When you have trouble sleeping or don’t feel rested when you wake up you might wonder why. Find answers to your frequently asked questions about sleep in one place.
Drop a line in the comments below if you do not find a question you are looking for.
Why is sleep important?
While you sleep your body works to keep your mind and body healthy.
It does this by producing and distributing hormones and compounds vital for systems such as your heart and circulation, respiratory and immune systems, brain functions for thinking and memory, metabolism, and rebuilding bones and muscle tissue.
It also cleans house and removes toxins that build up while awake.
Not having enough quality sleep can affect how you think, work, learn, react, get along with other people and raise your risk of developing long term health problems.
How much sleep is enough?
According to the National Institute of Health adults are recommended to sleep 7 to 9 hours per day.
As seen here the younger you are the more sleep you should get.
Teens 13 to 18 years need 8 to 10 hours.
Children 6 to 12 years, 9 to 12 hours.
Children 3 to 5 years, 10 to 13 hours.
Children 1 to 2 years, 11 t0 14 hours.
Babies 4 months to 1 year, 12 to 16 hours.
Older adults tend to go to bed and wake up earlier and in some instances tend to get less sleep. But, according to the national institute on aging, they still need 7-9 hours of sleep per day.
How long should it take to fall asleep?
Everyone is different, but normal for most healthy adults to fall asleep is between 10 and 20 minutes on average.
What time should you go to bed?
Your natural sleep schedule is regulated by circadian rhythm. That’s your internal clock which is responsive largely to light received by your eyes.
When it becomes dark it tells you it’s time to sleep. That’s why most people sleep at night instead of the day.
While one study recently suggested 10PM and others suggested before midnight, everyone has different situations based on needs and work.
The important thing is to go to bed and wake at the same time every day. Even on days when you don’t have to go to work keep a consistent sleep schedule.
Your mind and body will be ready to go to sleep then at the same time it is used to.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
Excessive daytime sleepiness is the first obvious consequence followed by your lack of alertness.
But, did you know it affects your ability to think, remember, and concentrate too?
You may not get along well with others as it can feel moody or irritable.
Accidents are more likely because you feel drowsy.
Chronic sleep deficiency can contribute to more serious health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular issues such as heart attack and high blood pressure, weakened immune responses, obesity, and lower sex drive.
What is sleep hygiene?
Much of being able to fall asleep can be related to sleep hygiene. That is certain daytime behaviors and your routine leading up to bedtime.
- Stay on schedule – First, stay on a sleep schedule by going to bed and waking at the same time every day. Your brain will know to be ready to sleep at that time every day.
- Separate day and night – Circadian rhythms (your natural internal clock) are based on light received by your eyes.Use these same circadian rhythms to your advantage. During the day get plenty of light. If you work inside keep the lights bright or go outside for lunch in the sunlight.
At night make your room dark and avoid electronic devices that emit light and tell your brain to wake up.
- Cool down – Make your bedroom cool. Your body temperature lowers as part of the “triggers” to sleep. Taking a warm bath before bed can help as your body temperature cools from the heat of the bath.
- Avoid stimulants – such as caffeine and nicotine late in the day that can make it harder to relax and slow down. 6 hours before bed is recommended.
- make sure you bed and pillow is comfortable – and supports your sleep position
- exercise early in the day – avoid rigorous exercise close to bedtime that will wake you up
How do I fall asleep quickly?
Sometimes sleep hygiene isn’t enough. It’s a good start.
What keeps most of us from falling asleep are the stresses and anxieties of the day and an almost subconscious unwillingness to let go of them temporarily.
We fear that if we drop the ball now, how will we handle it later. But I find a good night’s sleep refreshes your mind so much you are able to think better to get on top of it. You need to unplug to reset just like your computer.
The key to overcoming this is to reduce your stress levels and redirect your thoughts away by focusing on your breathing, your body, imagery, and environment.
But you need to tell yourself it’s OK to let go. That’s what I tell myself to fall asleep. Go ahead. Repeat after me. It’s OK to let go.
I typically follow a combination of these methods in my nighttime routine to work together.
Methods to help fall asleep faster
- 4-7-8 breathing controlled breathing method – this method of relaxing works by focusing on your breathing and I get quick results.
