Recently updated on April 11th, 2019 at 06:07 am
Sleep disorders come in various forms. Even though a large section of the global population suffers from sleep disorders, they are not of the same kind. While some people have difficulty falling asleep, others have difficulty staying asleep. The reason behind sleep disorders like sleep apnea also varies from one person to another. However, regardless of the type of sleep disorder a person suffers from, it is of utmost importance that the real cause behind the disorder be diagnosed and treated because sleep disorders can wreak havoc on the person’s physical and mental well being. When someone goes without sufficient sleep for days and weeks, it affects the health, memory, concentration, productivity, and immunity.
One of the biggest health conditions that contribute to sleep difficulties is sleep apnea. A large number of people anywhere in the world snore while sleeping and aren’t even aware of it. Waking up with a dry mouth and throat in the middle of the night is also because of the same disorder. Even though an astounding number of people suffer from it worldwide, most of them do not get diagnosed or treated for the same.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is one of the most serious sleep disorders. It is characterized by breathing getting interrupted during sleep throughout the night. Those with this particular sleep disorder repeatedly have their breathing interrupted while they sleep; sometimes hundreds of times throughout the night. This results in snoring, dry mouth and throat, fragmented sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Although few people seem to know about it, apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders in the world. In the US alone, over 22 million people suffer from sleep apnea, but almost 80% of them go undiagnosed. It is most common in adults between 20 and 70 years of age. Research shows a person suffering from sleep apnea can wake up almost 30 times in an hour. As a result, sleep quality suffers, memory and concentration are affected, and productivity is hampered by excessive sleepiness during the day. When this goes on for days and weeks and months, it can also lead to other health disorders.
Types of Sleep Apnea
The basic definition of this sleep disorder is a respiratory problem where the person is unable to get sufficient oxygen because of restricted breathing. But there is not one, but two types of sleep apnea and the courses are also quite different from one another. The two types of disorders are:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is the more common form apnea caused by the air passageway being blocked by the throat muscles, causing restricted breathing. If someone suffers from this type of disease, the greeting may get interrupted or even stop briefly several times why the person is asleep. People with obstructive sleep apnea usually sleep with their mouth open because of the air passageway being blocked by the relaxed throat muscles. When we sleep up all the muscles of our bodies relax. But when the throat muscles relax so much that they block the upper airway, it causes obstructive sleep apnea. The most common symptom of obstructive this particular sleeping disorder is snoring.
Central Sleep Apnea: The other form of this sleep disorder is called central sleep apnea. Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, here there is no problem with the respiratory organs. The airway is not obstructed, and there is nothing restricting normal breathing. The problem lies in the brain, which forgets to tell the muscles to breathe. Rather than respiratory disorder, this is a disorder of the part of the brain stem that controls breathing. Central sleep apnea is more common among adults older than 65 years of age and in infants. If not treated, central sleep apnea can also cause death because the breathing can remain stopped for several seconds to minutes.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common than central sleep apnea but both course the same kind of distress to the sufferer. The worst part is that the person is unaware of the disorder. Even if the person wakes up several times at night, they may not realize what is causing them to wake up. Therefore, in order to diagnose this sneaky sleep disorder, the signs and symptoms and statements from room and bed partners should be taken into consideration.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
As with any sleep disorder, apnea also has a number of reasons behind it. Usually, there are several causes that can cause sleep apnea. Some of the most common reasons for sleep apnea are:
Obesity: One of the most common factors contributing to sleep apnea is excess weight. More than half of all people who suffer from sleep apnea are either overweight or obese. Anyone with a body mass index of above 25 is considered overweight, and someone over 29 is called obese. In overweight or obese people the tissues and muscles are thicker and when they relax they have a higher chance of blocking the airway. Neck circumference of more than 15 centimeters is also a potential cause for obstructive sleep apnea. Obesity has all chances of causing obstructive sleep apnea, but sometimes it also works the other way around. Going without sleep for a long time at a stretch causes hormonal imbalances that can lead to obesity.
Endocrine Disorders: Some disorders of the endocrine system are sometimes linked to obstructive sleep apnea. Hypothyroidism is one of the most important endocrine disorders that can cause obstructive sleep apnea. Postmenopausal women on hormone replacement therapy are also at risk of developing sleep apnea. But the endocrine disorder usually resolves the sleep apnea.
Genetics: One of the most common reasons behind sleep apnea is a genetic predisposition. If people in your immediate family suffered from sleep apnea or had traits like a thick neck, round head or a dental overbite, you are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea. That is the reason why people with a genetic predisposition for sleep apnea should maintain healthy body weight and take other necessary measures to lower the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
Large Tonsils: Enlarged tonsils or adenoids are often the most common reasons for obstructive sleep apnea in infants and children. The large tonsils or adenoids block the airway and obstruct breathing. Medicines are the most common treatment options for tonsil or adenoid related sleep apnea. In case the tonsils are too big and cannot be remedied by medications, surgery could be done. Removing the blockage from the airway usually resolves sleep apnea in children.
Unhealthy lifestyle: People with unhealthy lifestyles are at a greater risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. Smoking and drinking alcohol make the tongue, and the muscles of the throat relax further and cause obstruction of the air passage. When an unhealthy lifestyle leads to obesity, it worsens obstructive sleep apnea.
Age: it is well known that the prevalence of sleep apnea increases with age. Men over the age of 40 are more susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea. As a person ages, sleep difficulties such as insomnia, trouble staying asleep and shorter sleep duration become more common. Further, if the person is overweight, the risk for sleep apnea increases because of fatty deposits in the in head and neck region, lengthening of the soft palate, and change in the shape of the pharynx.
