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Sleep and fatigue
If you think that getting enough sleep every night is a luxury you can’t afford in a busy week, month or year – think again. Regular, good quality sleep can have more of an impact on your health than you imagine.
Even though we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, the amount of sleep we need changes as we age. However, if you’re regularly missing out on getting a good night’s sleep, you can increase your risk of contracting chronic conditions including:
- Heart disease.
And it’s not just about quantity either. Poor quality sleep, or regular interruptions to your sleep can also have a detrimental effect on your health. However, too much sleep can also have a negative impact!
How much sleep do we need?
We’re all different when it comes to sleep. Some politicians like Winston Churchill were famous for saying they only ‘needed’ four or five hours a night. But all celebrity legends aside, here’s what the National Sleep Foundation recommends:
- Newborns 14-17 hours
- Infants 12-15 hours
- Toddlers 11-14 hours
- Pre-schoolers 10-13 hours
- School age children 9-11 hours
- Teenagers 8-10 hours
- Young adults 7-9 hours
- Older adults 7-8 hours.
“Regular, good quality sleep is just as important as enjoying a nutritious diet and plenty of exercise!”
Are we getting enough sleep?
The short answer seems to be, no. It’s estimated that one in three adults don’t get enough sleep and over a third of children may have sleep problems.
The latest report from Australia’s Sleep Health Foundation suggests the problem is even more widespread. This means that millions of Australians simply aren’t getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, getting enough shut-eye is as important as a healthy diet and regular exercise. What’s more, children who don’t get enough sleep can face delayed physical and mental growth. They’re also more likely to have infections and health complications such as obesity.
As an adult, if you deprive yourself of sleep, you can increase your risk of illness, accidents and injury. Even if you miss out on your recommended amount of sleep for a few nights, you can start experiencing ‘microsleeps’. These typically last a few seconds but they can be a major factor in car accidents.
Can you sleep too much?
Yes, you can have too much of a good thing! Ironically, too much sleep can make you feel even more tired. If you sleep more than 10-12 hours a night, or if you regularly oversleep at the weekend, you might have what’s called hypersomnia. And one of the symptoms is excessive tiredness during the day.
“Too much sleep can lead to anxiety, low energy levels and even problems with your memory.”
If you feel like you’re experiencing symptoms of hypersomnia, it’s worth getting a medical check-up because, although rare, some of the underlying causes of hypersomnia can include:
- Kidney failure
- Low thyroid function
- Heart disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome.
What happens when you’re deprived of sleep?
Apart from the obvious risks of accidents and injuries, if you’ve been regularly depriving yourself of good quality, consistent sleep, you’re more likely to:
- Catch a cold
- Gain weight
- Feel anxious or depressed
- Develop diabetes
- Have high blood pressure
- Suffer a heart attack
- Develop Alzheimer’s.
Getting the facts on fatigue
Fatigue is not just another word for feeling tired. It’s actually a pervasive – and often persistent – feeling of lethargy and lack of energy, although feeling sleepy can be one of the symptoms. Fatigue has physical and mental implications in the workplace and is officially recognised as a workplace health and safety issue.
Signs of fatigue include:
- Worsening hand-eye coordination
- Greater difficulty with communication
- More risk-taking behaviour
- Feeling sleepy
- Short term memory problems
- Blurred vision
- Feeling tired even after sleep
- Sore muscles
- Loss of appetite
- Slow reflexes.
“Did you know? Every year around 1.5 million Aussies visit their GP complaining of fatigue.”
What causes fatigue?
Fatigue can be caused by many things. Work, lifestyle, physical health and emotional issues can all play a part, and sometimes it’s a combination of factors. It’s worth remembering that depression, anxiety, stress and grief can all lead to fatigue. In fact, studies have shown that over 50% of fatigue cases have an underlying psychological cause.
How can you tell if you’re fatigued or just tired?
If you’re getting enough sleep, you exercise regularly and you enjoy a varied diet but you’re still experiencing symptoms of fatigue, it’s time to see your doctor. Fatigue accompanied by weight loss, pain, loss of appetite or heavier than normal periods can all be signs you should consult a health professional.
Shift workers and people who travel extensively are at higher risk, and so are people who undergo prolonged periods of intense physical or mental activity.
Don’t drive tired
We’ve all seen the advertising campaigns, news, and medical reports on driver fatigue: it can be a killer. In fact, people driving ‘tired and fatigued’ are three times more likely than any other driver to die in a crash. Being awake for 17 hours straight has a similar effect on performance as a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. In Australia, 20-30% of all road deaths and severe injuries are due to fatigue.
The NSW Government has a handy tool called Test your Tired Self to check how tired you are. You might be surprised at the result.
