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Published on December 18, 2017

Quality or Quantity? Why Don’t You Sleep On It

Quality or Quantity? Why Don’t You Sleep On It

Imagine you had a late night last night. You wake up feeling sleep-deprived, so you decide that you’ll go to bed early tonight to catch up on your rest. You think that by getting an extra few hours of sleep, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed the next morning.

Many of us have used this line of thinking, but how often does it work? You can probably recall times where you had perhaps 5 hours of sleep, but still felt energised and productive. There are likely other times when you’ve gone to bed early, but woke up feeling as though you barely slept.

Could it be that good sleep is more complicated than reaching a magic number of hours per night? Is it the quantity or quality of your sleep that affects how you feel?

    More is better

    Many of us grow up with our parents telling us that we should get more sleep. Babies sleep an astonishing 14-17 hours every day, while teens need 8-10 hours of rest. Adults can function well on 7-9 hours. From the parental perspective, more sleep is better for growing children.

    That’s where the “more is better” mentality begins, but we have supporting evidence from our experience. Science tells us that we need to sleep to survive, and when you rest, your body can heal and recharge. You’ll feel more energized when you wake up. This thinking makes sense, but it is overly simplistic.

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    Think of it this way–your phone has a battery. No matter how long you put the phone to charge, it can’t go more than 100% It doesn’t create new ways to store energy. It just maxes out. Your body works in the same way. You need rest, but more sleep doesn’t necessarily give you an extra supply of energy.

      Sleep studies from the past used to focus on the number of hours of sleep that people need. We’ve all heard of the need to get a certain number of hours per night to keep our bodies and minds in peak condition. Government health organisations further impress upon us the need to get a certain number of hours of rest.

      Finally, studies on people with sleep deficiencies show that they have a shorter and poorer quality of life than people with adequate sleep. A sleep-deprived brain can behave like an intoxicated brain, and long-term cognitive issues can arise with continuous substandard sleep. It’s no wonder we all have the mind set that it is important to sleep as much as we can!

      Is too much a good thing?

      So if we have been told that it is important to get more rest, then is it really a good thing to sleep a lot? We’ve all woken up from a nap and felt terrible afterward. Studies have shown that sleeping too much is in actual fact, not good for you. Sleepers tend to have more issues with depression, increased pain, a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, and impaired cognitive function.[1]

      Too much sleep can leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Having a day where you sleep too much throws off your sleep cycle, which eventually hurts the quality of sleep that you have. People who insist that they can make up for lost sleep on the weekends sabotage their chances of being well-rested ultimately.

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        How you sleep is more important than how much you’re sleeping

        Of course you need a reasonable number of hours of sleep to feel rested. Nobody would dispute that. Sleep quantity is just one part of the equation. How we sleep is more important than the number of hours we sleep.

        Feeling refreshed after sleep has a lot to do with your REM cycle. REM stands for “rapid eye movement,” and describes the dream phase of the sleep cycle. You generally reach the first 10-minute REM cycle about an hour and a half after you close your eyes.[2] You’ll continue to hit REM sleep every 90 to 120 minutes until it’s time to wake up.[3]

          Quality is key

          One of the ways to ensure that you’ll wake up feeling rested is to access as much REM sleep as possible. What we’re doing in the time leading up to sleep is also important. Activities that give your brain the chance to get into REM sleep as often as possible are best for you.

          New moms have a particularly tough time with this. In spite of the fact that they may be able to squeeze in about 7.2 hours of sleep over the course of the day, most new mothers have sleep patterns similar to people who suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.[4]

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          If they’re technically getting an appropriate amount of sleep for an adult, then why are they so sleepy? It’s quite simple: new  mothers don’t feel rested because they are awakened several times throughout the course of a night. This means that they don’t sleep long enough to enter REM sleep. Remember, it takes 1.5-2 hours to complete a sleep cycle, and REM comes at the end of the cycle.

          Without this chance for restorative sleep, new moms feel exhausted. Though they can try to catch up on rest, sleep patterns follow a cycle. A mom who is awakened every two hours may not get enough full cycles of sleep, if she gets any at all.

          Sleep and your health

          Two studies assessed how sleep quality and quantity affected college students’ health and well-being.[5] The studies concluded that sleep quality was a better predictor for a healthy and happy life and improved well-being than sleep quantity.[6]

          In the studies, subjects slept for an average of 7 hours per night. People who reported experiencing higher quality sleep were able to feel more satisfied with their lives, experienced less anxiety, and reduced feelings of depression, fatigue, confusion, and anger compared to people who reported high quantities of low-quality sleep.

          How sleepy you feel when you go to bed can also affect your sleep quality. The more tired you feel when it’s time for lights out, the more likely it is that you’ll have a restful night of sleep.

          Quality triumphs quantity

          The old adage is true: quality beats quantity. You’re better off with 6.5 hours of high-quality sleep than you are with 8 hours of mediocre rest.

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          This could explain why some people seem to do well on fewer hours of sleep. People who can access restorative sleep more often or can reach the REM phase more quickly will feel more rested. This isn’t something that everyone can do, though. Most of us need 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep to restore ourselves.