Neuromuscular Disorders: People with neuromuscular disorders like multiple sclerosis also likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea because the muscles do not function the way they should. Lung restrictions arising out of the disorder contribute significantly to obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep-related difficulties. When people with neuromuscular disorders developed obstructive sleep apnea, the only option is to provide invasive and noninvasive ventilation.
Heart or Kidney Disorders: Those with problems of the heart or the kidneys can also develop obstructive sleep apnea. If not treated in time the sleep apnea can worsen the heart and kidney health.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Even though there are many symptoms of sleep apnea, they are most noticeable only to people other than the sufferer. That is why when diagnosing sleep apnea the healthcare practitioner should take the input of the family member or bed partner of the patient.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are:
Snoring: Almost everyone snow once in a while when they are in a deep sleep. But if the person is a habitual loud snorer, then and there is some serious problem. Snoring is both a problem as well as an annoyance. But those who snore usually refuse to believe when they are told so by others. However, instead of refusing to believe, the person should seek the help of a doctor to rule out sleep apnea.
Shortness of Breath: Because sleep apnea involves interrupted breathing, it is not unusual for the person to wake up several times at night with shortness of breath. In fact, waking up in the middle of the night with a start, feeling like you are unable to breathe is one of the biggest signs of sleep apnea. The person who shares the bed with you will also be able to confirm if they have noticed your breathing stopping and starting again suddenly many times throughout the night.
Sleepiness and Fatigue: Insufficient sleep at night naturally leads to excessive daytime sleepiness, resulting in poor concentration and productivity and foggy memory. Chronic sleep deprivation can also lead to other health disorders such as improper appetite and weight gain.
Headaches and Dryness of Mouth: If you always wake up with a dry mouth and headache you could be suffering from sleep apnea. If there are no other reasons why you could have a dry mouth and throat or a headache every morning you wake up, it is most likely sleep apnea.
Low libido: Sleep apnea and chronic sleep deprivation rob the person of all energy, which leads to low libido. Although low libido also has other reasons sleep apnea is of the most important ones.
Treatment of Sleep Apnea
Usually, he is sleep apnea is being caused by any other underlying medical condition such as heart or kidney problems or endocrine disorders; then the underlying medical cause should be remedied first. If hypothyroidism is causing the sleep apnea, then the hypothyroidism needs to be treated first to cure the sleep disorder. If an unhealthy lifestyle is a cause, then lifestyle changes are required to take care of the problem.
If the root cause is respiratory, then depending upon the severity of the condition, a number of treatment options are available. These include:
Breathing Devices: Because sleep apnea is basically a breathing problem, there are breathing devices that are used to correct the condition. The most popular among them are Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) which involves wearing a pressurized mask over the mouth and nose while sleeping, to help keep the airway unblocked by forcing air through it.
Mouthpieces: Mouthguards or mouthpieces are dental devices fitted to the mouth for correcting the tongue, jaw, and soft palate position for clearing the airway. These devices move the jaw forward and prevent resistance in the upper airway. These devices are usually fitted by a dentist according to the shape and structure of the mouth.
Surgery: If non-invasive means aren’t successful, surgery needs to be done for curing sleep apnea. Sleep apnea surgery is called the process of uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which is used to minimize the symptoms of the disorder. Although the surgery is successful at removing the tissue out of the airway, it also has side effects like pain and bleeding. Laser surgery is also available, which involves shortening the soft palate with a laser beam.
Myofunctional Therapy: This is a facial therapy for the muscles of the tongue, throat, and face to reduce snoring and minimize the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. In more serious cases, this may not be too helpful.
The first step in treating sleep apnea is the right diagnosis. After that, a number of treatments options could be tried to find the best fit for the patient.
If you or someone you know needs the above information handy, feel free to save, share or email the infographic below.
Recently updated on July 16th, 2021 at 11:30 pm
Throughout the US about 70 million people suffer from unsound sleep. They don’t necessarily have to suffer from a sleep disorder; poor quality sleep or not getting the necessary hours of rest often has the same effects as a sleep disorder. Blame it on hectic work schedules or an unhealthy lifestyle, but poor sleep quality has been on the rise for the last many years. Some people suffer from chronic insomnia, some have fragmented sleep, while some people stay up because of ambient factors. Yes, believe it or not, but external factors are often responsible for causing unsound sleep. From noisy neighbors to the sound of traffic, to snoring (leading to the question how to stop snoring), various environmental factors are responsible for contributing to disturbed sleep.
Sometimes the source of distraction maybe right next to us. We are talking about snoring. At the same time, snoring is both a disorder and a distraction. However, snoring is also more normal than any other sleep issue. In fact, it isn’t considered an issue at all, not until it starts to disturb the people around the snorer. Snoring is a problem that only the people around the snorer are aware of. Once the person is asleep, they do not know if they snore. In some cases, they may refuse to believe that they snore when told by others. It is often embarrassing, and not many like to admit that their snoring keeps others awake at night.
Every person snores at some point. They may snore softly when in a deep sleep or when they have a cold. But it isn’t something regular or permanent. Such snoring is also quite tolerable to others around the sleeper. The problem arises when the snoring is loud enough to not only keep the people in the room awake but also disturb the others in the house even through closed doors. This is when snoring is considered a sleep disorder and needs treatment.
What Is Snoring?
Simply put snoring is the result of a blocked air passageway. It generally happens when there is an obstruction to breathing. When a person sleeps the muscles in the body relax. The problem is, in snorers, the throat muscles also relax and block the air passage. This creates obstructed air movement and does not let the person breathe freely. As a result, the strained breathing creates a noise.
