We ask a sleep doctor your most burning questions
By now we’ve all heard how important sleep is to good health, a positive mood, brain function, and lifespan. However, with 4 out of 10 Australians reporting they suffer from inadequate sleep on a regular basis, getting a good night’s sleep (or lack thereof) is a real issue that we need to address.
Last week we had the chance to chat with A.H. Beard’s sleep expert and internationally recognised educator with a PHD in Sleep Medicine, Dr. Carmel Harrington. From sleepwalking to insomnia, we asked her your most burning sleep questions so you and your family can start getting a better night’s sleep.
What can I do to assist my ADHD child to go to sleep?
“This is a really big issue so there’s only so much I’ll have time to say! ADH children often have sleep issues, which can essentially be the core of their behaviour. When we haven’t slept our behaviour is poor due to sleep deprivation. ADH children have an inability to switch off their brain, so to deal with this you’ll need to have a really strict bedtime routine. In fact, you’ll have to start winding them down at least an hour and a half before bedtime. Their bedtime routine needs to be very disciplined – dim the lights, absolutely no technology, hot bath or shower. Something that can really help are relaxation books – I know of two: Star Bright and Moon Beam. These are fabulous meditations for children which the parents read out. Ultimately, you need to ensure that you keep their bedroom conducive only to sleep.”
I wake multiple times a night and it takes me a very long time to fall back to sleep. What is the best way to deal with having problems staying asleep?
“What you’ll need to do is look at your wakeful behaviours. Make sure there’s no alcohol, caffeine, or bright lights before bed. Do a relaxation exercise. Provided that you’re following a strict routine, remember that it’s totally normal to spend around 5-10 minutes of your sleeping time awake. There are a few methods of dealing with your time awake. You can either accept the fact that you’re awake and do a breathing exercise or take your mind back to a happy time in your life. This will relax your mind and body and help you fall asleep faster. Otherwise, if after 30 minutes you’re still not asleep, get up. Leave the bedroom and wait until you’re sleepy again. One thing you can do to gain a better understanding of your sleep patterns and habits is to track your sleep. A really useful tool for this is A.H. Beard’s RestOn Sleep Tracker. This device slides under a sleep tracking compatible A.H. Beard mattress or can just be placed under your sheet. It will monitor your heart rate and sleep cycle, and then provide you with helpful tips through the Sleep Tracker App.”
Is it possible that sleep apnea machines don’t work for some?
“Sleep apnoea machines work for everyone – they push positive air pressure into the body and ensure you don’t’ have an apnoea. If you have a machine and don’t think it’s working, you’ll need to make sure the pressure you’ve been prescribed is appropriate. Be aware that the required pressure changes depending on your weight. You should also ensure that the diagnosis is right – maybe sleep apnoea isn’t the issue.”
I often wake up feeling more tired after a nap. Are naps a good thing or should they be avoided?
“Power naps are a good idea, but you should only nap for a maximum of 20 minutes. Set an alarm! It doesn’t matter if you don’t fall asleep within the time, that means you’re not tired enough. Even if you only get 5 minutes the effects will be the same. The best time for a nap is during the afternoon lull. When your alarm goes off get up and do some exercise. After this you’ll really be ready to go for the rest of the day.”
Is it best to adjust to a new timezone when spending the night in a city or just stick to your original timezone?
“If you’re in a different time zone for less than 3 days, don’t change! No sooner will you get into the routine than you’ll be out of it again.”
Is it too much to sleep 9-10 hours a night? Are there long term consequences of sleeping longer than average?
“The vast majority of adults require 7-9 hours of sleep, yet 2.5% of the population are long sleepers and require 9-10 hours. The true measure of how much sleep you need is how you feel when you wake up. If after 9-10 hours you’re feeling refreshed, then there’s nothing wrong. However, if you’re feeling groggy and not rested then there’s something going wrong with your sleep and you probably need to speak to your GP.”
I have this issue of grinding my teeth or clenching them while I sleep. It’s very painful and makes it difficult to sleep. Is there anything I can do about it?
“This is a dentist’s area, so make sure to speak to your dentist. One thing you can do is to be really diligent about good sleep practices and make sure you’re properly winding down before bed. You may be stressed, so get rid of tensions of the body and mind while you’re awake. A relaxation or breathing exercise may help!”
Is there a way to stop sleepwalking?
“Sleepwalking is more common when we’re younger, but times of stress and change (such as difficult times at work, or moving house) can bring on sleepwalking. There’s not much you can do but if you know you have the potential to sleepwalk make sure you keep yourself safe by locking the doors and taking other relevant precautions. If you’re in a new environment and think you may sleepwalk, you may need to avoid alcohol. There’s not much you can do to absolutely stop it, but try to do relaxation exercises before sleeping to get your mind in a good place.”
I struggle to get a good deep sleep and usually wake up feeling groggy and unrested.
“Sometimes we have fragmented sleep because of sleep apnoea and countless other things. If this is the case, you need to speak to your doctor and perhaps get a sleep study. Most sleep issues can be treated but they need to be diagnosed first.”
I have suffered from insomnia for several years now due to fear of going to sleep because I sometimes wake up in the night and can’t move. During this state, I see dark images and am very scared. Is this what sleep paralysis is?
“This is sleep paralysis – used to be called the sleep hag. In this state lots of images can come up – they’re often irrelevant to our lives and have no connection to a dark or evil place – they’re just fears we may have. When we’re in this state we’re paralysed – otherwise we’d act out our dreams. One thing that happens during dream sleep is rapid eye movements – you can open and shut your eyes, and this may not have been observed by your boyfriend. Physiologically you’re still asleep, and you’re in sleep paralysis. When we sleep is we lose functionality bit by bit, and then we gain it as we wake. What’s happening to you is that part of your body is in dream state, part is in wake. It sounds like you’re on the verge of lucid dreaming. You need to remind yourself that these images are fears – if you were awake, you’d be able to move. If you want more help than this, you need to recall them during the day time and give them a happy face or a happy ending. Understand that they’re not bad – imagine that they’re beautiful people with a mask on or find something else that works. Train your brain to think of them in this way, so that when you next return to this state you won’t be so scared.”
A final note from Dr. Harrington...
“A few of the questions above were to do with a sleep routine. If you’re finding that you’re having trouble going to sleep, or struggling to turn off your mind, you probably need to create and stick to a much stricter bedtime routine. Much like we do for children, especially those with ADHD as we spoke about earlier, we need to be very disciplined when it comes to sleep. At least one hour before sleeping you should be eating a light dinner, showering, dimming the lights and avoiding technology. Read a book, do some breathing exercises or stretches, and let your body know it’s time to go to sleep. A.H. Beard’s Nox Smart Sleep Light mimics the rising and setting of the sun which increases levels of melatonin (your body’s natural sleep hormone). It also plays soothing music to help bring on sleep. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, consider purchasing a Nox light.”
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