Just because you're setting your alarm for eight hours after drifting off doesn't necessarily mean that you aren't experiencing common sleep issues. According to the National Sleep Association, all adults should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep on a nightly basis, but that doesn't always tell the whole story.
"While it makes sense to look at the quantity of sleep we are getting, the quality of said sleep is just as important," Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and co-founder of Tuck, tells Bustle. Even the tiniest symptoms, which may seem like nothing at all to you, could speak to a more serious sleep issue which may be affecting how rested you truly are.
While your doctor is always a great resource for any questions or concerns you have about your sleep, there are also some steps that you can take to give your body the best possible chance to rest well. "A good first move is to work to transform your bedroom into a ’sleep sanctuary,'" Fish says. "The look and feel of our bedrooms should focus on one item: sleep." This means doing any laundry folding, packing, or television watching in another area of your home, if at all possible, he says. Small steps are OK though. If you are in the habit of watching TV in bed before falling asleep, just do your best not to watch it within an hour of the time you want to start snoozing, and instead use that last hour to read, journal, or draw.
Here are some common sleep problems that you might not realize aren't harmless, according to experts.
1. Obsessing Over Sleep
People who have trouble sleeping can sometimes obsess about getting a solid night's sleep. "Some people with insomnia think about sleep as much as 10 times more per day than the average person," Dr. Alex Dimitriu, MD, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, tells Bustle. "Obsessing about sleep all day and often all night does make things worse," he says. Instead of spending so much time and energy trying to force yourself, do your best not to get flustered. If you've been in bed for about 20 minutes but can't drift off, get out of bed and read a peaceful book or meditate, Dimitriu says.
2. Loud Snoring
"Sleep apnea, while not as common as insomnia, can have a marked impact on daytime energy and nighttime sleep quality," Dimitriu says. If you have sleep apnea, you could experience symptoms like snoring loudly, waking up multiple times each night, and episodes where you pause your breathing and have to wake up suddenly. Other symptoms, which you might just attribute to having a busy lifestyle, can also point to this common sleep problem. "If you find yourself being extremely sleepy during the day, or needing large amounts of caffeine to get by, even after getting enough sleep," he says, "it may be time to see a sleep specialist, or at least talk to your internist for an evaluation."
3. Moving A Lot While Sleeping
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) can also make it hard for someone to fall asleep. The good news is that this is a condition that can be treated. "RLS is the feeling of itching or burning in one's legs, present on both sides, worse at night, and improved with movement," Dimitriu says. "This might make your bed partner feel you are a squirrely partner to sleep with, but it will also make it hard to fall asleep." Surprisingly, low iron can sometimes cause this common sleep problem, so if you have a heavy period or follow a vegetarian diet, you might be more susceptible. Talk to your doctor about getting tested.
4. Taking Too Long To Fall Asleep
Does it generally take you longer than 30 minutes to get to sleep? "It takes the average person about 15 minutes to fall asleep once their head hits the pillow and they close their eyes for the night," Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo, tells Bustle. "So if you're taking longer than a half hour to doze off, that likely signifies a problem." That being said, if you notice this sleep problem just once every other week or so, that doesn't necessarily mean you have insomnia, he says. But if this is a regular occurrence, it's probably wise to let your doctor know so that you can start getting the sleep you need.
5. Falling Asleep Too Quickly
You might not think that falling asleep speedily could ever be considered a bad thing. After all, it just means you get as much sleep as possible, right? "It's nice when we doze off quickly, however, most people don't realize that if you're falling asleep immediately upon hitting the pillow every night," Brantner says, "this can signify a sleep disorder." If you aren't getting good quality sleep during the night due to an issue like sleep apnea, you could be dozing off as soon as you crawl in bed because you're simply exhausted. "A rule of thumb is if you're falling asleep in less than five minutes each night, there may be something afoot," Brantner says.
6. Needing A Perfect Sleeping Environment
If you're the kind of person who likes to prepare their room for bed by drawing the blackout curtains or turning down the temperature on your thermostat, that's not a bad thing. But for some folks, this need for a "perfect" sleeping environment could actually be a problem. If you're anxious about the ideal sleep situation, your blood pressure and body temperature can rise, which actually prevents you from sleeping, Sondra Kornblatt, a certified sleep coach and founder of Restful Insomnia, tells Bustle. "Creating a sleep cocoon does help, but you have options even when it’s not perfect," she says, "such as resting into the quiet moments, focusing on the cool leg outside the covers instead of the warmth under the blankets."
Somewhere between one and 15% of people sleepwalk, the National Sleep Foundation says, so if you find yourself puttering around your apartment while still in a slumber, you aren't alone. 'This disorder can be caused by numerous factors, such as stress or the use of certain medications, which alter the sleep structure," Julie Lambert, a certified sleep expert at Happysleepyhead, tells Bustle. "Also, a rather unusual risk factor of sleepwalking is going to bed with a full bladder." If this is something that you experience, it's no cause to be alarmed, but it is definitely something you and your doctor should talk about. By identifying what could be causing your sleepwalking, you can make it less likely to happen, Lambert says.
Getting quality sleep is crucial for every area of your physical and mental health. So if you notice that your current sleep isn't ideal, it's really wise to do something about it.