It is easy to simply brush aside snoring and not consider it a problem at all. But the fact is the sound of snoring can sometimes exceed 100 decibels, which is louder than the sound of a road drill. Even if the person remains unaware of the fact that he or she snores, the loud noise can cause sleep disturbances to others around him forcing them to seek remedies to stop snoring. The loudness of snoring can lead to chronic insomnia and for sleep quality in others sharing the room with the snorer.
Snoring is not a problem when it is transient or because of a condition like a cold. It is also more common among men and those above middle age. Habitual snoring affects around 90 million people in the US alone. Children can also sometimes be habitual snorers, but the generally outgrow it as they get older.
What are the Most Common Causes of Snoring?
As already discussed, the primary cause of snoring is obstruction of the air passage. But the obstruction can stem from various causes. Snoring is more an annoyance than anything else. It is not readily seen as a sleep disorder or a health problem. Snoring can often remain undiagnosed, and even though it may not be dangerous for the person, it can lead to various other problems.
Most Common Causes of Snoring
Excess Weight: Overweight or obese people are more at risk for snoring. In fact, more than half of the total number of people who snore are overweight or obese. Any person with a body mass index of 29.9 or above is considered overweight, while a body mass index of 40 and above is considered obese. BMI is not always the sole yardstick for measuring excess weight. Men with a neck circumference of 17 inches or higher are also at risk for snoring. This is because overweight people have thick palates that narrow down the airway and obstruct breathing. This is not really a disorder but more of a lifestyle problem, affecting a vast number of people in the US.
Alcohol: Many people are fond of consuming an alcoholic drink after dinner or before bed because they find it relaxing. Indeed, alcohol does have a relaxing effect on the body. Alcohol is known to relax all the muscles of the body including the throat muscles. When throat muscles relax, they block the airway and obstruct breathing. That is the reason why any person with sleep disorders or respiratory troubles should avoid alcohol at least two hours before bedtime.
Nasal Problems: Respiratory or nasal problems can often be the reason behind loud snoring. Chronic nasal congestion and deviated nasal septum are one of the biggest physiological reasons behind snoring. Nasal congestion can have a variety of causes including allergies, common cold, sinusitis, environmental irritants, and nasal polyps. The septum is the wall between the nostrils. When it is crooked, it leads to a condition called deviated nasal septum. This causes airway obstruction and prevents normal breathing, leading to snoring. All types of nasal congestion require a medical diagnosis.
Sleep Deprivation: Snoring and sleep deprivation are connected in two ways: sleep-deprived people tend to snore more, and those who snore are also usually sleep deprived. When sleep deprived people finally get to rest, they are more likely to snore than others.
Sleep Position: The position in which a person sleeps is also a possible reason for snoring. Those who sleep on their back are more likely to snore than those who sleep on the sides or on the stomach. This is because when a person sleeps on the back, the air passage is narrowed down due to the relaxed throat muscles. Those who sleep on their backs and snore loudly may try changing the sleep position to see if there is any improvement.
What Habitual Snoring Can Lead To?
Snoring may not always be the problem itself. Throat muscles relax in every person when they sleep, but when it begins to obstruct the breathing, it becomes a problem. When snoring goes undiagnosed, it can lead to other issues. Some of them are:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: In several cases, snoring is a sign of a more serious disorder called obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is of a number of types, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea, in which the air passage is blocked by the relaxing throat muscles. This not only causes snoring but also makes the breathing stop and start abruptly throughout the night. As a result, the person fails to get proper rest, wakes up with a dry mouth and throat and feels tired throughout the day. Snoring is usually the first sign of obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep Deprivation: When a person snores it means the breathing is obstructed. And when the breathing is obstructed sleep is hampered. When a person fails to breathe normally, it wakes them up several times at night, leading to chronic sleep deprivation in the long run.
Inability to Concentrate: Snoring causes sleep deprivation and excessive daytime sleepiness. As a result, concentration and productivity suffer and the risk of accidents at work and on the road also increases.
Health Problems: Failing to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night can lead to various health problems including heart disease and the risk of strokes in heart attacks. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to hormonal imbalances and an increase in appetite and weight gain.
Sleep Divorce: Relationships are often affected when one of the partners snores. In fact, it isn’t surprising to find couples who have broken up or divorced because one of them was a loud snorer. Although underestimated, snoring is a big enough reason behind the degrading of relationships.
7 Effective Remedies to Stop Snoring
Although snoring can lead to various problems, it isn’t the end of the world. Snoring can often be managed with a few easy remedies. Some of them are:
Changing Sleep Position
Since back sleepers are more likely to snore, the first remedy to try is changing the sleep position. If you are a back sleeper, try sleeping on your side for a change. If that seems difficult in the beginning use a body pillow for help. When you sleep on your side, your throat muscles do not relax into the air passage and do not obstruct the breathing. Many back sleepers who snore have reported a marked improvement when sleeping on the side.
Most snorers are overweight, and in that case, losing weight is the only option. Although not too easy, maintaining the ideal body weight is one of the most effective ways to stop snoring. Following a proper diet and exercise is the best place to begin. A healthy BMI is between 21 and 25. Anything lower is underweight, and anything higher is overweight. Besides fat-burning exercises, strength training is also helpful in shedding fat, building muscles, and boosting metabolism.
Avoiding Alcohol and Sedatives
Alcohol and sedatives work the same way. They relax the muscles of the body, including that of the throat. When a person consumes alcohol or sedatives before bedtime, they are more likely to snore because the throat muscles relax further under the influence of the sedatives. Habitual snorers who consume alcohol or sedatives before going to bed should avoid them. This can bring about a significant improvement in snoring.
