If you’re getting enough sleep – that is, 8 to 10 hours each night – and you still feel tired and listless during the day, it can be frustrating and even debilitating. While this unfortunately is not uncommon, there are several things you can do to feel better. The first thing is to evaluate your sleep habits and patterns, and the quality of the sleep you’re getting.
Several factors affect our quality of sleep. These include:
- Sleep apnea
- Vitamin D deficiency
- An inconsistent sleep routine
- Uncomfortable bedding and/or a sleep environment that doesn’t support sleep
As many people who suffer from depression know, it can dramatically affect a person’s sleep and overall quality of life. In addition to insomnia, waking up too early, or oversleeping, symptoms can include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling sad or irritable
- Loss of appetite or eating too much
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Loss of interest in activities
- Decreased energy
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to see a healthcare professional. Depression is treatable, and addressing it can improve both the quality of your sleep and how you feel on a daily basis. Your provider can help you determine if there is a chemical issue, a situational issue or an underlying sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, that may be causing depression or contributing to symptoms.
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which people stop breathing for short periods of time while sleeping. This affects the body’s oxygen supply and can lead to serious health problems. Symptoms can include snoring and mouth breathing, but the biggest tell-tale sign is excessive daytime sleepiness.
Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders in the U.S. It affects children and adults, and is more common in men than in women.
Often, people with sleep apnea don’t know they have it. They may find out about it from a bed partner who hears a rapid intake of breath, after breathing starts up again, or snoring.
I recommend people experiencing these conditions see an ear, nose and throat specialist to determine what is causing the disorder, as it can be treated.
Vitamin D Deficiency
A vitamin D deficiency is another condition that people may have and not be aware of. Such a deficiency has been associated with lowering the quality of sleep, including getting less sleep, sleep that is less restful and restorative, and increased inflammation of the nose and tonsils, which can lead to sleep apnea and disturbed sleep.
Evidence suggests that the association of vitamin D and sleep relates to the high amount of vitamin D receptors throughout areas of the brain that regulate the sleep-wake cycle, such as the hypothalamus, prefrontal cortex and substantia nigra.
In a recent study, researchers analyzed the sleep patterns and vitamin D levels among more than 3,000 men aged 68 and older. They found that vitamin D deficiency was associated with less sleep overall and also with more disrupted sleep. Researchers measured Vitamin D serum levels with a blood test and used wrist actigraphy to record measurements of total sleep time, wake time after sleep onset, and sleep efficiency.
In addition to fatigue, symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include muscle fatigue, depression and bone pain. If you suspect you have a low level of vitamin D, your doctor can order a blood test.
Good sources of vitamin D include sunlight exposure, foods such as eggs, liver, fatty fish – like salmon and mackerel – and supplements. A balanced approach to sun exposure is essential since too much sun can increase the risk of skin cancer.
An Inconsistent Sleep Routine
Getting too much or too little sleep are equally bad. It’s important to have a consistent sleep routine and go to bed and get up at around the same times. Sometimes, we’re tempted to sleep in on a day we have off from work, for example, but that can leave us feeling groggy. I recommend varying wake and sleep times by no more than a half hour.
A predictable bedtime routine is also a good practice. Habits that promote healthy sleep include:
- A relaxing walk at dusk.
- Reading a book before bed.
- Bathing before bed.
- Brushing teeth before bed.
- Putting on cozy pajamas.
- Retiring before 11 p.m.
Using electronics too close to bedtime can also disrupt sleep. I suggest staying away from electronics and social media at least an hour – and two hours is even better – before bedtime. The blue light these devices emits slows the production of melatonin, a hormone the body produces to regulate its circadian rhythm. This is the natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is produced when light dims, which signals the brain that it is time to sleep.
Uncomfortable Bedding and/or A Sleep Environment That Doesn’t Support Sleep
A bed, and all the comfy things that go with it, should be your personal haven – a place you’re eager to retire to at the end of the day. An old sagging mattress can leave you with an aching back, so invest in a supportive mattress. Consider a breathable mattress, sheets, and blanket or comforter that wick away moisture.
Airy, buoyant, breathable pillows that are made of natural materials, such as the Talalay method of processing latex pillows, are key to comfort.
These pillows promote temperature regulation, as well as maintain consistent density and recovery.
In addition, pillowcases and pillow covers absorb dirt, oil, dead skin cells and sweat. Dust mites are microscopic insects that feed on dead skin cells and their waste. When breathed in, they can cause watery eyes, a runny or itchy nose, an itchy throat, coughing, or worsening of asthma, things that inhibit good sleep. So, wash bedding, especially pillowcases, frequently (not just once a week).
Moisture wicking pajamas are good for climate control so you don’t overheat and sweat, which will also keep you awake. I also like a weighted blanket. It provides that swaddling feeling babies love so much.
The ideal temperature for a sleep environment is 68 to 72 degrees. Beyond the temperature, surround yourself with things you love, like plants, pictures of loved ones and soft colors. Blackout shades, an eye mask and a noise-cancelling machine or app can help keep a room dark and quiet. What you see before you close your eyes as well as when you wake up in the morning sets the tone for both how well you sleep and how you feel during the day. Surround yourself with things that bring you joy. When you do, you’ll be eager to start your bedtime routine.
I also recommend making the bed each morning. Not everyone sees the point in it, but it’s important because it brings closure to the night’s sleep. When we return to bed the next night, we start fresh.
The Benefits of Consistent, Quality Sleep
Remember, the benefits of consistent, good sleep are vast. Health outcomes can include:
- Reduced risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and obesity.
- Reduced anxiety and irritability.
- Optimal learning and performance.
- Removal of toxins from the body.
- A strong metabolism and immune system.
- Regulated hormones.
- Muscle recovery and repair.
Good sleep, eating the right foods, drinking enough water and daily activity work together. If you get quality sleep, you’ll be less tempted to eat too many carbs and more likely to want to work out. If you eat the right foods, stay hydrated and are active, you’re likely to sleep better.
Take some time to evaluate what you take into your body, your sleep routine, your sleep environment, how you feel emotionally and what goes on while you’re sleeping. Journaling can help you determine whether simple changes, like new bedding and adjusting the room temperature, or taking action like speaking with your physician, will help you sleep better. Your quality of life depends on it.
Authored by Ingrid Prueher, Holistic Sleep Coach