Last updated: 09/14/2018
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 12 minutes
Did you know that the amount of sleep that you get each night and the quality of your sleep habits can play a key role in your body’s ability to recover, your mind’s ability to cope with stress and your brain’s ability to think sharply and be emotionally well?
Many aspects of our lives revolve around the quality of sleep that we get at night. Energy, health, productivity, mental capacity, memory and emotional balance are all contingent on getting a good night’s sleep.
In addiction recovery, the quality of your sleep can greatly impact your ability to deal with triggers, life’s stressors and more.
Tips for Better Sleep
So, you think you know what it takes to get a good night’s sleep? Consider this, most people do not get enough sleep and those who do often are not getting quality sleep. Good sleep is contingent upon a number of factors that are occurring both at night and during your normal daily life routines. There are some situations that can hinder your sleep or the quality of your sleep quite significantly such as stress, caffeine and alcohol.
To get a good night’s sleep, you must first know how much sleep you need for it to be considered enough. Every person is different but there are some key guidelines that surround the amount of sleep that people need based on their age. Infants under 2 months old typically need up to 18 hours per day of rest. As we grow older, less sleep is needed. Teens only need about 8.5 to 10 hours of sleep each night and adults require just 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep.
The National Institute of Health claims that most adults sleep less than 7 hours each night which equates to a sleep deprivation of thirty minutes to 2 hours each night. In time, this can equate to extreme sleep deprivation which can lead to emotional health problems, physical ailments, and various other conditions.
Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
Are you wondering what the signs of sleep deprivation are? You may not even realize the negative effects that sleep deprivation is having on your life but consider this:
- Sleep deprivation causes lack of motivation. Have you noticed that you just can’t seem to wake up? This could be a sign of sleep deprivation.
- Sleep deprivation causes mood swings. Are you often irritable, stressed and unhappy? This is another key symptom of being deprived of sleep.
- Sleep deprivation causes a reduced ability to cope with stressful situations. Have you noticed that you can’t cope with things like you used to? You may be sleep deprived!
- Sleep deprivation causes an increased risk of the common cold, infection and illness. Have you noticed that you are often sick? You could be getting ill as a result of lack of sleep.
- Sleep deprivation causes memory loss and a lack of focus. If you are having trouble concentrating this could be a sign of sleep deprivation.
- Sleep deprivation also causes weight gain, poor motor function, problems with decision making, reduced problem-solving skills and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and similar conditions.
Understanding the Stages of Sleep
It’s important to understand the three stages of sleep and how each stage is important in its own way. Without all three stages of sleep in a the right capacity, you will not be getting good sleep. Sleep is a series of stages that are each different from one another and which each work together to provide the body with adequate rest and relaxation that is beneficial to the individual.
The two types of sleep are REM sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is a four stage process that places the person into a deeper sleep state with each stage. REM or Rapid Eye Movement Sleep is the sleep that occurs when you dream. During this stage of sleep, the eyes rapidly move back and forth hence the name of this stage of sleep, Rapid Eye Movement.
Non-REM Sleep Stages
- Stage N1 (falling into sleep / transition) – During this stage of sleep the body is just falling asleep and the eyes are slowing moving as the muscles begin to wind down. This sleep stage lasts about 5 minutes and you can very easily be woken up during this stage of sleep.
- Stage N2 (Light Sleep) – During this stage of sleep the body has slowed down, muscles have relaxed, eyes are no longer moving and the heart rate slows down. This stage of sleep is the initial stage of actual sleep and typically lasts somewhere between 10 minutes and about half an hour.
- Stage N3 (Deep Sleep) – During this stage of sleep you are in a deep sleep in which you are not easily woke up. If you do happen to be awakened during this deep stage of sleep, you will feel rather disoriented and it could take you several minutes to come to. During deep sleep, your brain is functioning very slowly and blood flow is directed away from the brain to focus more on restoring muscles and your physical energy.
- REM Sleep (Dream Sleep) – This stage of sleep takes place during the deep sleep stage about an hour and a half after you initially fall asleep. During REM sleep, your eyes will move about rapidly and you breathing is shallow as the heart rate and blood pressure increase. Your arms and legs become paralyzed and all dreaming takes place during this phase or stage of sleep.