Practicing Better Sleep Hygiene
Snoring can often be a result of sleep deprivation and a lack of sleep hygiene. Maintaining a proper bedtime routine can alleviate most of the problems. Having a fixed sleep schedule, avoiding coffee and nicotine, and taking short naps are some of the ways to bring about quality sleep and reduce snoring.
Mattresses, pillows, and sheets house millions of dust mites and allergens. No matter how many times you wash them, they keep trapping dust and allergens. When a habitual snorer sleeps on such pillows and sheets, it causes allergies and adds to respiratory distress, making snoring worse. That is why pillows and sheets should be regularly changed and kept clean all the time. Also, make sure that the pillows keep your head and neck properly supported. If possible, stack two or three pillows to keep your head elevated while you sleep.
Warmth helps clear blockages in the airway, removes congestion, and ease respiratory distress. Besides, a warm bath or shower will also help you sleep deeper. This could help lessen snoring that starts in the nose. You could also keep a bottle of saltwater rinse in the shower for rinsing your nose out with to open up the nasal passages. Besides taking a hot bath or shower, you may also consider buying a neti pot to clear the nasal passages with a saltwater solution.
When the body is dehydrated, it produces thicker fluids. When your nasal secretions become thick, it blocks the airway and causes snoring. Dehydration can be one of the biggest reasons behind snoring sometimes. There are snoring sprays that prevent the nasal passages from sticking together. Drinking enough water during the day often reduces snoring in dehydrated people. However, drinking too much water before bedtime isn’t recommended because it will only make you get up for the bathroom.
The causes and treatment for snoring aren’t easy to determine without a medical diagnosis. There are anti-snoring devices such as Tongue Stabilizing Devices (or TSDs) and mandibular advancement devices that open up the airway, to prevent obstruction. These mouthpieces should always be used under the supervision of a doctor because only a healthcare practitioner will be able to determine the reason behind the snoring and suggest the right treatment options. In the meanwhile, home remedies and sleep hygiene can be tried to alleviate the distress for the snorer and others around.
Snoring though may seem innocuous can be an indicator of a serious underlying health condition. It may even be affecting you in ways that might not be apparent – like affecting your sleep quality, diminishing your capabilities to concentrate on work, or even affecting your relationship with your partner.
We have also created an infographic on this subject, feel free to share it with your friends and on your social networks. Happy sleeping!
Recently updated on September 16th, 2018 at 07:54 am
Sleep plays a major role in keeping us healthy, alert, and fully functional. In some cases, sleep is more important than food, because without proper sleep, the food that is eaten fails to nourish our bodies. A large percent of the urban population suffers from sleep deprivation. A person who goes without 7 or more hours of sleep every night is called sleep deprived. Chronic sleep deprivation can affect people of any age, although it is more common adults and the elderly.
Children need 9 or more hours of sleep every night, while teens need close to 9 hours. Adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep. The amount of sleep you need doesn’t depend on how sleepy you feel. If you do not get your required quota of sleep every night, you are going to feel sleepy and fatigued during the day and develop other health issues in time if you are sleep deprived all the time.
Sleep, more than anything else, affects not only our health, but also the society and the economy. Sleep deprivation has turned into an epidemic with hectic work life schedules and busy lifestyles robbing people of their precious sleep. Nearly 40 percent of children, 90 percent of teens, 70 percent of college going young adults, and 35 percent of working adults don’t get the required amount of sleep every night. In fact, sleep hardly features on anybody’s list of priorities. For most people sleep is a waste of time. Staying awake and getting some more work done seems better. But sleep deprivation has far reaching effects on our health, as well as the society and the economy.
Most sleep deprived professions in the US
You’d be surprised to learn that your occupation can be a major source of sleep deprivation. In every country there are certain professions that require people to work harder than others. The demands of such professions often cut short the time that should be devoted to sleep.
In a survey conducted by mattress company Sleepy’s, the following were found to be most sleep deprived occupations in the US.
In the same study, the most well rested professions were found to be forest loggers, hairstylists, and sales representatives among others. This goes on to show that those with a fixed work hour are better rested than those with erratic schedules.
Causes of sleep deprivation
The reasons why people may not get enough are varied. What holds true for one person may not be so for others. Just because someone stays up late or fails to get to bed early doesn’t mean they have an unhealthy lifestyle. It may well mean that they suffer from certain conditions that make getting sleep hard. Or there may be people to take care of at home, resulting in poor sleep quality.
Several health conditions are often responsible for poor sleep quality. These include heart problems, kidney disorders, breathing problems, and thyroid issues.
Sleep disorders also form a significant cause of sleep deprivation. Reasons include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy.
Erratic work schedules affect our sleep quality more than we can imagine. Staying up late for work or waking up in the wee hours to go to work result in chronic sleep deprivation over time.
For some people, sleeping late is a personal choice. Watching movies or TV shows till late in the night or finishing pending work is the way of life.
Certain medications interfere with sleep by affecting the production of melatonin the sleep hormone. Beta blockers and blood thinners are some of the medications affecting sleep.
The sleeping environment is often responsible for disturbed sleep. Ambient noise, lights, temperature, and uncomfortable bed, all contribute to sleep deprivation.
How sleep deprivation affects your body
If you go without the required amount of sleep for a day or two, you will feel tired and weak. But if you go without sleep night after night, it leads to more serious complications. Mood swings and poor concentration are some of the immediate effects of sleep deprivation. With time, these get more complicated and lead to hormonal changes, increased or decreased appetite, compromised immunity and poor memory. When your brain fails to refresh and recharge at the end of every day, it causes foggy memory and diminished thinking, affecting productivity. If you still fail to change your lifestyle and get enough sleep, chronic sleep deprivation leads to high blood pressure, lowered sex drive, risk of heart disease, obesity, and depression. A large number of people in the US and elsewhere suffer from these consequences of sleep deprivation.
