Having a good night's sleep is one of life's simple pleasures. Imagine getting cosy in a comfortable bed, falling into a deep sleep in 10 minutes or less, sleeping throughout the night without any tossing and turning, then waking up eight or nine hours later feeling completely refreshed.
Sounds amazing, doesn't it? Unfortunately, not everyone is able to achieve this dream (no pun intended) sleep scenario.
Between snoring (or your partner keeping you up with his snoring), having weird dreams or even making awkward sounds while you sleep, there's a lot that happens during our slumber time that many of us don't know much about.
Have you been wanting to find out about why you have these strange nighttime habits but are too busy or embarrassed to ask? We've done the work for you.
#1: Why do I find it hard to sleep sometimes? Do I have insomnia?
Not being able to fall asleep could be a result of having a bad sleep schedule. Maybe you had too much screen time before bed or got carried away by your latest Netflix binge. Another possibility is that you ate too close to bedtime.
You could be stressed about something that’s keeping you awake, or perhaps you had a nap in the day and therefore find it hard to fall asleep at night. These situations are different from actually having insomnia.
Clinical Assistant Professor Leow Leong Chai, senior consultant of respiratory and critical care medicine as well as director of Sleep Disorders Unit at Singapore General Hospital, reveals that insomnia is defined as “having difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up earlier than planned.”
It is estimated that 15.3 per cent of people in Singapore suffer from insomnia.
“Generally, chronic insomnia is when these problems occur at least three times per week for more than three months, and this is usually when seeking professional help is advised,” he explains.
“For insomnia to be considered significant, there has to be some daytime symptoms, for example, feeling excessively fatigued or sleepy, low mood, lack of concentration, irritability or even hyperactivity or aggression.”
#2: I snore sometimes – Does this mean I have sleep apnea?
There are many reasons why people snore, such as nasal/sinus problems, being overweight or the consumption of alcohol. Prof Leow says snoring is common and affects up to 50 per cent of the population.
He explains that there’s a difference between snoring and sleep apnea: “Snoring is caused by turbulent airflow through partial narrowing of the upper airway during sleep. Sleep quality and oxygen levels are not adversely impacted.
“Sleep apnea, on the other hand, can be considered an extreme form of snoring due to severe upper airway obstruction leading to significant reduction in air going to the lungs, to the extent of causing reduction in oxygen levels in the body or causing recurrent disruptions to the sleep cycle."
"This can lead to short-term impairment in sleep quality, causing excessive daytime sleepiness and long-term adverse health effects such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke,” he adds.
According to a survey by Jurong Health, one in three Singaporeans has moderate to severe sleep apnea, and one in 10 Singaporeans suffers from severe sleep apnea. Those of Chinese and Malay ethnicity have higher rates of sleep apnea.
Prof Leow recommends seeking medical help if you or your bed partner notice loud snoring, choking spells during the night and significant sleepiness during the day, especially if the affected individual is also overweight or already suffers from high blood pressure or heart disease.
#3: I drool in my sleep, is that normal?
It can be uncomfortable to have to wipe drool off your mouth area when you wake up. But Prof Leow says this shouldn’t be cause for alarm as our mouths continue to produce saliva during sleep.
He lists certain conditions that can predispose you to drooling:
- Mouth breathing, which can be caused by nasal congestion or allergies, especially when sleeping on the side or prone (face down).
- Conditions such as reflux, sleep apnea and chronic teeth grinding.
#4: I have sex dreams. Am I the only one?
Not everyone remembers their dreams, but sometimes we have dreams we want to forget, but can’t.
Ever dreamt of getting it on with your ex? Or what about that disturbing dream about humping the hot colleague from another department? Well, it turns out that, regardless of who you’re dreaming about, sex dreams are part and parcel of life.
“Dreams with sexual content are common and considered part of the normal human experience,” says Prof Leow.
“Philosophers have theorised about the meaning behind dreams since antiquity, but the most popular and relatively recent theory is from psychologist Sigmund Freud, who postulated that dreams are a manifestation of our unconscious desires and unfulfilled needs.”
If you’re more prone to erotic dreams when you’re having your period, you’re not alone. Hormonal fluctuations during our menstrual cycle may affect what you dream about, even though they might not always involve sex.
Prof Leow states that many women do report “period dreams”, which are vivid and sometimes bizarre dreams, though not necessarily sexual in nature, around the time of their periods.
#5: Why do I walk or talk in my sleep?
Although sleepwalking and sleep talking is more common in children (most commonly in children aged one to four), some people never grow out of this habit. Prof Leow estimates that two to four per cent of affected people experience persistence of their sleepwalking or sleep talking.
People who sleepwalk don’t know they’re doing it and don’t remember it when they wake up. Sleepwalking tends to run in the family, but you could also sleepwalk if you’re sleep-deprived, stressed or have medical conditions such as a fever.
If your sleepwalking is dangerous — you reach for sharp objects or leave a stove on, for example — see a sleep specialist.
Talking in your sleep is usually harmless (unless you’re revealing secrets you don’t want your bed partner to know!). But you might need to seek help if you’re constantly shouting in your sleep, as you need to find out what’s causing your nightmares.
#6: I fart in my sleep. Why?
Our expert assures us this is normal but most people don’t even know this is happening as they’re asleep. Certain factors can increase your flatulence level:
- A diet with excessive beans, cereals, cabbage
- Medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease
“Dietary adjustments or seeking medical help for the above medical conditions can help to reduce flatulence,” says Prof Leow.
#7: I wet the bed while I was asleep. Why did this happen?
Even though bedwetting is something that happens mostly with children, you could wet the bed when you’re a grown-up too. Prof Leow says that it affects just one to two per cent of the population, and happens mostly among the elderly.
“Potential causes are prostate issues, overactive bladder, urinary tract infections, sleep apnea and certain heart and kidney conditions. Certain medications such as diuretics can also cause bedwetting,” he explains.
If you’re concerned about your bedwetting, consult a medical expert.
#8: Why do I groan in my sleep?
This is such a normal thing that there’s actually a name for it — catathrenia.
And it’s characterised by deep inhalation, a pause and release with a long, sustained high-pitch throaty groan. Prof Leow notes that the cause for this condition is unclear.
“A small proportion of people have a family history of catathrenia or personal history of sleepwalking, sleep talking or sleep apnea. This is generally a harmless condition and reassurance of the afflicted and the bed partner is often all that is necessary,” he says.
This article was first published in Her World Online.