The Complete A to Zzzz of Sleep: How Much to Get, How to Deal with a Snorer and the Biggest Sleep Sins

Yes, yes, we know that sleep is important, but how much – exactly – do we need? How do we deal with a snorer? Can we bank up sleep? And what might our body be trying to tell us if we still feel like crap after regularly getting the right amount of sleep? We spoke to Terri Candy, Sleep Therapist at Eden Sleep to get all the answers.

At some point of your life – perhaps multiple times – you will have heard the advice that the optimal amount of sleep is eight hours. And at some point of your life – and yes, perhaps multiple times – you may have found yourself struggling to get some quality zzzz’s.

You’re certainly not alone on those nights – the recent ResMed Global Sleep Survey assessed more than 20,000 people worldwide and found that an alarming number of us are struggling to get some shut-eye.

One in three respondents were not satisfied with the quantity or quality of their sleep. And only 16% of people say that they wake up feeling refreshed after sleeping.

For those finding themselves struggling with getting to sleep, a third said that anxiety and depression (33%)  kept them awake, while a further third said it was due to work-related pressures (33%), or financial pressures (25%).

Then there’s the folks who can’t sleep due to a snorer keeping them awake at night – in fact, Terri says one of the primary reasons patients come to her for help, is due to snoring. She says around half of her patients sleep in separate bedrooms due to it, and it’s often one of the main reasons they come to her – to try to get back into the same room.

We had a quick chat to Terri about all things sleep – from snoring, to how much shut-eye we should be getting, and everything in between (like, is the fact that I’m getting very little sleep due to having a baby going to have any long-term effect??).

Hi Terri! The global sleep survey brought up some interesting insights into how we sleep – or how much we’re actually lacking in sleep! With so many people pointing to anxiety, work and financial pressures keeping them awake at night (and a recession looming, surely only exacerbating problems), do you have any advice about how Kiwis can clear their minds of worry and improve their sleep?

Try and disconnect from the stress, for example getting changed out of work clothes when you get home.  Mindfulness or relaxation apps are useful also. Even a shower before bed can help, I don’t know anyone who gets out of the shower grumpy.  We are all individual so it may take a little trial and error to see what works for you.

What are the worst ‘sleep sins’ we can make? What are your biggest sleep no-no’s?

Don’t reach for alcohol as a way to wind down, aside from disrupting your sleep your bladder is likely to wake you up.

If you can’t sleep, try not to toss and turn. Get up and do something quietly like reading a book.

Avoid the work computer, social media, and go back to bed when you are feeling drowsy and eyelids droopy.

We’ve read your advice that most Kiwis should be aiming for between 7-9 hours sleep a night. What about those people who say they only need 4 hours a night? Are they… for real? Do some people really have lower (or higher!) sleep needs than others?

Some people do need more sleep than others to wake and feel their best. Sleep is an active process and by cutting our sleep short we don’t allow time for critical functions to occur such as supporting healthy brain function. This can result in a person’s concentration levels, memory, and reaction times being affected as well as decision making being impaired, similar to the impact alcohol has. This is an important consideration if you are driving to work, operating heavy machinery, or caring for others.

Is there such a thing as a ‘sleep bank’? Like, if we get a few terrible night’s sleep, can we make up for it, say by getting a longer stretch of sleep on the weekend?

When it comes to sleep, consistency is key. The most restorative sleep happens when we go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning. The critical functions that don’t occur during a short night of sleep are not saved up for the weekend.

I’m slightly afraid to ask this, but, a lot of women (and men!) go through periods, sometimes years, of having very little sleep, thanks to caring for babies and young children. It’s obviously not great in the short-term, but are there any long-term effect of this? Do we get over it eventually?!

“Baby Brain”, a term most of us are familiar with, is a great example of how short or fragmented sleep affects an otherwise healthy adult, even new fathers. However, I’m not aware of any long-term effects as sleep issues resolve over time.

If we’re getting the right amount of sleep, but we’re waking up still feeling tired, what might we need to take a look at?

Other considerations would be hydration, diet, alcohol consumption, changes in body weight, as well as other factors to be discussed with your GP such as iron and B12 levels, and hormones.

I would have a think about when you last woke up feeling refreshed and try to identify what, if anything, has changed in this time.

A simple online sleep assessment or a more advanced sleep test can help to identify a possible sleep disorder.

What are the best ways to deal with a snorer?

Refrain from smothering them with a pillow, and have an open, honest discussion about how their snoring is affecting others around them!

Snoring is caused by a narrowing of the airway which makes the soft tissues in the upper airway vibrate. This is often worse if someone is lying on their back and exacerbated by weight gain.  Snoring affects both men and women, and it is not particularly social, or romantic and can force many lifelong partners into separate rooms.

Snoring can be an indicator for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), so it needs to be taken seriously and a sleep test is generally encouraged.

Weight loss (if appropriate), avoiding alcohol, and not sleeping on your back may help reduce snoring. The use of Mandibular Advancement Splints, EPAP devices and CPAP therapy may also be considered.  

Can you explain a bit about what sleep apnoea is and how people can tell if it is something affecting them or their partner?

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), is the most common form of sleep apnoea, and is characterised by the recurrent obstruction of the upper airway during sleep. These respiratory events which are followed by an arousal, lead to fragmented sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. OSA is also linked to other health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, and dementia.  Loud snoring, pauses in breathing, gasping for air and waking with a headache are common symptoms of OSA.

If this sounds familiar an online sleep test is advised and I have had many wives organise this on behalf of their husbands.

How can CPAP therapy assist with this?

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is designed to keep the upper airway at a higher pressure of air, which keeps it open, reducing the likely hood of apnoeas occurring. CPAP therapy is effective for treating OSA as well as snoring.  Other than the obvious health benefits, many of my clients are able to share the same bed with their partners again.

Terri’s Top Five Tips for How Kiwis Can Improve Their Quality of Sleep:

  1. Allow yourself plenty of opportunity for sleep, 7 – 9 hours is recommended.
  2. Keep a regular routine. Meaning the same bed time and wake time where possible, even on the weekends.
  3. Consider your bedroom environment. Room temperature as well as bed and pillow comfort are important factors.
  4. Avoid large meals or exercise right before bed.
  5. Address snoring with a sleep test – don’t ignore it.

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