How sleep deprivation affects society
The consequences of sleep deprivation are further reaching than we imagine. It also impacts the society by affecting academic Performance, creating marital discords, poor performance at workplace, giving rise to obesity among children and adults, and various other health risks.
How sleep deprivation affects the economy
We might not think of sleep deprivation’s effect on the economy, but it is deeper than we assume. For instance, every year, the economy loses $411 Billion because of sleep deprivation related issues, including lost 1.2 million work days, loss of $2,280 per employee per year per company, cost $100 billion in cost of sleep deprivation treatment, loss of $109 billion because of drowsy driving, and 328,000 vehicular accidents a year.
How to combat sleep deprivation
Loss of sleep is controllable and can also be treated. Aside from getting diagnosed and treated for medical conditions, there are some easy ways to combat sleep deprivation and improve sleep quality including:
Creating a sleep environment: This involves freeing your bedroom from all distractions like the TV, electronics, and work related stuff. The bedroom should be only for sleeping, not for other purposes. You should also try to remove ambient distractions like noise and lights.
Evaluating the bed: Uncomfortable mattress or bed linen can have a major impact on sleep quality. The mattress is intricately connected to our sleep quality, so the mattress, sheets and pillows should be suitable for optimal sleep quality.
Avoiding screen time before bed: The blue light from backlit devices hinder the production of melatonin. Therefore, at least two hours until bed time, reduce the time you spend in front of the TV, phone, tablet, or computer.
Giving up bad habits: Cutting down on the consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco will promote the normal production of melatonin, and also aid in proper sleep. If you cannot give it up, try to avoid the consumption at least two hours before bedtime.
Improving sleep hygiene: More often than not, sleep is all about routine. Going to sleep and awakening at the same time every day, sleeping on clean and comfortable sheets, removing clutter from the bedroom, and eating a light dinner are some of the ways to improve sleep hygiene and get rid of sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation not only affects millions of people around the world, but also affects the society and the economy. If the society, employers, and the general public show greater concern for this condition, it is possible to bring back productivity and also have everyone getting their full 8 hours of sleep every night.
A better understanding can be achieved with the following infographic –
Recently updated on May 30th, 2020 at 03:06 pm
Besides food, sleep is the most important requirement of every living being, including humans. Sleep refreshes and rejuvenates us, helping our bodies repair and recharge. Sleep stages and sleep cycles play a very crucial role in this process. Whether we are tired, sick, or stressed, sleep heals and re-energizes us.
The process of sleep can be complicated to understand. It isn’t as simple as closing our eyes and dozing off. Several complex processes take place in the brain, bringing about sleep. Our brains work as hard while we are sleeping as when we are awake. Sleep is divided into different stages and cycles. Controlled by the production of hormone regulation, muscle recovery, and memory formation, the primary sleep hormone, the hypothalamus signals the rest of the body if it is time to sleep or to stay awake. Disruption in melatonin production affects the normal sleep-wake cycle.
To understand sleep, we need to understand the different sleep stages and sleep cycles in detail.
What Are Different Sleep Stages?
When we sleep, our brains pass through five different stages, ranging from light to deep sleep. The stages are classified into REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. During the night, our bodies go through the five stages four to five times. Each cycle consists of the five stages. This means, while we sleep, our bodies go through four or five sleep cycles. Each cycle of sleep is roughly 90 minutes long. In an 8-hour sleep, there are four to five 90 minute cycles. In infants and children, each stage is about 50 to 60 minutes long.
Each stage of sleep has an important role in the sleep cycle. All five stages play their own function in rejuvenating and recharging the body for the next day. This includes hormone regulation, muscle recovery, and memory formation. Without enough time to sleep, most of these functions remain incomplete, resulting in fatigue and sleepiness. We might think that only deep sleep is the important stage, but all the stages are equally essential. Without a full night of sleep, the sleep cycle isn’t complete, and the restoration work remains unfulfilled.
Stage 1 of Sleep
Depending on how tired you are, it takes only a few seconds to enter the first stage of sleep, called the transitional phase. This is a non-REM stage, which means the sleep isn’t deep at all. The sleep in this phase is the lightest. People usually flit in and out of consciousness in this stage. If you are exhausted, it will take you only a few seconds to enter the transitional stage, but if you suffer from insomnia or have delayed sleep onset, it can take you an hour or more. Usually, you can still hear everything that’s going on around you and even the slightest noise can wake you up. It is also normal to toss and turn and try to get comfortable. Waking up from this stage is also quick and easy.
In this stage, sometimes your muscles will jerk, jolting you awake. This is called hypnic myoclonia, sleep twitch, or hypnic jerk. These jerks happen because of involuntary muscular contractions. It has been named after the hypnagogic state which is the transitional phase between wakefulness and sleep. Although not all people experience this, they are very common while a person is drifting off. You might even wake up with a start feeling like you were falling. This stage lasts between one and seven minutes. The first stage leads to the second stage of the sleep cycle.
Stage 2 of Sleep
The second stage of sleep is also a non-REM phase, but it is still deeper than the first stage. This phase is when muscles relax, heartbeats begin to slow down, core body temperature drops, eye movements stop, and the person completely drifts off to sleep. Waking up from this stage isn’t as quick as the first stage because the person is making his way to deep sleep. Although this is also a light sleep stage, a person spends more than 50 percent of his sleep in this phase, making it the longest stage in the cycle.
