Your sleep: quality might trump quantity

Most people need somewhere between 7-9 hours, and our sleep needs are non-negotiable according to sleep and respiratory physician Dr Linda Schachter.
Most people need somewhere between 7-9 hours, and our sleep needs are non-negotiable according to sleep and respiratory physician Dr Linda Schachter.

Do you need an alarm to wake up in the morning? If the answer is yes, you probably aren't getting enough quality sleep.

Most people need somewhere between 7-9 hours, and our sleep needs are non-negotiable according to sleep and respiratory physician Dr Linda Schachter.

"We can't change the amount of sleep that we need. Even though your friend may only need four or five hours' sleep, you may need eight or nine hours' sleep. So for you to get a good night's sleep, you need the amount that you need, and it needs to be good quality," said Dr Schachter.

"We go through four cycles of sleep: light sleep, deeper sleep, light non-dream sleep and then dream sleep. If you wake out of deep non-dream sleep or dream sleep you will wake feeling groggy and unrefreshed, which is why I recommend people don't use an alarm in the morning.

"Even if you've had enough sleep but have woken in the wrong stage of sleep it can be really hard on your body," she said.

Dr Schachter said waking feeling groggy is an indicator that you need to go to bed earlier.

Achieving better sleep

Not everyone can simply change their bed time and solve their sleep problems. So what are the best ways to find that quality sleep that Dr Schachter recommends?

The countless tips available for encouraging better sleep are fairly accurate, but the number one thing people can do is to allow enough time for sleep, and relax our expectations around sleep.

"Don't expect you will fall asleep immediately after getting into bed. If you start feeling anxious about sleep, your sleep will suffer," Dr Schachter said.

Lifestyle factors play a big role in sleep quality, such as smoking and the consumption of alcohol and caffeine.

"Caffeine affects your ability to fall asleep, and it causes your sleep to be poorer quality. The half-life of caffeine is 6-10 hours so it is best to stop having caffeine around lunchtime.

"While alcohol relaxes us so it helps us fall asleep, its effects on sleep later in the night are quite significant; decreasing the quality of our sleep. It also increases risk of obstructive sleep apnoea.

"All screens increase brainwave activity, so in that period before going to bed you want to wind down and not increase brainwave activity. Try to use a blue light filter later in the day, and I recommend a minimum of one hour's break from all screens before going to bed.

"I'm not sure there are any email emergencies at 10 or 11 o'clock at night, so don't even check your phone!

"And the big one is exercise. Regular exercise will help you sleep," she said.

Problem with sleep?

People who have difficulty sleeping, staying asleep, or who wake feeling tired may need to be investigated for obstructive sleep apnoea. This is a condition where the upper airway partially or completely obstructs during sleep leading to poorer quality sleep.

A sleep study can uncover exactly what problems are occurring during sleep, and the treating specialist will be able to recommend the right course of treatment for you.

Your first stop might be the local pharmacy, where sleeping aids are available for a range of issues.

"While not all patients with obstructive sleep apnoea are overweight or obese, we know that weight loss certainly helps in people who snore or have mild sleep apnoea. So aids that help with weight loss can assist," said Dr Schachter.

Pharmacies also sell aids that go in or on the nose to increase the nasal air flow.

"If you do have nasal obstruction, then something that is going to help your nasal patency will help. If you have chronic hayfever for instance, a nasal steroid may help. If you have narrow nasal passages, then increasing them may assist.

"However for splints that bring the jaw forward, we recommend these are fitted by dentists."

If the pharmacy can't help, that doesn't mean the end of your quest for a good night's sleep.

"In terms of trying these things to see if they work for you, my comment would be that if it doesn't work then that doesn't mean the more specialised one may not work if it's made specifically for you.

"Please talk to your doctor about it if you're not sure or if these things don't work," said Dr Schachter.

For more information visit HealthShare, a digital company dedicated to improving the health of regional Australians.

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