Incorporating a healthy lifestyle and staying active during the day can help improve your sleep quality. (Credit: Shutterstock)
How do you know if your sleep quality is good or bad? According to the World Sleep Society, a good night's rest requires seven hours of uninterrupted sleep to leave you feeling rested and alert.
Sticking to a consistent bedtime routine can help improve sleep, especially during periods of personal or work stress. However, you may wake up feeling irritable or exhausted even after sleeping through the night.
If quality slumber remains elusive despite adopting good sleeping habits, you may want to ask your doctor if you have a sleep disorder. Three of the most common sleep disorders are insomnia, sleep apnoea and restless legs syndrome (RLS).
Your work schedule can disrupt your circadian rhythms, which can cause sleeping difficulties. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Insomnia is a common and disruptive form of sleep disorder. It is characterised by difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking up frequently during the night and having trouble going back to sleep.
These symptoms may be temporary or can become chronic with significant consequences. People with chronic insomnia are at risk for depression, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
There's no single cause of insomnia. Risk factors range from stress and anxiety to pain or physical discomfort. In addition, lifestyle and eating habits, poor sleep hygiene or even side effects from some medications can lead to insomnia.
Sarah, a 28-year-old teacher whose insomnia worsened after her second child's birth, tried several over-the-counter sleep aids. She also drank herbal and night-time teas. It was only after two months of acupuncture treatments that her sleep patterns improved.
Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine practice, triggers the release of neurotransmitters in the body – particularly serotonin, which is known to positively affect stress levels.
"I gradually regained my ability to fall asleep quickly and sleep through the night. It now takes me 10 to 15 minutes to fall asleep at night, and I rarely have difficulty falling back asleep if I do wake up," she says.
Sarah also tries to maintain a healthy diet and takes a 20-minute walk daily. Her bedtime routine consists of no TV, relaxing warm showers and a cool temperature in the bedroom.
Struggling with insomnia and want to try acupuncture? Speak with your physician first if you are on medication or have any medical conditions.
Sleep apnoea happens when breathing repeatedly stops for 10 to 20 seconds or longer during sleep. This lowers oxygen flow to vital organs and causes abnormal heart rhythms. Sufferers will awaken suddenly – marked by gasping, snoring loudly or choking – before they resume breathing. A dry mouth or sore throat are also common symptoms.
This condition can severely affect sleep quality because it can occur up to five or more times per hour. It often results in daytime sleepiness, trouble concentrating and nervousness. It can lead to long-term health risks, such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes if left untreated.
The doctor may prescribe the following to patients with sleep apnoea:
- CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy to keep your airways open as you sleep
- Sleeping on your side with the help of a pillow
- Wearing a dental mouthpiece while sleeping
Exercises involving the soft palate, tongue and facial muscles can help reduce severe sleep apnoea symptoms. One example is placing the tip of the tongue against the front of the palate and sliding it backward for two minutes.
Following the advice of her physician, Claire, a 56-year-old retired physician and a grandma of four, would blow up balloons with her grandkids as part of her throat exercises.
"It improved airflow and strengthened my throat. The key is to take deep breaths and try not to take the balloon out of your mouth between breaths. Five times is more than enough."
Claire also found yoga to be helpful. "It reduced my (sleep apnoea) symptoms and made my sleep sounder and more enjoyable."
Restless legs syndrome
A study from West China Hospital of Sichuan University finds that exercise training may help reduce the severity of restless legs syndrome. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease or nocturnal movement disorder, restless legs syndrome (RLS) is marked by an uncontrollable urge to move your legs while sleeping or resting in bed. It's often accompanied by unpleasant aching, tingling, burning or an uncomfortable crawling sensation on your legs or other body parts.
There's no clear cause for RLS, although it can be hereditary. According to the Johns Hopkins Center, it may be linked to iron deficiency in the brain or an imbalance in dopamine, which sends messages to control muscle movement. RLS can also be a symptom of Parkinson's, neuropathy, diabetes or kidney failure.
Medication is typically a doctor's first choice in treating RLS, alongside behavioural therapy and lifestyle changes.
Kevin, a 40-year-old entrepreneur and restaurant owner, tackles his RLS by hitting the gym, cutting back on coffee and quitting smoking. He also does massage therapy once every two weeks.
"If you suffer from restless legs syndrome, going to bed can be daunting. You know you won't sleep well and get anxious about losing more sleep. Massage helps calm my mind and body before bed."
How massage therapy, known for tension and stress relief, helps RLS symptoms isn't entirely understood. However, research published in Frontiers hints it improves blood and lymphatic circulation, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.
Following a healthy lifestyle and dietary habits is essential to sleep. Exercising and avoiding caffeine or stimulants late at night can relieve and improve your overall wellbeing.
If you need the motivation to kickstart lifestyle changes for sleep quality, join the AIA Vitality wellness programme. Find your fitness tribe and a supportive community of real people striving towards their goals together. Access tools, ideas, inspiration and a list of discounts and rewards to help you on your journey to a healthier, longer and better life.
What's the impact of #OneMoreHour of sleep? Australia's leading sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo lists how sleep improves memory, blood pressure and more in this episode of AIA Voices.
AIA Voices is a community of influential and educational voices from around Asia to talk about life, health and wellness. A platform to educate, motivate and inspire people to make positive behavioural changes on their health and wellness journey. Providing an opportunity for communities across Asia to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other. Designed to drive AIA One Billion, our ambition to engage a billion people to live Healthier, Longer, Better Lives by 2030.
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