            You can improve your chances of having high-quality sleep

            You may not be able to will yourself into the REM phase, but you can set yourself up for sleep success. Here are a few ways to increase the quality of your sleep:

            • Take a hot bath before bed. The heat can soothe and relax sore muscles and prepare you for rest.
            • Turn of your electronic devices. Electronics emit blue light, which has been proven to disrupt sleep patterns.[7] Turn off your electronics, or at the very least, silence your notifications and turn on a blue shade to filter the blue light.
            • Drink chamomile tea to relax. Chamomile’s soothing properties make it a go-to remedy for nervousness and poor sleep.[8]
            • Snack on cheese and crackers. This is a perfect snack because it combines carbs with calcium or a protein that contains tryptophan. These combos boost levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps you feel happy and calm. Indulge about an hour before bed so that your brain has time to reap the benefit before lights out.
            • Drink warm milk. Skip the alcohol. Booze may make you drowsy, but it won’t help you reach the REM phase faster.[9]
            • Sleep in a cool room. If you get too warm, you’re likely to feel uncomfortable and wake up. A cool room sets the stage for a restful night.
            • Keep it quiet. Just because you can fall asleep while the TV is blaring doesn’t mean that you should. Ideally you’ll have little to no noise. If silence is unnerving, white noise is fine, but you avoid loud or disruptive environments if you can.[10]
            • The lights should be low. Our bodies are adapted to be awake when the sun is up and asleep when it’s dark. We sleep better in the dark. Partially close your curtains so that you can experience the benefits of being in a darkened room and wake up naturally with the sun.
            • Lay off the caffeine. A caffeine boost can feel great, but if you drink too much coffee or tea late in the day, you might have a tough time getting to sleep. Caffeine also affects the length of phases of your sleep cycle, which can prevent you from reaching or staying in the REM phase for long.[11]
            • Stick to the same sleep schedule every day. Making up for lost sleep or sleeping in on the weekends is going to make it harder to get into a good sleep rhythm.
            • Experiment with alternative sleep cycles. If the other tips on the list don’t seem to be working for you, or you have a job that prevents you from going to bed at the same time every night, you could try some different sleep cycles including:uberman, dymaxion, everyman, and biphasic. [12]

            If you try the uberman, you’ll only sleep about two hours per day. Sleep is spaced out over 6-8 naps lasting about 20 minutes each. Dymaxion isn’t for the faint of heart either. If you need to increase the amount of time that you’re awake, this cycle allows you to get by on as little as 2 hours of sleep per day. You get four 30-minute naps spaced throughout the day.

            The everyman sleep cycle is one 3.5-hour stint of sleep followed by three 20-minute naps over the course of your day. Biphasic, the least extreme of the alternative sleep cycles, involves sleeping in two segments. This pattern requires 5-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night and one nap in the middle of the day.

            Getting good sleep is about more than blocking off a few hours in your schedule

            Having enough sleep is important, but what is enough varies from person to person. Getting high-quality sleep is about more than setting aside 7-9 hours for rest. You can set up your environment and schedule to make the most of your sleeping hours.

            Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek/ Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

            Reference

            More by this author

            Angelina Phebus

            Writer, Yoga Instructor (RYT 200)

            Foods That Can Suppress Appetite And Help With Weight Loss Quality or Quantity? Why Don’t You Sleep On It What it Feels Like To Be The Child of Your Children? Pick Your Job Based On What You Love To Do, Not How Much You Have Invested In. How to Become Successful 10 Times Easier: Don’t Focus on Improving Your Faults

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            Published on November 14, 2018

            Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

            Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

            With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

            For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

            In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

            Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

            Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

            It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

            For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

            Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

            Symptoms of Fatigue

            Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

            • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
            • mental blocks
            • lack of motivation
            • headache
            • dizziness
            • muscle weakness
            • slowed reflexes and responses
            • impaired decision-making and judgement
            • moodiness, such as irritability
            • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
            • reduced immune system function
            • blurry vision
            • short-term memory problems
            • poor concentration
            • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

            Causes of Fatigue

            The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

            • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
            • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
            • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
            • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

            Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

            Medical Causes of Fatigue

            If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

            Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

            Anemia

            Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

            Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

            There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

            Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

            Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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            This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

            Diabetes

            Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

            Sleep Apnea

            Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

            Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

            Thyroid disease

            An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

            Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

            • Lack of sleep
            • Too much sleep 
            • Alcohol and drugs 
            • Sleep disturbances 
            • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
            • Poor diet 

            Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

            • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
            • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
            • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
            • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

            Psychological Causes of Fatigue

            Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

            • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
            • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
            • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

            How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

            Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

            1. Tell The Truth

            Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

            To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

            Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

            The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

            One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

            • How you feel
            • What time of day it is
            • What may have contributed to your fatigue
            • How your mind and body reacts

            This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

            2. Reduce Your Commitments

            When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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            If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

            When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

            Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

            3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

            If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

            Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

            If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

            Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

            Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

            4. Express More Gratitude

            Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

            It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

            Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

            5. Focus On Yourself

            Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

            There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

            But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

            We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

            6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

            Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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            Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

            The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

            Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

            7. Take a Power Nap

            When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

            Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

            This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

            8. Take More Exercise

            The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

            Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

            The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

            You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

            9. Get More Quality Sleep

            To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

            Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

            My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

            10. Improve Your Diet

            Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

            Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

            On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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            To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

            Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

            Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

            11. Manage Your Stress Levels

            Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

            When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

            Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

            My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

            12. Get Hydrated

            Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

            Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

            If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

            The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

            The Bottom Line

            These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

            If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

            Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
            [2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
            [3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
            [4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
            [5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
            [6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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