Poor Quality Sleep

What is poor quality sleep?

Poor quality sleep and/or sleep deprivation refers to when an individual either does not get enough sleep or for some reason does not achieve 'good quality sleep' , for example is woken up or wakes up often while sleeping.

Why is good quality sleep important?

Research has shown that lack of sleep affects performance during the day - staying awake for 24 or longer in one stretch reduces hand-eye coordination to a degree equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1 (the legal limit for driving is 0.05 - double this).

A sleep deprived individual is more likely to make mistakes, make bad judgement calls and be accident prone, and lack of sleep is often a cause of road and work accidents. School age children who have poor quality sleep are more likely to suffer from ADHD and depression and get lower grades at school.

What are the symptoms of poor quality sleep?

In adults

  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Frequent yawning
  • Falling asleep when inactive (eg while watching television)
  • Difficulty waking
  • Sleepiness during whole the day (sleep inertia)

In children

Children suffer the same types of symptoms as adults, however they can also become more 'active', for example showing the following behaviours...

  • Hyperactivity
  • Throwing tantrums
  • Moodiness
  • Not wanting to get out of bed in the morning

What causes poor quality sleep?

The most obvious cause of poor quality sleep is simply not getting enough sleep by regularly going to bed too late. Different people require different amounts of sleep, but as a general rule adults should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night and children (from a young age up to ~18 years old) need 9-10 hours of sleep every night. It is normal for sleep patterns to change in teenagers to a later shift, ie later going to bed and later rising.

Other causes include...

  • Shift work - continual changing of sleep patterns is disruptive and causes poor quality sleep
  • International travel - travelling between different time zones
  • Snoring - whether caused by temporary illness or a longer term condition (such as obstructive sleep apnoea)
  • Sleep disorders - eg sleep apnoea, periodic limb movement disorder
  • Medication - some medication for eg epilepsy and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can cause poor quality sleep
  • Using stimulants (such as coffee, cigarettes) in the hours before going to bed
  • External factors eg outside noise/light or room temperature too hot/cold

What should I do if I am getting poor quality sleep?

The most important recommendation is to make sure that you regularly get enough sleep, and try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.

Avoid stimulants close to bedtime and move other distractions eg computers and televisions out of the bedroom. It's also important your sleep environment is conducive to good sleep in terms of excluding external noise and light. Also it helps to do some exercise on most days of the week, but avoid the time just before bedtime.

If you believe you may have a sleep disorder you should consult your doctor.