How to Fix All Your Sleep Problems With Science
What Your Sleep Issues Are Trying To Tell You
Everybody sleeps. But not everybody sleeps the same way. So long as you're getting enough—experts recommend 7 to 9 hours a night—and you feel rested, you don't need to sweat the occasional off night. However, if you're not feeling rested, or if your sleep is frequently disrupted, there might be something more important going on. Here's a look at 3 common sleep issues and what might be causing them.
Snoring is vibrational noise that happens when your breathing is partially obstructed by relaxed tissues in your throat. About half of adults snore at least occasionally, and for most it's not a big deal (except maybe for the person you're sleeping next to). "Most people are unaware that they're snoring," says Christopher Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and medical director at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center, both in Virginia. "And if you wake up feeling rested, it's not a problem."
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What is a problem is if you're snoring enough to cut off your breathing and waking yourself up frequently during the night. This is a condition called sleep apnea, and it leaves sufferers chronically sleepy. "You feel extremely tired during the day and fall asleep almost immediately when you sit down to relax," says Winter. If this sounds like you, see a doctor. There are medical options like oral appliances or even minimally invasive surgery that can open your airway and allow you to get an uninterrupted night's rest.
You also can take a few steps to minimize regular snoring if it bothers you or your partner. Mainly, avoid sleeping on your back. "It's the worst breathing position," says Winter. A full body pillow propped against your back can help you maintain a side sleeping position. "You also can try a device like Night Shift, which is a sensor you wear on your back that vibrates as you roll over on your back to help you break the habit of back sleeping," he says. Also, if you're carrying around some excess pounds, losing weight may help minimize the soft tissue around your mouth and neck, which often contributes to sleep apnea.
It's normal to occasionally open your eyes in the middle of the night, glance at the clock and drift back to sleep; it becomes a concern when you wake up and stay up, night after night. If this starts happening, check these common causes:
Caffeine. You drink it to give you a lift, but drink it too late and that lift will last longer than you desire. Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours, so if you have a big latte at 5 p.m., you'll still have a shot of espresso's worth of caffeine flowing through your system at 11 that night. Ease up on your caffeine consumption later in the day for sounder sleep.
Booze. That second IPA may make you doze off in your La-Z-Boy, but it can also leave you wide-awake on your pillow a few hours later. Too much alcohol before bed lengthens your non-REM sleep and shortens your REM sleep, effectively keeping you in more wakeful sleep stages when you should be in a deep slumber. So go ahead and enjoy that post–bike ride beer, but turn off the tap when you get close to bedtime.
Screens. Turn off the TV. Close the laptop. Power down the phone, tablet, and other light-emitting screens at least 30 minutes before you want to sleep. Otherwise, you risk suppressing your melatonin levels and disrupting your sleep.
Overtraining. Inadequate recovery during hard physical training can lead to staleness and overtraining—conditions marked by low mood and poor performance. Staleness is the end result of a string of biological disruptions like rising stress hormones and declining feel-good neurochemicals like serotonin, as well as muscle breakdown and chronic inflammation. Studies show that overtraining can cause sleep disruptions as well as poor sleep efficiency (aka waking and feeling restless during the night). If you're moody, sore, and have an elevated resting heart rate in addition to sleeping poorly, dial back your workouts until you're raring to go again.
MORE:7 Signs You're Riding Too Hard, And What To Do About It
Nature Wake-Up Calls
Waking up during the middle of the night to pee is pretty normal; getting up several times a night is a problem. If you're a man, get your prostate checked, since an inflamed or enlarged prostate is a common cause of frequent urination. Women should also see a doctor, as frequent waking to pee could signal an overactive bladder or infection.
You also might be simply hyperhydrated. "If you're aggressively hydrating during the day, you're going to be getting up a lot at night," says Winter.
Video: HOW TO FIX ALL YOUR SLEEP PROBLEMS WITH SCIENCE
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