Sleep deprivation is a common problem, but there are solutions for ensuring you get a restful sleep every night.
By Lennie Omalza | Submitted photo
The CDC estimates that one third of adults in the U.S. aren’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis. But how much sleep is truly “enough?”
“I think [we as] Americans … have normalized seven hours of sleep,” says Dr. Kenneth C. (Chuck) Anderson, vice president, chief medical officer of Baptist Health Louisville and sleep physician at Baptist Health Louisville Sleep Disorders Center. He adds that physiologically, the human body needs eight or nine hours of sleep — and children require even more.
Worries amid the pandemic, watching or reading the news before bed, working long hours and extra shifts, and spending too much time in front of electronic screens all affect not only how long a person stays asleep, but also the quality of their shut eye. If a person isn’t getting enough hours of sleep, and/or their sleep time is constantly disrupted, that’s sleep deprivation. A few tell-tale signs, Dr. Anderson says, are sleeping in every weekend after working Monday through Friday, needing an alarm clock to wake up, and hitting the snooze button repeatedly once that alarm goes off.
Patients often don’t realize they’re sleep deprived, he explains. They are simply searching for relief from common sleep deprivation symptoms, including fatigue, daytime sleepiness, snoring, and restless sleeping. When a person is experiencing any of these issues, the first step is to ensure those symptoms are not the result of a disorder such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or insomnia.
“If someone wants to do a sleep study, which can be a home sleep study or an in-lab sleep study,” Dr. Anderson says, “and they have no [other sleeping disorder], then we can work on [their] sleep schedule.”
The problem, he adds, is that most people don’t prioritize sleeping. “People put off sleep — it’s not important to them,” he says. “One of the fathers of sleep medicine, Dr. [Alan] Rechtschaffen … said, ‘If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made.’”
Dr. Anderson says that quality sleep is imperative for growth and development in children, and sleep disorders in adults can have serious medical effects. Untreated sleep apnea, for example, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, can cause high blood pressure, and makes diabetes more difficult to control.
So, how can people attain good sleep hygiene and avoid both sleep deprivation symptoms and additional medical problems? “Take the time out to have good sleep,” Dr. Anderson says. Have a set schedule — wake up and go to bed at the same time every day; ensure your bedroom is void of distractions and conducive to good sleep; and control the temperature so you feel nice and cool before drifting off.
It’s also important to avoid certain activities in the hours leading up to bedtime. “You shouldn’t eat a big meal before you go to bed, and alcohol as a nightcap is a bad idea,” Dr. Anderson says. He also recommends consuming caffeine only in the morning, and avoiding pills that supposedly help you sleep, as they often make the situation worse.
“Sleep should be as important to you as your daytime life,” he says. “If your sleep is as important and you succeed at it, your daytime is going to be better.”