Answers to 5 of your most common questions about sleep

Sleep Matters TeamBlog, sleep facts, sleep tips, sleep tips, teen sleep

Sleep health is important. We understand that everyone needs at least reasonable sleep to function happily and healthily. Yet sleep itself can be somewhat mysterious and misunderstood.

The Sleep Matters team have advanced training in the management of sleep difficulties and we wanted to clarify some sleep facts and bust some common myths. So here are the answers to 5 common questions we get asked about sleep. These questions are largely focused on the mornings, we’ll follow-up with some answers to other common questions in future blogs.

1. Why do I feel so sluggish when I wake up in the morning?

It’s actually quite common to feel tired/sluggish upon waking, and this can be due to a number of reasons. Tiredness when we wake up can of course be due to poor sleep, but can also be due to low mood, anxiety, stress, poor physical health, or waking up from a deep sleep.

Often, this groggy feeling is due to ‘sleep inertia’, which is the name given to the transitional state when we go from sleep to wake. In this state we are literally half asleep, and we can feel very sluggish during this phase. We feel tired, unmotivated, and mentally dull.

It may surprise you (or not, if you’ve experienced it!) to learn that sleep inertia can last up to 45 minutes. It can be worse if we’re woken suddenly from a deep sleep, for example by a loud alarm clock.

Sleep inertia can be eased by having a proactive ‘wind-up’ routine for the morning:

•          Open the curtains, have a shower, clean your teeth

•          A cup of tea or coffee

•          A healthy breakfast

•          Stretching or physical exercise

•          Connecting with a friend or family member

•          Eating outside, watering the plants or going for a walk to get some sunlight

•          Other energy-generating routines such as listening to uplifting music or a comedy podcast, or just dancing around the kitchen!

2. Does everyone need 8 hours sleep?

We’ve all heard that everyone needs 8 hours of sleep, but there’s quite a large variation in the number of hours sleep people need. In general, most people need between 6 – 9 hours, with some naturally sleeping less or more than that. Just like shoe size or height, what is considered normal sleep for you can be different for someone else!

Professor Jim Horne, a leading researcher in the UK, has (somewhat controversially) suggested that most people get their core sleep in about 6 hours and that any more might feel good but may not be necessary. Where do you think you fall on the sleep need spectrum?

3. Does low energy during the day mean I’m not getting enough sleep?

“Why do I feel so tired?” is such a common question. Popular media often tells us that it’s not normal to ever feel tired. Daytime tiredness can be due to a large number of reasons – of course, lack of sleep may be one reason, but it’s important to not blame sleep too quickly! There are plenty of other causes at play here, such as our natural daily circadian rhythm, boredom, lack of physical exercise, depression, stress, physical conditions, or poor diet/hydration. What are your top reasons for feeling tried?

Often, even if we’ve had a bad night’s sleep, we can feel better during the day by eating well, engaging in a stimulating or fun activity, or doing some exercise. Having said that, if tiredness persists it would be important to have a check-up with your GP as a sleep disorder may play a part.

4. How do I manage to turn my morning alarm off in my sleep?

This can happen quite easily, and there’s also a simple explanation. We don’t remember the last couple of minutes right before we fall asleep – this is a normal ‘sleep-related’ form of amnesia – which means that if we fall straight back to sleep after turning off our alarm, we probably won’t remember the alarm going off. This makes it feel as though we have turned it off in our sleep.

If this happens it can be useful to put the alarm clock out of reach, forcing you to get up out of bed, or by not turning it off until you are well and truly up. There are some cool alarm apps now that require you to perform a maths sum in order to turn the noise off to make sure you’re really awake!

5. Does needing an alarm to wake up mean I’m not getting enough sleep?

Some researchers would say ‘yes’, but there is evidence to suggest that humans have an ability to sleep beyond their needs – much in the same way that we often eat beyond our needs. So while we may have the ability to sleep beyond our, alarm we might not need to.

If you feel terrible after being woken by the alarm, it may be the transitional state of sleep inertia. Our advice here would be to engage in your wind-up routine and check how you feel after an hour of being up and about. If you are feeling reasonable by then and sustain your alertness for most of the day, this suggests that your sleep need is being met.

Good health is supported by healthy sleep

If you have concerns about your sleep then please discuss them with your GP, or make an appointment at Sleep Matters. We operate out of multiple clinics around Perth, plus we offer a telehealth service so you can access our services no matter where you are.

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