Few things are more important than getting a full night’s rest. Yet for many adults, this seems to happen far less often than it should. According to research from the National Sleep Foundation, adults need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep each night. While adults age 65 and older only need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, teenagers and school age children need much more sleep.
Even within these ranges, the exact amount of sleep each person needs to function effectively during the day will vary based on their lifestyle and needs. However, the unfortunate truth is that many people fail to get the recommended amount of sleep. A 2016 survey conducted by the CDC found that 35 percent of American adults got less than seven hours of sleep per night.
For individuals dealing with sleep apnea, such struggles can become even more severe. The frequent interruptions to sleep that occur as a result of sleep apnea can cause individuals to still feel exhausted in the morning, even if they think they enjoyed a full nine hours of rest.
Sleep is more valuable than most people think. Here is why you should make healthy sleep a priority — and why if you have sleep apnea, you should take steps to counteract it.
The Hazards of Sleep Deprivation
Every time you get less than the recommended amount of sleep, you build up what is known as “sleep debt.” While sleeping six hours instead of seven each night may not seem like a big deal, the missing hours of sleep can quickly add up.
Many people will try to sleep in on the weekend to make up for lost hours of sleep, but this strategy often doesn’t work. If you only sleep six hours a night Monday through Friday, you’ll have five hours of sleep that you need to make up over the weekend. While you might be able to make that up over Saturday and Sunday, the extended sleeping in could further throw off your sleep habits by making it harder to fall asleep the next night, resulting in a new cycle of sleep debt the following week.
A night in which you sleep hardly at all can prove to be dangerous. In fact, a National Sleep Foundation study found that those who get less than five hours of sleep during a 24-hour period will suffer significant impairment while driving. Those who attempt driving with even less sleep are as dangerous as a drunk driver. With drowsy driving causing an estimated 6,400 deaths and 50,000 serious injures in the United States alone, it’s clear that pulling an all-nighter can put you (and others) at risk.
So where does this fatigue come from? While we are awake, our bodies build up a chemical known as adenosine. This central nervous depressant promotes sleep, and its levels will rise with each hour we are awake. During sleep, the chemical’s level in the bloodstream is lowered. Without sufficient sleep, adenosine will rise to higher and higher levels, resulting in a near-constant state of fatigue.
As already noted, excessive fatigue can increase the risk of getting in a car accident. This can also increase the risk for accidents in the workplace. Even if you don’t work with heavy machinery, you will likely have trouble focusing, as well as learning and recall issues. This can cause significant declines in work performance and cause you to make mistakes you normally would not. You might feel like you could doze off while sitting in a meeting, waiting in traffic, or reading.
Fatigue doesn’t just make it harder to concentrate or make decisions. Those dealing with fatigue have a harder time handling stress and listening to others, which can make them irritable and short-tempered. This can negatively affect relationships at home or in the workplace. And all because of a few nights of poor sleep!
Long-Term Risks of Low-Quality Sleep
While you might be able to make up one or two nights of poor sleep, the “sleep debt” becomes harder and harder to make up over time as you continue to get less rest than you need. As your sleep debt continues to grow, you become more likely to experience frequent mood swings as you struggle to keep your emotions in check.
Those who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation are at risk of even more serious long-term health issues. Chronic sleep loss can make you more susceptible to becoming depressed, which can further impact your relationships and performance in day to day activities. Sleep deprived individuals are more likely to develop symptoms of ADD and other serious mood disorders, which can further disrupt your ability to function normally.
You could also experience what WebMD describes as “Poor quality of life: You might, for example, be unable to participate in certain activities that require sustained attention, like going to the movies, seeing your child in a school play, or watching a favorite TV show.”
Insufficient rest puts added stress on your body, which can increase your risk for serious medical conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and heart failure, diabetes, and obesity. In fact, a study from the University of Warwick found that lack of sleep doubles the risk of dying due to cardiovascular disease. Poor sleep will also impact your immune system, putting you at a greater risk of getting sick.
Over the years, studies have consistently found that individuals who get too little sleep have a much higher mortality rate than those who get the recommended amount of rest. By putting yourself at a greater risk for a wide range of serious health complications, chronic sleep deprivation can have very serious consequences. The more you allow your sleep debt to build up, the more likely you are to experience more extreme symptoms and side effects.
How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Sleep Quality?
Sleep apnea is a major contributor to inadequate sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that “26 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 years have sleep apnea.” Unlike sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea can be harder to detect, in part because of the unique way in which it affects sleep quality and duration.