Stage two of the sleep cycle is the precursor to deep sleep. Electrical activity in the brain occurs at a lower frequency compared to the first stage. Brain waves become smaller, with occasional spurts of rapid waves. This phase lasts between 10 and 20 minutes, leading to the third stage.
Stage 3 of Sleep
The third phase can be called the most important stage of the sleep cycle. Lasting between 10 and 40 minutes, this is the stage when sleep is the deepest. During this phase, the heart rate and breathing are at the lowest, and the person has no consciousness of what is happening around him. Waking up from this stage is difficult; if you wake someone up from this stage of sleep, they will remain groggy and disoriented for some time before awakening fully. This stage is also called slow wave sleep when growth and restorative hormones are released.
These hormones have an important role in the development and nourishment of the body. In infants and children, a significant portion of brain and body development takes places at this sleep stage. Besides the growth, these hormones also aid in appetite control. The growth hormones aid in replenishing muscles and tissues that were used during that day, while the hormone leptin suppresses appetite and limits the feeling of excessive hunger. When a person doesn’t get sufficient sleep, leptin doesn’t function well, leading to a rise in the appetite-inducing hormone ghrelin. This is why lack of sleep has a connection with weight gain and obesity
Stage 4 of Sleep
This is also a non-REM phase, but the sleep is almost like a coma. It takes a long time to wake up from this stage. This stage of the sleep cycle is often compared to a comatose state because the heart rate and the body temperature are at the lowest, resembling a person in a coma. Muscle movements don’t occur in this stage, while the breathing is rhythmic. A person usually doesn’t turn or change sides in this stage because the body is completely immobile. This stage lasts around 30 minutes, around when the delta waves are produced.
The delta waves in the brain are associated with relaxation and sleep. Delta waves also enhance the body’s healing abilities. These slow deep waves are responsible for deep sleep. The higher the delta waves, the deeper the sleep. Delta waves are most commonly found in infants because they sleep the deepest. As a person ages, delta waves are produced less. This is also the stage when bedwetting, night terrors, and sleepwalking occurs. Although the causes are unclear, when these instances happen, the person has no memory of them. Even if a person wakes up briefly during this sleep phase, they soon fall back asleep and have no memory of waking up.
Stage 5 of Sleep or REM Stage
This is the final stage in the sleep cycle and the only REM phase. This stage is different from the other sleep phases because this is when the brain begins to get active. Most adults spend around 20 percent of their entire sleep in this REM stage, while newborns and babies spend about 50 percent. In all the previous stages, both the mind and the body are at rest, healing and recharging. But in the REM stage, the mind starts waking up and getting active, while the body is still inactive. The REM sleep stage is called Rapid Eye Movement phase because the eyes move in various directions behind closed eyelids, but the muscles are immobile to prevent the person from acting out dreams.
In this stage, the breathing is shallow and irregular, while the heart rate and blood pressure begin to rise. This is also the stage when dreams occur. That is why most dreams occur in the early morning because that’s the last phase of the sleep cycle. People wake up after the REM stage, and the body temperature comes to normal.
What Factors Affect Sleep Stages and Sleep Cycles?
Although the sleep cycle is made up of these five stages, the cycle isn’t the same in every individual. When the sleep cycle doesn’t take place normally, it results in sleep disorders. There is no certainty that every person will sleep for eight hours or have five sleep cycles. Some people may wake up even before reaching REM sleep. Certain individuals take a few seconds to drift off to sleep while others take an hour or two. This cycle may naturally be a specific way, because of the changes in the structure and function of the brain during development, or may be affected by various external factors.
More often than not, external factors are responsible for regulating the sleep cycle a certain way. Most important among these factors are:
· Age of the Person
Most of us are aware that sleep patterns change with age. Over our lifespan, the amount of time we spend sleeping each day gradually declines. Newborns and infants sleep the maximum, anywhere between 16 and 20 hours each day. Children up to the age of four sleep around 11 to 12 hours. As the child grows up, the amount of sleep keeps declining. An adolescent needs around nine hours of sleep each night, although they may not get that much. Adults need at least eight hours no matter how old they grow, but after middle age, the amount gradually drops. The elderly also need eight hours, but poor sleep quality may not always let them get the full amount at one stretch. That is why those who are unable to get the required sleep at night should make up for it some other time during the day.
The decline in sleep amount and quality has been attributed to the delta waves in the brain. These slow and deep brain waves are responsible for causing deep and sound sleep. When delta waves are higher, the sleep quality is at its best. Because newborns and infants have the highest delta waves, their sleep is the deepest and longest. With age, the slow waves decline. Since REM sleep is known to be important for cognitive development, it isn’t surprising that infants and children spend more than 50 percent of the sleep in the REM stage. As the person grows older, the need for REM sleep also drops. Although sleep problems are a normal part of aging, paying attention to the sleep cycle can help improve sleeping patterns.
· Circadian Rhythm
There is a sleep-wake balancing process that also influences our quality of sleep. We fall asleep only when there is a sleep deficit, and serotonin is acetylated to melatonin. Serotonin is the hormone for relaxation, which helps the body prepare for sleep. It is a precursor to melatonin, the sleep hormone.
This internal, biological clock can vary from one individual to another. Some people may feel sleepy at 8 in the evening while others may stay awake until midnight. Typically, the duration of this biological clock is slightly longer than 24 hours. That is why, the later you go to bed, the later you wake up the next morning. Depending upon the time you go to bed, the body clock adjusts itself. When the adjustment happens naturally, the sleep-wake cycle is free running. Because most humans are diurnal beings, the body clock syncs each day with various external factors like daylight hours, work schedule, etc. The ability of our internal clock to reset according to these factors help keep the circadian rhythm regular and boosts the quality of sleep.