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?
Chronic fatigue syndrome – also known as myalgic encephalomyetitis (ME) – is an illness characterised by long-term feelings of profound fatigue. These feelings don’t improve with rest and can’t be explained by any other medical condition. CFS/ME can be difficult to diagnose because there are no specific tests for it. However, it’s believed that around 240,000 Australians suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of CFS/ME is overwhelming fatigue without any obvious cause. The level of fatigue can vary from mild to intense.
Other symptoms can include.
- Muscle or joint pain
- Frequent headaches
- Loss of memory
- Trouble concentrating
- Swollen lymph nodes and/or sore throat.
“Still tired even after sleeping well regularly and enjoying a healthy diet and lifestyle? It may be time to see your GP for advice.”
How is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diagnosed?
Doctors are unlikely to diagnose CFS or ME until other possible causes, such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia or Lyme disease have been ruled out. Chronic fatigue syndrome can be diagnosed once symptoms have been present for at least six months.
How is it treated?
There is no simple cure, so if you’re suffering from CFS, or you know anyone who is, you should avoid ‘treating’ the symptoms with any ‘remedy’ or ‘cure’. The aim of treatment is to manage symptoms to allow people to live as normal a life as possible.
Common sleep disorders
Obstructive sleep apnoea
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) can make you wake up many times a night, without even realising. OSA is caused by partial or complete obstructions of the throat that reduce breathing or stop it completely. Your body then interrupts your sleep so you can start breathing again. In some cases, this can happen hundreds of times a night.
Snoring, obesity and sleepiness during the day could all signal possible issues with sleep apnoea. Partners are often more aware of the issue than sufferers. Some estimates suggest up to 25% of men in Australia suffer from sleep apnoea. And while sleep apnoea surgery is a possibility, it should only be seen as a last resort.
“Over 10% of people who snore have sleep apnoea which is linked to serious health complications. If this sounds like you, see your GP.”
Can obstructive sleep apnoea kill you?
With OSA, you’re at an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, heart attack and depression. You are also two and a half times more likely to have a car accident. So if you believe you’re experiencing OSA, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Do I have sleep apnoea? Take a free sleep apnoea test
If you think you’re experiencing sleep apnoea, you can take a free test or talk to your GP about your symptoms.
Best health insurance for sleep apnoea
If you are diagnosed with OSA, you may need to be fitted with a CPAP machine. And, depending on your level of health cover, you may be able to claim on some of the cost if you have Extras cover in your CBHS policy. What’s more, the CBHS Gold, Silver Plus and Bronze Plus tier hospital products also include benefits for ‘sleep studies’. For more details and to find out if you’re eligible to claim, you can call our Member Care team who’ll be happy to help.
Restless leg syndrome
Up to 5% of men and women experience restless leg syndrome (RLS) which is characterised by an irresistible urge to move your legs. RLS tends to be worse in the evenings and can often interrupt sleep. Massage, hot baths and alternating heat and ice packs can help as well as reducing caffeine and alcohol and quitting smoking. For more serious cases, medication might be an option.
Tip: RLS can be caused by iron deficiency. A simple blood test can tell if you’re anaemic.
If you regularly find it hard to fall asleep, or stay asleep, you have insomnia. It can be caused by chronic pain, stimulants such as medicines or drugs, as well as stress, depression or anxiety. Around one in three people sometimes experience mild insomnia. And while sleeping tablets can help, these should only be a short term solution. Practicing good sleep habits is a better long-term strategy.
If you suffer from insomnia caused by depression or anxiety, the CBHS Better Living program might be able to help. You’ll need to hold an appropriate level of CBHS Hospital cover or package to participate. Our Wellness team can help answer your questions and check if you’re eligible. You can call them on 1300 174 534 or send an email at email@example.com.
Snoring affects 40% of men and 24% of women – and let’s not forget their long-suffering partners! Snoring can also get worse with age for both men and women.
Did you know?
Having excess fat around your neck can make your throat narrow, which means it vibrates more easily – so you’re more likely to make a ‘snoring sound’ as you sleep. You also snore more when you sleep on your back or breathe through your mouth. Allergies can sometimes be a culprit and alcohol relaxes your muscles which also makes snoring more likely. You can try and ‘fix snoring’ by sleeping on your side, losing any excess kilos and avoiding alcohol for at least four hours before bed.
Tip: Children who snore might have enlarged tonsils so, in some cases, removing them can help. Speak with your doctor for more information.
Other common sleep disorders sleep include narcolepsy, bruxism, hypoventilation, sleep walking and rapid eye movement disorder.
