by Dr. Jennifer Caudle
If you’re like most Americans, you have spent some days feeling tired and sleepy. Adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night (NIH), but more than 25% of the U.S. population report occasionally not getting enough sleep, and 10% experience chronic insomnia (cdc.gov).
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can function on a smaller amount of sleep than normal and not have it catch up with you. Even if you don’t keep track of the sleep that you are missing out on, your body does. Sleep debt is the term used to describe the amount of sleep you are deficient. For example, if last night you received one less hour of sleep than you normally require, you have a sleep debt of one hour. If you then miss out of two hours of sleep tonight, you then have a combined sleep debt of 3 hours. The need for those 3 hours of sleep does not go away and your body still requires that you obtain that deficient sleep. Sleeping in on weekends may not be enough to repay your sleep debt and prevent the effects of lost sleep.
Daytime sleepiness could be a result of stress or environmental factors, or it could be the result of a more serious condition. The following are the most common sleep disorders:
A. Insomnia – difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
B. Obstructive sleep apnea- the upper airway is blocked intermittently throughout sleep. Symptoms can include loud snoring, gasping or choking during sleep.
C. Restless legs syndrome- urge to move the legs, often in response to pulling, crawling or tingling sensations.
D. Narcolepsy- excessive daytime sleepiness, often with sudden muscle weakness, the inability to talk or move upon falling asleep/awakening or hallucinations.
Other medical conditions that cause daytime sleepiness include bronchitis, asthma, heart failure, sickle cell disease, and rheumatoid arthritis among others. Environmental factors such as fluctuating work schedules, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can all cause disrupted sleep patterns and daytime sleepiness.
Sleepiness can have serious consequences. Drowsy Driving is related to at least 100,000 motor-vehicle accidents and more than 1,500 deaths per year in the United States (nhtsa.gov). In addition, work-related accidents have been identified as a result of a lack of sleep. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education established standards in 2003 to limit the number of hours medical residents can work to “promote quality education and patient care” (acgme.org). Sleep is helpful for creating memories and learning information. Decreased sleep has been shown to hinder school performance, concentration and memory. Lack of sleep can also negatively impact mood and behavior.
If you want a good night’s sleep, try the following “Sleep Hygiene” tips (yoursleep.aasmnet.org) :
1. Use the bed for sleep and sex only (don’t pay bills, do work or other activities in bed)
2. Get into bed only when feeling sleepy.
3. If you go to bed and are unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, do something relaxing until you become drowsy and then return to bed.
4. Get out of bed at the same time every morning (even on weekends)
5. Avoid naps (limit naps to 30 minutes for the elderly).
6. Don’t exercise too close to bedtime
7. Avoid caffeine and nicotine
8. Avoid alcohol before bed
9. Make your bedroom conducive to sleep: keep the temperature on the cooler side, keep your room dark, and minimize distractions such as electronics, cell phones and computers
10. Avoid large meals late at night.
11. Take time to wind-down before bed
These tips can help daytime sleepiness caused by insomnia. If your daytime sleepiness is caused by a condition other than insomnia your treatment may be different. Make sure that you visit your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Best wishes for a great night’s sleep! -Dr. Jen
Dr. Jennifer Caudle is a board-certified Family Physician and Rowan U. Assistant Professor. She is an on-air health expert who appears/ed on CBS3 Philly, Fox29 Philly, CNN, the Dr Oz Show and many others. Visit her at www.jennifercaudle.com and follow her on Twitter: @drjencaudle, Instagram: @drjencaudle and Facebook: www.facebook.com/drjennifercaudle.
Information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical consultation or serve as a substitute for medical advice provided by a physician or qualified medical professional.