Although this is an internal process, the circadian rhythm is often affected by various external factors, such as working or studying until late, driving at night, or changes in time zones. Jet lag, experienced when traveling across different time zones, takes a toll on the natural internal clock and disrupts the sleep-wake cycle.
· Previous Wakefulness Period
We can fall asleep quickly and easily only when there is accumulated sleep. For maintaining a healthy sleep cycle, this gap between two sleep sessions is extremely important. There was a time in preindustrial Europe when people used to sleep in two phases. This was governed not by a fixed bedtime, but by whether or not there was anything to do. Back then, there was not much to do in terms of work because industries hadn’t yet begun. There was no electricity, so there was nothing to do at home either. Once dusk fell, people would go to sleep for a few hours, waking up late in the evening for an hour or two. After supper, they would go to sleep again till dawn. This bi-modal sleep was prevalent till a long time.
In our modern lifestyles, it isn’t clear whether this bi-modal sleep pattern will work. Sleep starts accumulating once we wake up in the morning. By late evening, when enough sleep has accumulated, we start to feel tired and drowsy. This indicates that our energy resources are depleted, and we need to recharge. If the gap between two sleep sessions is too small, sleep doesn’t accumulate enough, resulting in delayed sleep onset. That is why people who suffer from insomnia are discouraged from napping because sleeping in the middle of the day shortens the time between the two sleep sessions. The longer you go without sleep, the more your sleep deficit.
· Ambient or Environmental Factors
Our surroundings play a key role in our sleep cycle. Environmental factors are often among the biggest causes of sleep disorders, although they usually go undiagnosed. The temperature of the room, ambient noise, light, comfort of the bed, and electronic distractions play a crucial role in the ability to fall and stay asleep. It was found in several studies that those who live in a poorer underprivileged neighborhood are more likely to suffer from sleep issues because of environmental distractions. Passing vehicles till late in the night, noisy neighbors, talking and screaming, loud music and TV, as well as an uncomfortable bed and improper temperature of the room, affect the quality of sleep.
Ambient noise is the greatest environmental factor affecting sleep. From the low hum of the fridge to the ticking of the clock to the TV in the next room to noisy kids upstairs, noises can keep you up at night. An uncomfortable bed is also a potential cause of sleep issues. The wrong mattress, a bed that’s too small, or sheets that cause friction are some of the factors. The type of climate we live in also plays a role in regulating our sleep cycle. Extremely cold regions get a little sun, and people living in such a climate produce more melatonin in response to the low light. Those living in warmer regions are more alert and awake because of constant sunshine and less melatonin production. If not removed, many of these environmental distractions can cause serious sleep disorders in the long run.
· Stress and Medications
Among other factors that affect the sleep cycle is stress. The stress hormone cortisol is famous for suppressing melatonin production. The higher the level of cortisol, the lower the level of melatonin. The lower the production of melatonin, the poorer your quality of sleep and the higher the production of cortisol. This vicious cycle often has no end if the person fails to address the stressors and lower his level of stress. Unless cortisol is low, melatonin production will not be sufficient. Chronic stress can lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety, and even cardiac problems.
Certain medications, such as beta blockers (given for high blood pressure) and immunosuppressants can lower the production of melatonin and cause sleep disorders. Medications for blood thinning and heart arrhythmia block the neurotransmitters responsible for the production of melatonin. Those who take such medications regularly are also given sleeping aid to counter any sleep issues.
Aside from medications, alcohol, smoking, and other such addictions also suppress the production of melatonin and cause sleep disorders. Artificial light from electronic devices also causes sleep disorders. This is why those who stay in front of the computer for long hours often have difficulty falling asleep because too much of light suppresses melatonin production. Using the phone before going to bed, reading on a backlit device, or keeping a night lamp on contribute to melatonin suppression.
How To Improve Sleep Quality?
External factors affect sleep quality to a great extent, but much of it could also be genetic. If genetics is the driving factor, there isn’t any way to change them, but external factors can always be changed or removed to restore normal sleep. If the sleep cycle is affected by any underlying medical condition like snoring or sleep apnea, then they cannot be cured by making a few external changes. Such sleep disorders require proper diagnosis and treatment.
If you know that your sleep keeps getting disrupted because of ambient factors, there are several steps you can take to minimize the distractions and restore normal sleep.
· Create A Sleep Cocoon
Your bedroom should be synonymous with sleep; avoid using it for other purposes like working or eating. This is difficult if you don’t have much space in the house, but if you can help it, avoid making your bedroom your office or entertainment corner as best as possible. Make your bedroom your sleep cocoon so that the moment you enter the room, your body gets into relaxation mode. This can be done by removing distractions like electronics, putting up blinds or curtains to keep out ambient lights, prepping the bed. You may also paint the room in a soothing shade, decorating the walls with pictures that make you feel happy and relaxed. Using essential oils like lavender will banish odor and also calm and relax you.
· Choose Right Kind of Mattress
If you have never taken a hard look at the mattress you sleep on, now is the time to. More often than not, people spend most of their lives sleeping on the wrong mattress. Even though the bed is such deeply connected to our sleep quality, we hardly ever stop to notice if we are comfortable enough. A mattress that’s old, worn out, too hot or too cold, too soft or too firm can do more than just ruin your sleep. Sleeping on the wrong mattress for a prolonged period can have far-reaching effects on your health, causing aches and pains in various parts of the anatomy and even leading to serious conditions like cervical spondylitis.
There are several mattress choosing guides available online that help you pick the right mattress depending upon your body weight, sleeping position, and other factors like whether you sleep hot or cold. Depending on the company you choose, you could also have a mattress customized for your needs. Memory foam, innerspring, and latex are some of the popular mattresses today, and they come in various firmness levels. Some are more comfortable than others, but you can always make use of the trial period to find the mattress that suits you best.