If anxiety is keeping you awake this could be helpful to relax you and divert your mind from anxious thoughts.
Breathe in deeply for 4 seconds. Hold it. Count 7 seconds. Now slowly release it for a count of 8 seconds.
I don’t usually count myself and I seem to draw it out longer as I feel my body relaxing and slowing down.
- Meditation, yoga or mindfulness techniques – these are all techniques that can reduce anxieties and take your mind off of those repeating thoughts to calm your mind to go to sleep faster
- Sooth yourself with a song – enjoy some music with a relaxing pace played at a soft volume
- Write down what’s on your mind – make a to do list for things you don’t want to forget tomorrow. If you are worried about something write down and tell yourself it’s OK to let it go until tomorrow. You’ll be better able to handle it with a good night’s sleep.
- Read a book – reading a favorite book is a common recommendation before bed. Why? It allows you to sit quietly at rest so your body can begin to slow down and your mind to detach from your daily worries.
I usually find that I am falling asleep while trying to read within minutes. Just don’t read on a device. The light will tell your brain to wake up again.
- Go to your happy place – visualize a peaceful place you like to be and focus on your senses of being there.
The beach for example; taking slow deep breaths feel the wind, smell the salt water, hear the waves crash slowly one after the other and see them rolling in from the horizon, feel the sun on your face.
Go through each sense one at a time. Can you feel yourself drifting in a boat on the waves as they rock slowly?
Where is your happy place?
- Military method – there are seven steps used to fall asleep fast, star by making yourself comfortable, relax your face, let your shoulders fall, relax your neck, relax your arms, limp your legs, clear your mind.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – this works similar to the military method but instead you start at a point on your body and tense the muscles for about 10 seconds first, then relax and move down your body one area at a time while breathing deeply in and out.
- Take a hot bath – Lowering your body temperature is a signal to your brain it’s time to sleep. The quick change in body temperature after leaving a hot bath can help trigger sleep up to 10 minutes faster.
- Have a soothing nighttime drink – warm milk- contains tryptophan which converts to melatonin, almond milk also contains tryptophan and magnesium, a vital mineral to many body functions which allows you to relax and plays a role in regulating melatonin, chamomile tea – has been used for centuries for its calming effect, green tea (decaffeinated) – contains L-theanine which promotes relaxation, cherry juice – melatonin
- using sleep supplements – magnesium, melatonin, L-theanine helps you relax so you can sleep. It does not make you drowsy but instead promotes sleep by relaxing you and reducing anxiety. Valerian root, long used to induce sleep works in multiple ways to promote sleep by increasing chemicals in your brain that have a sedative affect and calm your mood. Always consult with your doctor as some supplements can interact with medications
- Aromatherapy – Essential oils such as Lavender, peppermint, tee tree, or lemon oil when diffused in the air can help soothe you sleep by reducing anxiety and depression.
What if I can’t asleep?
The general rule of thumb is if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes to get up and go out of the bedroom. You don’t want to your brain to associate being awake with being in bed.
Find a relaxing activity such as the ones previously listed until you feel sleepy and return to bed. Don’t try to “make yourself fall asleep”. That can make you anxious and actually keep you awake.
How do I go back to sleep if I wake up?
I often wake up at night. The bathroom, the dog, my mind starts racing, whatever. Don’t turn the lights on, don’t check your phone and don’t start looking at your clock.
The lights will just tell your brain it’s time to get up and watching the clock will just make you anxious to go back to sleep.
If you can’t go back to sleep quickly get out of bed and again use one of the methods to relax and calm yourself until you feel sleepy.
I will often move to my recliner in another room and listen to the sound of my old grandfather clock tic tic ticking away in a slow measured rhythm. I focus on it and it gives me a sense of comfort and place to be.
What are the symptoms of sleep deprivation / sleep deficiency?
Sleep deprivation and sleep deficiency are two different things. You may be sleep deficient and not be sleep deprived.
When you are sleep deficient you may not go through all the stages of sleep you need or have interrupted sleep, or maybe you sleep at the wrong time of day.
Now we get to sleep deprivation. As part of being sleep deficient you may be sleep deprived. This is when you don’t get enough sleep altogether.
