Exercising late in the day
Engaging in intense physical activity before sleeping can affect your sleep quality as it raises your adrenaline levels, increases your heart rate and your core body temperature. As a result, your body may not be able to relax sufficiently to enter the phase of restorative sleep that is characterised by a lower core body temperature and a slower heart rate. The more vigorous your exercise is, the more likely it will affect your sleep. If you must do something, stick to less intense activities (e.g. yoga) and always have a cool-down session.
Now that you know the type of activities that can affect your sleep quality at night, the natural solution to daytime fatigue would be to abstain from these activities. However, if your condition is a recurring one despite adhering to the aforementioned guidelines, then you may be experiencing a more serious sleep disorder. In which case, simply changing your lifestyle habits will not be enough as you will first need to treat the underlying medical condition.
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Chronic medical conditions that affect your sleep
1. Obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common problem affecting 1 in 3 Singaporeans and has very destructive effects on your sleep quality as it causes you to wake up multiple times during the night. People suffering from this condition experience blocked airways when they are asleep, which temporarily deprives the brain of oxygen and forces it to jolt awake. This can happen many times throughout the night without you even realising, leaving you with only the tell-tale signs such as loud snoring, a headache and grogginess in the morning. In the long run, obstructive sleep apnoea can lead to life-threatening cardiovascular problems so it’s important to get diagnosed and treated for this condition as early as you can.
Treatment: There are medical solutions for alleviating the issue of blocked airways, such as using a continuous positive airway pressure airway device to deliver air into your throat to stop it from closing. Soft palate implants are another possible treatment method that reduces the chances of blocked airways. Furthermore, certain lifestyle changes can also help to relieve obstructive sleep apnoea – these include losing weight if you are obese, abstinence from smoking and drinking less alcohol.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder tied to your neurology; it happens when your brain is unable to control your sleep cycles and causes you to feel extremely sleepy at random times during the day. Narcolepsy can also cause you to experience wakefulness during the night as a result of hallucinations, vivid dreams or sleep talking.
Treatment: Pharmaceutical drugs are the most common remedy for helping you cope with the symptoms of narcolepsy. These range from stimulants to keep you awake during the day to anti-depressants that help to reduce the severity of night-time symptoms.
3. Restless leg syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is a more uncommon medical condition that makes it harder for one to fall asleep and stay asleep. The condition is characterised by an uncomfortable, overwhelming need to keep your legs moving. As a result, people who have this condition experience diminished sleep quality and end up feeling exhausted in the daytime.
Treatment: While there is no known cure for restless leg syndrome, this uncomfortable condition is often a side effect of another underlying medical issue. Past scientific research has found close associations between restless leg syndrome and Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, iron deficiency and peripheral neuropathy. Getting these conditions treated can relieve your restless leg syndrome issues. On a side note, there are ways to manage your condition to limit the discomfort. Getting your legs moving by exercising during the day and having regular massages can help to minimise these discomforting symptoms.
When you have an existing medical condition, treating the condition is the first step towards improving the quality of your sleep. As for what comes after, you can also consider getting sleep therapy to help manage your sleep better.
How sleep therapy can help
Apart from taking medication to help manage your sleep disorder, undergoing sleep therapy can help your body to readjust its sleep cycles so that you can get more sleep naturally. After all, sleep aids such as sleeping pills can and should only a short-term solution. One of the best-known types of sleep therapy is known as cognitive behavioural therapy and it deals with the behaviour patterns associated with your sleep disorder. This is done through modifying your subconscious mindset towards sleep and changing your sleep habits. Since insomnia is often caused by negative thoughts and stress, cognitive behavioural therapy is the best solution for insomnia and other related sleep disorders.
Through this therapy, you will be trained on how to recognise negative thoughts that could be keeping you awake and how to reject these thoughts in favour of positive ones. As for your sleep habits, cognitive behavioural therapy can help you break bad sleep habits and build better ones. One example is stimulus control therapy, which aims to help your mind to better associate the bedroom as a place of rest. You can also pick up relaxation techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy sessions that can help you better ease into sleep.
Finally, there are also some simple habits that anyone can adopt for better sleep, whether or not you are experiencing a sleep disorder. These everyday habits may seem to have little effect at first, but they can significantly contribute to helping you maintain a healthy sleep cycle in the long term.
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Everyday habits for better sleep at night
• Maintain a conducive sleep environment
A conducive sleep environment helps your body relax so that it can transition into deep, restorative sleep more easily. A cool, dark and quiet room is most conducive for sleeping as these conditions are ideal for keeping your body in a relaxed state.
• Eat healthily
Practising proper nutrition keeps your body's systems functioning well, so you are less likely to fall sick and develop medical conditions (e.g. inflammation) that might inhibit your sleep. Certain foods can also help you feel more alert during the day, such as nuts, meat, fruits and leafy vegetables.
• Exercise during the day
Regular exercise during the day helps you feel more energised during the day as exercise keeps your body alert and releases endorphins that contribute to better mental focus. Daytime exercise can also make it easier to experience night-time fatigue, so you won’t lie awake tossing and turning for hours in bed.
Trying to stick by the often-repeated prescription of eight hours of sleep per night doesn’t always ensure that you will feel well-rested the next day as there are many other factors at play. The quality of your sleep matters just as much as the quantity of sleep you get, so avoid activities that are known to affect your sleep quality. With regard to sleep disorders, these should not be left untreated as they can lead to more serious problems, so seek medical help for them as soon as they're diagnosed. Finally, maintaining good sleep habits can help you maintain a healthy sleep cycle in the long run, whether or not you experience a sleep disorder. There are many ways you can practise good sleep habits apart from those listed here – speak to our Active Health Coaches at Active Health Labs located island-wide to find out more!
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