· Avoid Screen Time Before Bed
At least two hours until bedtime, reduce the time you spend in front of a backlit device such as TV, phone, tablet, or computer. If possible, also avoid staying in brightly lit rooms before you go to bed. The lesser you expose yourself to artificial light, the more melatonin is produced, aiding in better sleep. While getting up at night, avoid switching on the lights in the room. Either use footlights or keep a small flashlight handy. Switching on lights in the middle of the night reduces your ability to fall back asleep.
· Cut Down Caffeine, Alcohol, and Tobacco Consumption
As already discussed, certain substances like caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol block the neurotransmitters responsible for producing melatonin and make us stay alert and awake. Consumption of these substances close to bedtime has been found to aid in sleep loss and insomnia. Even if you smoke or drink at other times of the day, try to avoid it in the two hours leading to bedtime. Avoid all the things that boost metabolism and hinder the production of melatonin close to bedtime, including exercise and other activities that increase your heart rate.
· Block Ambient Disturbance
If you live in a noisy neighborhood, it can be a potential cause for disrupted sleep. Footsteps above your head, honking vehicles outside your house, or loud music next doors can cause significant distress. You can take measures to prevent this from turning into a nightly affair. Insulation against noise is one of the best solutions against ambient noise. Soundproof glass, carpeting, thick curtains lined with wool, and foam insulation for the walls are some of the measures. If all else fails, consider getting a white noise machine, which drowns out ambient noise by playing some pre-recorded sound like rainfall or ocean waves.
· Improve Sleep Hygiene
Sleep is all about routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, using crisp clean and comfortable sheets, keeping the room clutter free and well ventilated, and avoiding a heavy meal before bedtime are some of the sleep hygiene measures that can improve sleep quality over time.
Understanding the sleep cycle is often the first step to better sleep quality. When you know, what affects your sleep cycle, you can take measures to cut out distractions and get ample restful sleep every night.
Also, to help you understand the various sleep stages and sleep cycles easily, we have also created an infographic for this.
Infographic Content –
Understanding Stages of Sleep and Sleep Cycles
What Are Sleep Stages? – Characteristics of brain and body defined by brainwave frequencies, and eye and muscle movements. Divided into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM stages.
What is a Sleep Cycle? – The time required to complete five stages of sleep. Typically, it is about 90-120 minutes in an adult, and 50-60 minutes in infants. Four to five sleep cycles per night.
Different Sleep Stages Explained
- Takes seconds to minutes to slip into this stage
- Decreasing heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements
- Transitional phase, relaxed wakefulness before mind begins to drift off
- Easy to wake up, characterized by muscle jerks leading to falling sensation
- Typically Lasts one to seven minutes
- The sleep stage before you enter deep sleep
- Lasts 10 to 25 minutes
- Brain waves become smaller with the occasional burst of rapid waves
- Body temperature drops, eye movements stop and heart rate lowers further
- An average adult spends 50% sleep cycle time in Stage 2
- Deep sleep stage
- Last around 10 to 40 minutes
- Heart rate, breathing is at lowest levels
- Muscles are relaxed; difficult to wake up during this stage
- Body repair, bone and muscle building, immune strengthening occurs
- Coma-like sleep
- 10 to 30 minutes are spent in this stage
- Rhythmic breathing and heart rate; muscle movements extremely limited
- Brain produces delta waves
- Night terrors, sleepwalking, bedwetting can occur in this stage
Stage 5 or REM
- Final stage of sleep cycle where dreaming occurs
- Around 20% time spent in this stage, may last for one to five minutes
- Characterized by rapid side to side movement of eyes behind closed eyelids
- Breathing, heart rate, blood pressure are near wakeful levels
- Arms and muscles paralyzed to prevent body from acting out dreams
Factors that Affect Sleep Cycles
- Age – Infants sleep most while as you age, the requirement decreases gradually
- Gap between previous sleep session
- Internal body clock and its relation to day or night
- Certain medications, exercise, smoking, caffeine, screen time
- Temperature, light and ambient sounds
Controllable Factors to Improve Quality of Sleep
- Ensure bedroom is free from strong smells, dimly lit, and temperature set to comfort
- Get a mattress that suits your sleeping style
- Avoid screen time, smoking, exercising or consuming too much food
- Soft and cool sheets on mattress
- Insulation from noisy environment or use white noise machine
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
- American Sleep Association
- National Geographic
- Psychology Today
Recently updated on July 1st, 2017 at 01:22 pm
Editor’s Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links. For full details visit the disclosures page.
Looking to maximize your sleep time? The latest sleep infographic below from Donal gives very specific instructions on what you should be doing throughout the day to ensure you have the best night’s sleep. Unlike other sleep infographics, this sleep infographic is very specific about what you need to do. Most sleep infographics are full of statistics about the general population which really doesn’t seem to help much in terms of actually learning how to sleep better.
This may be something you could post in your bedroom just as a remind of how important sleep really is. I think it should be in every doctor’s office to show patients. It’s amazing how many maladies stem from lack of sleep and being tired all the time.
Recently updated on March 31st, 2015 at 01:28 pm
Another great sleep infographic. This sleep infographic was found on Pinterest.
Recently updated on June 9th, 2016 at 09:35 am
Check out this sleep infographic. I would suggest printing this out and putting it somewhere in your bedroom so you can refer to it if you’re ever confused as to why you’re not getting enough sleep. There are all sorts of sleep infographics out there and I have collated dozens of sleep infographics on my Pinterest page here as well.