Understanding the Importance of Deep Sleep
Now that you know what the different stages of sleep are you can begin to learn about the importance of the final stages of sleep. Deep sleep, which takes place during the third and fourth stages of sleep is vital to a healthy sleep habit. Studies show that the average adult only spends about 50% of their total sleep time in a deep sleep during which the muscles and physical energy are being regenerated and dreaming is occurring.
Deep sleep is important because this is the time during which the body is repairing itself and building up additional energy stores for the coming day. This stage of sleep plays a significant role in health management, growth, muscle repair and immunity. Adults who do not get adequate rest are likely to suffer more colds, become sick, feel tired, and have poor motor function.
The following conditions or situations may be affecting your ability to get deep sleep:
- Noise – it may be a crying baby that keeps you up all night, the neighbor’s dog barking, a roommate coming in and out or sirens on the street nearby. Noise is a major factor that could be affecting your sleep.
- Sleep routines – if you work at night or swing between day and night shifts, you sleep patterns or routines may be significantly out of whack. This could be negatively affecting your ability to get a good night’s rest.
- Alcohol – if you drink late in the evening you will be more prone to interruptions in your deep sleep patterns. Alcohol will cause disruptions in your sleep and should be avoided in the evenings especially.
- Nicotine – if you smoke or chew tobacco, the stimulant, nicotine that is in the tobacco will cause disruptions in your sleep.
- Caffeine – caffeine can make it difficult for you to fall asleep and may prevent you from falling into a deep sleep.
Tips for Getting Enough Sleep and Avoiding Sleep Deprivation
Unfortunately, there is no way to make sleep up and sleeping in on the weekends just isn’t enough when it comes to not getting enough sleep during the week. However, you can follow these tips to get more sleep and hopefully get your sleep patterns back onto a track that will no longer leave you sleep deprived:
- Make a commitment to get at least 8 hours of sleep time each night. If you aim for 8 hours, you may luck out and at least get 7.5 hours of sleep each night which will help you to stay on track.
- You can’t make up for lost sleep in one single night. If you find that you missed out on 5 hours of sleep during the week, do what you can to get back on track by going to bed an hour or so early each night the following week. Don’t try to sleep those 5 extra hours upfront as this will result in oversleeping and could make you feel more tired.
- Keep records of your sleep. Pay attention to when you go to bed, when you wake up and how long you actually sleep each night. By keeping track of the number of hours of sleep that you get each night you will quickly be able to determine what your natural sleeping patterns are and how you can adjust your daily routines to allow for adequate sleep.
- Prioritize your sleep. Sleep should always be a priority in your life just like eating, working or having fun. You should make sure that you schedule in enough time each night to take part in a routine sleep schedule that allows you at least 8 hours of shut eye each night.
Sleep Disorders and Sleeping Problems
If you are having trouble sleeping, there is a chance that you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. If you try to follow a good sleep routine and give yourself adequate time to sleep yet you still seem to have problems sleeping, you may be suffering from insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome (RLS), or narcolepsy. According to the CDC, each of these sleep disorders can cause adverse health reactions and may result in lack of energy, poor mental awareness, physical impairment or other health related issues.
