Getting consistent quality sleep is paramount to physical and emotional health. The average person spends more than one-third of their life sleeping, a time in which the body rejuvenates itself. During peaceful slumber, the body is busy repairing damaged tissues, generating new muscle, synthesizing hormones and proteins, and generally recovering from the daily rigors of life.
However, the majority of people don’t get adequate sleep, which can carry serious short- and long-term repercussions. The price of insufficient slumber or long-term sleep deprivation is poor health, impaired cognitive function and increased risk for disease.
Importance of sleep quality
There is a common perception that every person needs a minimum 8 hours of sleep, which is not quite accurate. The amount of sleep needed actually varies as we grow older. For example newborns require anywhere from 11 to 18 hours of daily rest, whereas most adults function well on 8-9 hours of sleep. The pendulum swings back after the age of 60, when most seniors experience less “deep” sleep. Recurring bathroom visits, bouts of chronic pain and sleep apnea can also diminish the quality of sleep as we age. Sleep disruptions likes these can result in only a couple of hours of deep REM sleep, which can culminate in a host of health issues ranging from chronic headaches and memory problems to increased risk for obesity, diabetes and other ailments.
The easiest way to figure out if you’re getting enough quality, uninterrupted sleep is to evaluate your energy and performance throughout the day. Are you constantly fighting the urge to nod off? Having trouble remembering things? Are you unusually irritable all the time? Do you get sleepy during afternoon meetings or have a difficult time getting out of bed in the mornings? These could all be signs that you are sleep deprived.
Dangers of sleep apnea
The next big question to consider is why you aren’t getting quality zzzz’s. Perhaps one of the biggest culprits to watch out for is sleep apnea, a relatively common disorder that affects a person’s breathing at night. Individuals with sleep apnea physically stop breathing for sustained periods ranging from a few seconds to a minute, literally starving their brains of oxygen. This cycle can happen dozens if not hundreds of times throughout the night. If your sleep partner complains that you snore like a freight train – a common sleep apnea symptom – it’s probably wise to get tested for this potentially dangerous sleep disorder.
Without prompt diagnosis and treatment, untreated sleep apnea can lead to severe health issues, including cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, hypertension, high blood sugar levels, heart attack and heart failure.
Furthermore, untreated sleep apnea can negatively affect your daily life, leading to poor performance at school or work, concentration problems and an increased risk for being hurt in an auto accident.
Sleep apnea symptoms
Sleep apnea can affect men and women at any age, but is generally more prevalent in people who are overweight, smoke, and/or have a family history of the disorder.
Some of the most classic symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Persistent loud snoring
- Constant fatigue
- Mood changes, depression
- Disturbed sleep cycles
- Morning headaches
- Dry mouth upon awakening
- Memory problems
Fortunately, there are successful ways to treat mild to severe cases of sleep apnea, which ensure a good, restorative night’s sleep.