Sleep is essential to our physical health, mental wellbeing and everyday productivity. However, there is still so much we do not know about sleep!
We recently spoke with NeuRA’s sleep experts, Professor Danny Eckert and Dr Hanna Hensen to get answers to the top ten most common questions on sleep.
This is part one of our two-part Sleep Week blog special.
- Why do we sleep?
Can you believe that decades of scientific research have not yet produced a single definitive reason for sleep?!
But there is considerable research that indicates sleep helps with essential restorative roles in many core processes within the human body. These include muscle growth, tissue repair, immune function, and growth hormone release.
Recent research has also pointed to sleep’s central role in “brain plasticity” which deals with how our brains create and store memories and learn new tasks.
- If I get less sleep in the week, can I catch up at weekends?
If you routinely do not get enough sleep, the good news is that you can get back on track. The bad news is that sleeping in on the weekend alone probably is not going to do it.
Cumulative sleep deprivation is stressful for the body and can be harmful to many organs including the brain. While weekend catch up sleep can improve function in the short-term, the stress placed on the body during the periods of inadequate sleep builds up and can be harmful in the long term.
Ultimately, you need to get more sleep over a longer period to get back to the sleep pattern that is right for you. In other words, consistently prioritise sleep for a happy, healthy life.
- Is snoring bad for me?
Occasional snoring is not necessarily a problem, although it might be annoying for your partner!
Snoring can be caused by a number of factors including obstructions in the nose, over-relaxed throat and tongue muscles, being overweight, and having a long soft palate which narrows the opening between your nose and your throat. Alcohol can also block the nose and cause snoring.
If you snore a lot, there may be serious health issues at play. These range from poor quality of sleep (for example, waking up often or only lightly sleeping), to more serious conditions such as prolonged interruptions to breathing, heart strain and lowered oxygen levels in your blood (sleep apnoea).
If you think your snoring may be a problem, see your GP. More information on snoring can also be found here.
- Can I stop snoring – or stop my partner snoring?
There are a lot of things you can do to address snoring. However, the effectiveness of treatments varies from person to person.
Some approaches involve lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or avoiding alcohol. You could also look at how you sleep. For example, snoring tends to be worse when you are sleeping on your back.
Other causes, such as sleep apnoea, are serious medical conditions and you will need medical guidance. If your snoring is causing problems for you or your partner, the best thing to do is visit your GP. More information on snoring can also be found here.
- Is it normal to wake up in the night? How often?
We do not sleep continuously. For most adults, it is common and normal to wake a few times throughout the night.
There are any number of reasons we wake up during the night. We sleep in cycles of deeper and lighter sleep each between one to two hours and it is not unusual to wake for a period at the end of such a cycle. Medical conditions – such as chronic illness, pain, anxiety or a sleep disorder – can also wake us up.
If you think you are waking up so often that it is a problem, or you are having trouble getting back to sleep, then it is worth talking to a health professional. See the Australasian Sleep Association and Sleep Health Foundations websites for more information.