If you are sleep deprived you may experience:
- daytime sleepiness or drowsiness
- less motivation and physical strength and energy
- lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy
- irritability – you may have harder time getting along with others
- find it hard to focus and concentrate on tasks
- difficulty remembering things
- reduced immunity, you may get sick more often and stay sick longer
Is it harder to sleep when you get older?
Yes, for most of us it is harder to sleep as we age.
Many people have the misconception that you need less sleep when you get older. But you really do still need the same amount of sleep you did as a younger adult.
But as we age we tend to have more trouble falling asleep. We might spend more total time in our beds but actually only sleep about 6 and a half to 7 hours per night. That’s a little less than we did when we were younger. We still need 7 to 8 hours.
It is common when you get older to wake up more at night and awaken earlier in the morning. You may sleep more lightly and be more easily awakened because you spend less time in deep sleep.
If, like me, you tend to develop chronic conditions as you age, you might have to get up more often to go to the bathroom at night or sleep poorly due to pain or discomfort from a health condition.
Are naps good for you?
Naps are sleep. But what kind of sleep depends on the time of day you nap. Naps early in the day result mainly in the light stage of sleep known as NREM sleep. In this stage you can be awakened easily.
Napping later in the day as evening approaches your sleep drive is building and you are more likely to experience a deep sleep stage. This can in turn make it harder to fall asleep at bed time.
Naps can be beneficial as they can make you feel refreshed to go on with your day. But earlier and shorter is better. Ten to twenty minutes works for most people. Longer and you may feel disoriented.
If you have a long lunch, for example, and nap longer you may feel that same foggy feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and have to work out of it on the job.
Can you catch up on sleep?
The difference between how much sleep you should get and what you actually do get is known as sleep debt. It may take a while but you can recover lost sleep.
Try to get back into your normal pattern of sleeping and get an extra hour or two each night. Don’t try to get it back all at once.
Let your body tell you what you need. Go to bed when you feel tired and wake up in the morning on your own when you are ready.
Do medications or medical conditions affect sleep?
What medications affect sleep?
Many medications can affect your sleep. They include medicines for heart problems and high blood pressure, antidepressants, corticosteroids for treating things like asthma or arthritis by reducing inflammation, statins used to treat high cholesterol, certain drugs used for treating Alzheimer’s, over the counter decongestants, antihistamines and cough suppressants.
What medical conditions cause sleep problems?
Among the medical conditions that can affect sleep quality and quantity are Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, diabetes, heartburn or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), cardiovascular disease, lung disorders such as asthma, kidney disease, overactive thyroid, neurological disorders, chronic pain, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. In addition, for women, pregnancy and menopause can come with problems sleeping.
Why do I sleep but not feel rested?
The quality of sleep you get is as important as how long you sleep. You may not go through all the phases of sleep that provide the restorative functions needed to feel rested. This can be caused by interrupted sleep, not enough sleep, or an undiagnosed sleep disorder.
What are the 5 most common types of sleep disorders?
How do I know if I have a sleep disorder?
If you think you might have a sleep disorder ask yourself these questions:
Do I find it hard to fall asleep at night?
Is it hard to stay asleep all night?
Am I able to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day or does it vary when I get sleepy?
Do I wake feeling refreshed?
Do I breathe OK at night or do I seem to breathe irregular or wake up gasping for air?
Can I lay still in bed or do I move around a lot and feel uncomfortable?
Do I feel rested during the daytime or am I unusually sleepy or fall asleep?
Do I find it hard to stay focused and on task?
Do I have problems remembering things?
These are some signs that you could have a sleep disorder. Having some signs doesn’t mean you do or don’t have a sleep problem. If you are concerned your doctor can best diagnose if you do based on your individual health condition.
What is the difference between sleeping pills and natural supplements?
Sleeping pills are drugs usually prescribed by your doctor. They are stronger and perhaps faster acting than natural alternatives but can come with various side effects ranging from still feeling lethargic or foggy the next day to head and muscle aches, dizziness or constipation.
Over the counter sleeping pills are usually antihistamines with sedating effects.
Natural supplements, sometimes called natural sleep aids are dietary supplements.
They can be hormones normally found in your body or plants and herbs, minerals, enzymes or amino acids used to produce a specific result when you consume it.
