Sleep Part 3 – Problems with sleeping
In this part of the series we will (very briefly!) think about some ‘diagnosed’ sleep problems but also much more common experiences of sleep difficulties. We’ll also think about how much sleep we’re recommended to get.
We all have problems sleeping!
We all will go through periods where it is easier or harder to go to, or stay asleep. In fact, being ‘tired all the time’ (TATT) is one of the most common complaints given to GPs in the UK. This is not surprising really given the stresses of modern life, life changes, work, children, financial concerns, bereavements and many other things that we are expected to juggle!
At any given time 1/5 of us feels unusually tired and 1/10 experiencing prolonged fatigue. Oh and sorry ladies but apparently, on the whole, you guys feel more tired than men too.
Normally these difficulties resolve themselves over time but there are some things that can get in the way. We’ll focus on these, and the things that can help promote sleep, in the rest of this series.
Diagnoses of ‘sleep problems’
Some people do have trouble sleeping for weeks, months and in some cases, years. This is just an outline (not formal criteria) of some of the more common difficulties but if you want more info check out the NHS website (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/sleep/Pages/sleep-home.aspx).
- Insomnia. This means consistently finding it really hard to fall, or stay, asleep. It sometimes means waking up very early in the morning and also that sleep may not result in feeling rejuvenated so you feel ‘constantly tired’.
- Oversleeping. This means that you are consistently sleeping more than your body needs.
- Nightmares and night terrors. Nightmares are intense frightening dreams, sometimes related to experiences in your life. Night terrors are more common in children and are often accompanied by shouting, screaming or crying in sleep. It can be really hard to wake people who are having terrors. In fact, many recommend that you don’t as people tend not to have memories of what happened during their terrors (and it can be more distressing to be woken up!). Both can effect sleep quality and increase worries about going to sleep.
- Sleep paralysis. When you wake up in the night and cannot move or communicate. Normally this only lasts between a couple of seconds and a few minutes but it can be intensely scary.
- Sleep walking. This is when you get up and move around at night, during sleep. You may even carry out activities (cleaning or washing)!! Walking is not normally a problem unless you are at risk of injury (e.g. by falling) but it can disrupt sleep quality.
- Obstructive sleep apnea. This is a condition where pauses in breathing occur during sleep, disrupting the normal progression of sleep. Apneas normally happen when the muscles around the airway relax during sleep, causing the airway to collapse and block the intake of oxygen.
How much should we get?
As far as the science is concerned (Hirshkowitz et al., 2015), this is the amounts we should be getting..
New-borns (0–3 months)
14 to 17 hours
Infants (4–11 months)
12 to 15 hours
Toddlers (1–2 years)
11 to 14 hours
Pre-school children (3–5 years)
10 to 13 hours
School-age children (6–13 years)
9 to 11 hours
Teenagers (14–17 years)
8 to 10 hours
Adults (18–64 years)
7 to 9 hours
Older Adults (65 years and over)
7 to 8 hours
But its really important to remember that these are recommended guidelines and it is likely that:
- There will be significant variation between different people’s individual needs
- It is impossible to consistently hit these numbers (although we should certainly be aiming for them!)
Testing your Sleep
Like we mentioned at the beginning it’s pretty common to experience difficulties sleeping at one point or another. However, if you are interested in testing your sleep the NHS has a good little assessment here (http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Sleep-self-assessment.aspx).
We’ll talk a lot more about what gets in the way of sleep and what can help later in this blog but if you are worried about your sleep you might want to consider contacting a professional such as your GP or one of the team at Avenue Therapies to think about what you might be able to do to help.
What’s in the next blog?
In the next blog we’ll focus on what can get in the way of a decent night’s kip.. And there’s tons to consider!.. It might not be sexy stuff but it is really important – for everyone!
After the next blog, we will move on to think about what can be helpful to promote a solid 40 winks.
References & further reading
American Psychological Association – http://www.apa.org/topics/sleep/index.aspx
NHS Live Well – http://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/sleep/Pages/sleep-home.aspx
(American) National Sleep Foundation – https://sleepfoundation.org/
Pinel, J. P. (2011). Biopsychology. Boston, MA: Pearson.