July 2019

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Author: Becca Edwards

Sleep. Many of us don’t get enough of it. Experts claim that on average adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night for optimal health. However, a third of U.S. adults bank 6.3 (or fewer) hours. To get a local perspective, I conducted an informal poll on Facebook and asked, “Which one best describes your sleep?” I then gave the following options:

A) I fall asleep easily but wake up between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. and have a hard time going back to sleep.
B) I fall asleep and stay asleep, banking seven or more hours of blissful rest.
C) Sleep? What is this strange word? I haven’t slept in years.
D) I sleep, but only with help from a sleeping aid like melatonin, CBD oil or a prescription.

Nearly 100 people responded. The vast majority (about 50 percent) opted for “A.” A handful of people (roughly 15 percent) confessed to “D,” but I suspect there are more of you out there (#nojudgement). And several people (about 18 percent), who for the most part either seemed apologetic or worried they might jinx themselves, answered “B.” (Note: Fewer than 10 percent picked “C,” and a small group picked multiple options.)

So what is sleep, really? Sleep is divided into NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement). As we begin to fall asleep, we enter NREM sleep, which is comprised of four stages:

Stage 1
You are between being awake and falling asleep: You experience light sleep.

Stage 2
This is the onset of sleep: You become disengaged from your surroundings; your breathing and heart rate are regular; your body temperature drops.

Stages 3 and 4
This is the deepest and most restorative sleep: Your blood pressure drops; your breathing becomes slower; your muscles relax; your blood supply to muscles increases; tissue growth and repair occurs; energy is restored; hormones are released, such as those essential for growth and muscle development.

REM first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night. During REM sleep, energy is provided to the brain and body; daytime performance is supported; the brain is active, and dreams occur; eyes dart back and forth; the body becomes immobile and relaxed, as muscles are turned off.

The CDC found that adults who were short sleepers (fewer than seven hours of sleep per 24-hour period) were more likely to report being obese, physically inactive, and current smokers, as well as more likely to suffer from 10 chronic health conditions (including heart attack, asthma, arthritis, diabetes and depression) compared to people who got enough sleep.

Not to send you to Snoozeville with data, but the CDC also reported that South Carolina is one of the most sleep-deprived states; people ages 35-54 are the shortest sleepers; men (at 35.5 percent) are slightly worse sleepers than women (at 34.8 percent); and white people sleep more than any other race (native Hawaiians and blacks sleep the least).

For all of you short sleepers out there, rest easy. There’s more to your bedtime story. Dr. Debi Lynes, LPC, CEDS, CBTI, who works with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and MUSC Department of Psychiatry, breaks down six sleep myths.

Myth 1: We need at least eight hours of sleep to feel refreshed and function well during the day.
Fact: Anything over four and a half hours of consolidated sleep is cognitively restorative.
(Note: Some people require a few more hours, because everyone is different.)
Myth 2: You can never get too much sleep.
Fact: People who sleep more than eight hours are equally impaired as those who sleep too little.
Myth 3: Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep.
Fact: Difficulty falling asleep is but one of four symptoms generally associated with insomnia. The others include waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, frequent awakenings, and waking up feeling unrefreshed.
Myth 4: If you wake up in the middle of the night, it is best to lie in bed, count sheep, or toss and turn until you eventually fall back asleep.
Fact: Waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep is a symptom of insomnia. Most experts agree that if you do not fall back asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, you should get out of bed, go to another room and engage in a relaxing activity such as listening to music or reading. Return to bed when you feel sleepy. Avoid watching the clock.
Myth 5: When you don’t get a proper amount of sleep on a given night, you need to catch up the next day by napping or the next night by sleeping longer.
Fact: Napping is the worst thing you can do. Napping may inadvertently be causing insomnia. It is best to have a consistent go-to-bed and wake-up time every day.
Myth 6: Insomnia is a nuisance but not connected to my overall physical or cognitive health.
Fact: Poor sleep is often linked to other health problems.

Tips for better sleep
“Insomnia takes on a life of its own and can be a standalone disorder,” Dr. Lynes said. “Most people struggle with insomnia because of bad sleep hygiene (irregular sleep and wake times), psychological conditions, or side effects of particular medications.

“Many people believe the only way to cure insomnia is through medication,” she continued. “One of the things I practice is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBTI ) for insomnia. It is a structured program that helps identify and replace thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen sleep problems with skills and strategies that promote sound sleep.”

Unlike sleeping pills, this therapy helps you overcome the underlying causes of your sleep problems and is an effective treatment for chronic sleep disorders. CBTI simply aims to improve sleep habits and behaviors. “It stresses learning how to control or eliminate negative thoughts and worries that may be keeping you awake. It also teaches skills to remove factors that condition the mind to resist sleep,” Lyons said. “This therapy can be beneficial for nearly every type of sleep problem, and there are no negative side effects. It does require steady practice but often offers lasting results.”

Full disclosure: When I considered all this information, I was concerned about my own sleep patterns. I shared with Dr. Lynes that I tend to sleep erratically, possibly based on hormone fluctuations. “What does it mean to have bad sleep?” I asked. To which she answered, “It is bad if the lack or amount of sleep affects cognitive quality of life. People get hung up on the number of hours. It does not matter if you are a hard or soft sleeper. How is it affecting your quality of life?”

Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer, and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (bewellbecreative.com).

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