They typically have fewer side effects and in many cases may need to be taken over a longer period to build up and give a desired effectiveness.
Many natural supplements have been used for centuries.
That being said, you should always talk to your doctor when considering a supplement as they can have interactions with certain medications and should not be used if you have certain health conditions.
Is melatonin a sleeping pill?
Melatonin is not a sleeping pill. However, it is commonly used as an over the counter supplement to help you sleep.
In some cases it may be prescribed to treat conditions such as sleep phase or circadian rhythm sleep disorders.
It is a natural hormone your body produces to make you feel drowsy.
It is triggered by the day night cycle; as it gets dark and less light comes to your eyes, you make more to help you fall asleep.
What are the best natural sleep aids?
These are the top natural sleep aids most people report to be effective and are easily available. Some may be used in the form of pills, capsules, teas, or essential oils.
Sleep and nutrition
Can what you eat affect sleep?
What you eat and when you eat can have an impact on your ability to go to sleep and how well you sleep.
You wouldn’t want to have coffee or caffeinated drinks close to bedtime for example. That is obvious to most of us. But did you know eating a lot of sugary food can make you wake up more often at night.
If you wake up not feeling well rested it could be because you didn’t sleep deep enough which can be caused by a diet high in saturated fats but low in fiber.
Do you suffer from acid reflux? Then you would not want to eat a spicy meal or a large meal either close to bed that would cause it to flare up when you lie down.
Are vitamins and minerals important for sleep?
Your body needs vitamins and minerals for many functions.
For sleep there are some specific ones that help to regulate processes, play a role in producing important hormones, or are contributors to essential body systems required for sleep.
Among these the more prominent are magnesium, the vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, and calcium.
What foods help you sleep?
Many foods contain tryptophan which increases melatonin and makes you sleepy. Included in this group in high amounts are turkey, chicken, milk, canned tuna, and oats. In lesser amounts foods like cheddar cheese, peanuts, and chocolate.
Other foods that can help because they contain magnesium such as leafy greens like spinach. Almonds, peanut butter and dark chocolate are other good snacks before bedtime because they are rich in magnesium.
Still, other foods contain melatonin itself to boost what you already produce. Milk also contains melatonin in addition to tryptophan. Tart cherry juice is also a good source of melatonin as are many nuts like cashews, almonds, and pistachios.
If you like fish then go for tuna or salmon which contain not only melatonin but a wide range of vitamins and minerals essential for sleep.
What foods keep you awake?
Obviously caffeinated foods such as coffee or tea. Energy drinks near bedtime? Nope, not a good idea.
Don’t go with any spicy foods before bed, especially if you have issues with heartburn or acid reflux.
Avoid alcohol if you want to stay asleep. It may make you sleepy early on but most people find it causes them to wake back up during the night.
When to talk to your doctor about sleep problems
We all have a hard time with sleep once in a while. But generally those nights are the exception and not the rule.
You often recognize the cause as an occurrence out of your day,
But, any time you experience symptoms on a regular basis you should talk to your doctor.
Many people will put it off thinking they will get over it. A simple discussion with your doctor can get you the rest you need though.
How to talk to your doctor about sleep problems
Tell your doctor how long you have been having sleep problems and what they are?
If you can, keep a log ahead of your appointment to give a better idea of the severity and kind of sleep you are getting. Or lack of sleep as it may be.
He will want to know things like ; If you can’t go to sleep or if you wake up at night.
How long it takes you to fall asleep, how long you stay asleep and what time you go to bed and get up every day.
Do you wake feeling rested?
How it is affecting your day. Are you falling asleep, irritable or unable to focus for example.
He will also want to know about your intake of caffeine, alcohol or tobacco use.
Also, be ready to discuss your emotional state and anything that may be causing you stress or anxiety.
More questions about sleep?
Do you have a question you didn’t find. Sleep subjects are as far ranging as the number of people searching for answers.
The list here was compiled from the most asked questions found online.
Drop a line in the comments below if you do not find a question you are looking for and I will be happy to reply.
As always, your doctor can best diagnose if you have a sleeping problem based on his or her understanding of your individual health condition.
Until next time,
sleep well and goodnight!
The information on this website is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. When you have questions regarding your health you should seek the advice of your health care provider.