Signs and Symptoms of Insomnia
Insomnia is often the result of another health condition such as anxiety, depression or another medical disorder. The signs and symptoms of insomnia include:
- having trouble falling asleep
- difficulty falling back asleep if you wake up in the middle of the night
- waking up many times in a night
- sleeping lightly as if you are barely asleep
- having trouble falling asleep unless you take a sleep medication such as a nighttime pill, supplement or similar sleep aid
- feeling lethargic, having a lack of energy or otherwise being tired throughout the day
If you suffer from insomnia, you could benefit from learning certain relaxation techniques that will help you to fall asleep easier and to stay asleep longer. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, exercise during the day and refraining from alcohol or caffeine will work to reduce insomnia episodes.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
A common sleep disorder that many people suffer from and don’t even realize is called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea causes the individual to stop breathing temporarily while sleeping as a result of a blockage in the upper airways. Each time the breathing stops, the individual will slightly wake up. The sleep apnea may not result in the individual waking up to a point in which they realize that they woke up but it is enough to interrupt deep sleep and to prevent healthy sleep from occurring. This can lead to exhaustion, irritability, and a lack of energy during the day. Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- pauses or complete stops in breathing
- gasping for air during sleep
- choking in your sleep
- feeling like you didn’t sleep even though you were in bed for many hours
- waking up with chest pain
- nasal congestion in the mornings
- dry throat in the mornings
Signs and Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Some people have a significant urge to move around during the night. The desire to be ever moving your legs or your arms could be the result of Restless Legs Syndrome, a common sleep disorder that can cause extreme sleep deprivation. RLS causes tingling, aching and crawling sensations in the arms or legs and can reduce the ability to get good sleep. Symptoms of RLS include:
- uncontrollable urges to move the legs at night during rest
- discomfort in the legs
- sensations in the legs that do not go away at night and actually become worse as the night goes on
- aching or cramping in the legs that seems to only get better for a few minutes with regular movement
- jerking of the legs during sleep
Signs and Symptoms of Narcolepsy
Another common sleep disorder, but one that does not result in a lack of sleep, is called narcolepsy. This disorder results in an uncontrollable desire to sleep during the day. This sleep disorder is caused by a brain dysfunction and can result in the person having these incredible onsets of sleep known as sleep attacks which can pose a significant risk to the individual if such attacks come on while driving, working or performing other routine tasks. Signs of narcolepsy include:
- dreaming before you actually fall into deep, REM sleep
- feeling suddenly sleepy and weak despite the fact that it is daytime
- having very intense dreams or dreaming early in sleep
- feeling the paralysis that comes in deep sleep when you are awake
Myths & Facts About Sleeping
Myth: Sleeping 6 hours per night is enough for me.
Fact: The average adult requires at least 7.5 hours of sleep per night. Getting only 6 hours of sleep in a night will result in you being tired, sleep deprived and ultimately groggy.
Myth: The body can make significant adjustments to sleep in no time.
Fact: Changes in sleep schedules can negatively affect the body in a number of ways. The body does not adjust well to sleep changes. In fact, even a small change, such as one hour less of sleep per night, can result in very large negative effects on the individual. It can take the body a week or more to adjust to changes in a sleep pattern.
Myth: Fatigue is cured by additional sleep at night.
Fact: If you think that your daytime tiredness can be cured with additional sleep at night you might be wrong. Just because you sleep longer at night does not mean you will feel less tired during the day. This is because the quality of the sleep you are getting also matters in terms of how you feel the next day.
Myth: Sleeping in will help you make up for a lack of sleep.
Fact: If you think that sleeping in a few days a week will make up for staying up late during the week or waking up excessively early, you’re wrong! You cannot make up for lost sleep as quickly as you can lose the sleep. Sleep deprivation requires long term changes in order to gain back the sleep debt. Sleeping in a few days a week will not make up for the lost sleep that occurs over time.
Improving Sleep Habits
Since sleep is such an important part of our overall health, it’s important to know what it takes to get a good night’s sleep. Improving your sleep habits can help to improve your energy, function, mental well-being and overall quality of life. Follow these tips to improve your sleep habits:
- Exercise during the day. If you get adequate exercise during the day you will sleep better at night thanks to lowered stress levels and the use of the energy.
- Boost your mood. By having a positive mood you will have less anxiety, less stress, and feel better which will result in you sleeping better at night.
- Get some sun. Sunlight naturally regulates your melatonin levels and this will work to regulate your sleep and wake cycles. By getting some sun each day (at least two hours) you will feel better and have better sleep patterns.
- Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages, nicotine and caffeinated beverages. These stimulants will keep the body and the mind alert and can cause your sleep patterns to be disrupted.
- Keep stress out of the bedroom. If you have a computer, keep it out of the bedroom. If you have a phone, keep it out of the bedroom. Keep the items that could cause you undue stress at night outside of your bedroom.
- Keep clocks out of view. If you can see a clock each time you wake up you are likely to spend time stressing out over the time, the number of hours left to sleep and other factors.
- Keep the bedroom clean. This doesn’t mean that you have to dust everyday, more so, it means that the bedroom should be kept as a place for sleep and intimacy. Computers, televisions, and other distractions should be kept out of the bedroom.