Sleep apnea is an interruption to breathing that occurs when your breathing passages get blocked during sleep. This will typically occur when the soft palate collapses against the throat. The lack of oxygen will result in the sleeper waking up gasping for breath.
These interruptions to breathing can happen as many as 30 times in a single hour, and more often than not, the sleeper will not even remember that they occurred when they wake up in the morning. Despite seemingly getting a full night’s rest, they will still feel tired and experience many of the same symptoms as if they didn’t get enough hours of sleep.
Quite often, these interruptions to sleep will be noticed by a bed partner who hears their spouse snoring loudly or gasping for breath each night. A sleep study should then be conducted to determine the severity of one’s sleep apnea.
If left untreated (as the vast majority of sleep apnea cases are), the sleeper will find themselves at a higher risk of chronic fatigue and all its associated consequences. The constant interruptions to sleep keep you from getting the deep sleep you need to feel fully rested in the morning, which can be just as detrimental to your health as not getting enough hours of sleep in the first place.
Taking Steps to Improve Your Sleep
Because a lack of sleep can have such serious long-term consequences, it is essential that you take steps now to improve your sleep quality. If sleep apnea is contributing to your daily fatigue, you should visit a sleep specialist to get a prescription for a CPAP machine.
A CPAP machine delivers a consistent flow of air throughout the night, which will help keep your breathing passages open and prevent the interruptions to sleep that result from sleep apnea. While adjusting to wearing a CPAP mask can take some getting used to, most people adapt by practicing wearing the mask before going to bed. Many modern CPAP devices also include “ramping” settings, which gradually increase the delivered air pressure until you fall asleep for improved comfort.
Depending on the severity of your sleep apnea and the treatment method you find most comfortable, you may be prescribed a BiPAP or APAP machine instead. These machines deliver varying levels of air pressure based on whether you are inhaling or exhaling for more comfortable breathing. Some even analyze breathing patterns to adjust air pressure settings as needed throughout the night.
Of course, you can also take steps to make it easier to fall asleep at night and ensure that you’re getting your recommended hours in. Start by establishing a set sleep routine and schedule. Going to bed at the same time each night will help your body be better prepared to fall asleep, especially if you have a consistent, relaxing routine before bed.
Exercising each day, avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the hours before bedtime, and limiting exposure to electronics will also make it easier to fall asleep. Put away your smartphone, as its bright screen and series of distractions will make your brain more active during a time when you’re trying to enter a more restful state. Read a book instead.
You can also take steps to improve your bedroom environment. Lowering the indoor temperature and taking steps to block out external light and sound will make it easier to fall asleep. Unsurprisingly, a mattress and pillow that feel comfortable to you (there’s no one size fits all solution here) can also make a big difference.
Some people find their thoughts bouncing from one thing to another after they get in bed. This mental activity can make it hard to fall asleep. Because of this, some physicians recommend breathing or meditation exercises, where you try to clear your thoughts and simply concentrate on your breathing. In such situations, clearing your mind will enable you to fall asleep in a timely manner so you don’t miss out on precious hours of rest.
Sleep is one of the most important elements of your life, with a dramatic impact on your happiness and well-being. Make it a priority. By taking these and other steps to ensure that you can fall asleep faster and get enough hours of rest each night, you will be able to enjoy a healthier future.
Sleep Better Each Night
While there are several lifestyle changes that can help you feel better rested on a daily basis, those struggling with sleep apnea must make CPAP therapy a part of their nightly routine. While using CPAP equipment may seem like an unusual adjustment, this important treatment plan will ensure that you can enjoy rejuvenating, uninterrupted sleep each night.
Of course, getting started with purchasing a CPAP machine and all the accessories you need to go along with it can seem financially intimidating. This is especially true if you don’t have insurance, or if your insurance coverage doesn’t fully cover your expenses. This is where you can turn to Help Medical Supplies.
We offer a wide range of CPAP and BiPAP machines, many of which are available at discounted prices so you can save hundreds of dollars on your purchase. Many of our CPAP machines are also available in bundles that come with replacement tubes, filters, and even cleaning devices. Refurbished devices are also available so you can save even more on your CPAP needs. We also offer free shipping on orders over $89, as well as available financing on select purchases through CareCredit.
By taking control of your sleep apnea with a CPAP device, you will be better set to complement your other healthy sleep habits. By counteracting sleep apnea and taking steps to improve your bedtime routine, you will be able to get the right amount of sleep for your body so you can have energy and good health for years to come.