Sleep problems?: How to tell if you’re getting enough Zzzs

In our fast-moving world, it seems like it’s not just certain cities that never sleep, but many people. How do you know whether your struggles to get to sleep—and stay asleep—are a result of environment or something more serious?

How can we improve our environment to help our quality and quantity of sleep?

Getting good quality sleep

Alarm Clock

Dr. Philip Alapat, assistant professor of medicine and associate medical director of the Baylor Sleep Center says that, ideally, everyone should aim to get sufficient quality and quantity of sleep nightly, in a regularly scheduled way.

“Regularly scheduled,” he says, “Means that we should aim to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day, both during the week and on the weekends.”

Alapat says that although this is the ideal, it’s rare for anyone to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. He says the minimum amount of sleep that will be sufficient for most individuals is 7-7.5 hours. Teenagers tend to need more sleep, around 9-10 hours, but very rarely get this amount.

Improving your sleeping environment

 Alapat says the “cardinal pillars” of achieving good quality sleep include being in a quiet, dark, and cool environment.

 Steps you can take to improve your sleep conditions include:

  • Organizing your schedule so you can have a consistent bedtime
  • Creating a relaxing wind-down routine, such as reading or taking a hot shower
  • Avoiding activity—such as doing work or watching TV—in your bed, as it may be difficult for your body and brain to recognize when it’s time to sleep

 Sleep time myths

Alapat says that if you’re struggling to sleep at night, and feel exhausted during the day, taking an afternoon nap to relieve your exhaustion may not always be the way to go. Naps can decrease the drive to fall asleep that night. He says that even if you Dr. Philip Alapatfeel tired during the day, the concept of spending more time in bed can actually be counterproductive.

It’s also important to remember that the effects of caffeine can last 6-8 hours—so that iced tea you drank at dinner could be contributing to keeping you awake at night.

Be aware of how much caffeine you’re drinking, too—one standard cup of coffee contains 50-100 milligrams of caffeine, but some coffee-shop brews can contain more along the lines of 400-500 milligrams.

When to get evaluated

How do you know when it’s time to seek help for sleep problems? Alapat says that when people meet the ideal circumstances for quality sleep, and still complain of getting unrefreshing sleep, they should consider getting evaluated. He says that because sleep medicine is a relatively new specialty, it’s a good idea to specifically see a sleep disorders specialist.

Signs you should consider seeing a sleep specialist include when:

  • You’re regularly taking lots of sleep medications at night
  • You’re regularly drinking alcohol to fall asleep
  • Others tell you that you exhibit abnormal behaviors while asleep, such as breathing difficulties or sleepwalking
  • You’re so tired from lack of sleep at night that you feel the need to consume large amounts of caffeine to stay awake during the day

At one point, Alapat yawned, and said jokingly, “See, even I don’t get enough sleep!” Do you feel like you get enough sleep? What are some rituals that have helped you get to sleep more quickly and stay asleep longer?

Want to schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist at BCM? Contact the Sleep Center.

– By Jordan Magaziner

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