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Try This One Thing Before Assuming You Have a Sleep Disorder

You might say that this advice is not exactly rocket science, but, given the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation, it might at least be brain science.
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Pacific Islander businesswoman yawning at desk
Pacific Islander businesswoman yawning at desk

Many of us wake up feeling unrested in the morning. This can sometimes affect the entire day, impairing our relationships, functioning at work, and even our feelings of self-worth. What we do not always recognize is that this could be a sign of a serious problem that could affect our health long-term. Many of us ignore the problem as the day goes on, forgetting that the angst we carry throughout the day might have a treatable cause. Society even glorifies "burning the candle at both ends" as a sign of our commitment to juggle work, family, and social responsibilities.

Personally, after my children were born, I became almost inoculated to idea that I could ever get better sleep. There is one thing that most people should do before embarking on the path toward a potential decision to seek help or not. Give yourself a better opportunity to get good night's sleep.

Believe it or not, insufficient sleep is reaching epidemic proportions. We simply do not give ourselves enough of a chance to sleep. A large CDC survey of over 74,000 people published in 2011 found that 35 percent of responders reported sleeping less than seven hours per night on average. The problem was worst among young adults, but all age ranges were affected. Weeknight sleep suffers the most. Even more, the amount of sleep we allow ourselves has changed dramatically over the past 15 years. In 1998, 35 percent of the population reported sleeping less than seven hours a night on weeknights. 12 percent of those respondents reported sleeping less than six hours a night. By 2013, the numbers had climbed to 46 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Some sleep scientists even believe that there is a clear association with our allowed sleep opportunity and the dramatic rise in obesity rates. When a problem is so prevalent, you have to ask yourself, "Do I give myself enough opportunity to sleep?"

This lack of sleep can lead to many symptoms and health-related problems, increasing your risk of mood problems, driving impairment, sexual problems, and even cardiovascular disease. One primary concern that seems quite noticeable to many is cognitive impairment. One study found that simply limiting yourself to six hours of sleep a night for two weeks made performance on a timed attention task as poor as if you had stayed up all night on a single night. If you only sleep four hours a night, this same level of impairment comes in just seven days. In other words, you have a 'sleep debt' that builds over time. The good news is that you can recover. Now, before you move immediately into thinking that this is your problem, consider ruling out a few things.

Remember the study that showed that 35 percent of the population sleeps less than seven hours a night? The same study found the rate of snoring to be even higher, at 48 percent. Snoring is not always, but can be, a sign of a serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) which causes a cessation or significant decrease in airflow to the lungs when sleeping. If you think snoring is your problem, consider seeking medical attention. A relatively innocuous screening for a sleep-related breathing disorder may be in your future.

One other obvious reason that people do not get enough sleep is that they have insomnia. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep as long as you intend to, you might suffer from insomnia. If this is you, ask yourself, "Have I given myself enough time to sleep recently?" Often, these individuals have tried to increase their sleep time and they still have insomnia. If you intend to try extending your sleep period, consider giving yourself a chance to sleep longer for a full week. My best advice is to try to sleep in for 3-4 consecutive days. Start on the weekend to make thus easier. Going to bed earlier doesn't always work, even if you are tired. Your body clock might be programmed in such a ways that keeps you from falling asleep quickly, but it might let you sleep in longer. When you try this, one of three scenarios will likely result. You might find that your symptoms go away, you feel better, and you wake feeling more rested. Alternatively, you might find that you have trouble falling asleep now. In this case, you may have uncovered insomnia, or you may simply not need that much sleep. If you get much more sleep and still feel unrested in the morning, or your body is sleeping as much as it can but it is still not restful sleep, consider seeking the help of a healthcare professional. You may have an underlying sleep disorder.

You might say that this advice is not exactly rocket science, but, given the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation, it might at least be brain science.