“Adults spend less time in deep sleep than children, so they’re more likely to be woken by noises at night.”
How to form good sleep habits
A lot of us believe that the key to sleeping soundly begins and ends with an early bedtime. But there are lots of things you can do to prepare ahead of time – and certainly before your head hits the pillow.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps induce sleep. Levels fall after dawn and climb after dark. Sunlight can affect production of melatonin, so exposure to light at the right time will help keep your sleep patterns on track. Draw the curtains in the morning to let in light and keep them closed at night.
Aerobic exercise is a great way to get a better night’s sleep. It can help you fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep and wake less often in the night. Just remember to avoid vigorous exercise two hours before bed. The ideal time to exercise for good sleep is in the morning.
Try and keep to the same bedtime every night. Establish a set time for going to bed and getting up in the morning. Your body’s internal clock works best when it has a regular routine.
Relax and avoid mental strain in the hour before bed. Some good ideas for relaxing include taking a warm bath, reading a book, listening to quiet music and meditating. Mindfulness can help you drift off faster and enjoy a better quality of sleep. Check out this ABC series of meditations designed to help you fall asleep.
Turn off screens at least an hour or two before bed. The blue light of a computer screen can reduce your body’s levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps promote sleep. Anything over 1 ½ hours of screen time will affect your body’s production of melatonin.
A full stomach can make you lie awake but so can an empty one. Try to finish your evening meal at least two hours before bedtime and don’t go to bed hungry.
Avoid tea, coffee, caffeinated soft drinks and cigarettes in the two hours before bed. Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but your sleep is more likely to be disturbed. The soporific effects wear off after a few hours.
People who successfully stop smoking fall asleep more quickly and wake less often than smokers. Get help to quit with CBHS.
Make your bed comfortable and your bedroom a sanctuary. Remove distractions like televisions, phones and devices. Most people sleep best in a cool room at around 18 degrees.
Don’t fret if you can’t fall asleep. The aim is to equate bed with sleep, not insomnia. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get up and sit quietly in a dark room. Resist the temptation to do anything (especially computer-related) then, when you start to feel sleepy, go back to bed.
If you can’t shut off your chattering mind, turn your thoughts to something calmer. Picture yourself lying on a patch of grass under a tree, or in a favourite holiday destination. Or try practicing mindfulness.
“The key to getting a good night’s sleep starts long before your head hits the pillow: think comfort, calm, no screens or late night snacks!”
Sleep during pregnancy and menopause
Many women have trouble sleeping when pregnant, especially in the last two or three months. However, if you set up some good sleep habits at the start, or even during your pregnancy, you can enjoy deeper sleep before your baby, and those sleepless nights, arrive!
Try these tips:
- Use pillows to support your abdomen
- Try sleeping on your side to lessen discomfort
- Raised pillows under your head may help manage indigestion
- Avoid drinking too much before bedtime
- Make a trip to the toilet before you sleep
- Avoid spicy or acidic foods that can contribute to heartburn.
If you’re pregnant and start snoring loudly, or stop breathing during sleep, see your doctor. You may have other medical problems that could affect your health and the health of your baby.
Many women find it harder to sleep during menopause. The changing levels of hormones that cause hot flushes also tend to wake women at night. You can alleviate some of these symptoms by doing the following:
- Wear cotton nightwear
- Sleep in a cool room
- Avoid heavy bedclothes
- Follow recommended good sleep habits.
There is some evidence that hormone therapy may have a beneficial effect on sleep. The good news is that sleep generally improves after the menopause.
“Healthy sleep patterns can help you think clearer, enjoy more vitality and brighter moods.”
Make sleep a priority in your life – and feel the difference
In this fast-paced world of ours, it’s more important than ever to prioritise good sleep above work, regular late night events and even big dinners! If you’re experiencing anything in your life that may be hindering a good night’s sleep such as sleep apnoea, pregnancy, menopause or any stress-related issues, make the time to seek help from your GP as soon as possible.
Getting the recommended amount of sleep for your age can make all the difference to your physical and mental health. It can also help you avoid symptoms of fatigue that can have a long-lasting negative impact on your overall health and wellbeing. Ultimately, making sleep a top priority in your life can bring you a lifetime of positive health benefits.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
Health and wellbeing
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You Belong to More with CBHS Hospital cover:
- Greater choice over your health options including who treats you
- Get care at home with Hospital Substitute Treatment program
- Free health and wellbeing programs to support your health challenges
Live your healthiest, happiest life with CBHS Extras cover:
- Benefits for proactive health checks e.g. bone density tests, eye screenings
- Keep up your care with telehealth and digital options
- Save on dental and optical with CBHS Choice Network providers