BJU expert explains ways of improving sleep quality
Published: Jan 09, 2022 05:21 PM
A technician of BJU explaines the sleep measures to a patient. Photo: Courtesy of BJU

A technician of BJU explaines the sleep measures to a patient. Photo: Courtesy of BJU

The instance of Insomnia among Chinese adults was as high as 38.2 percent in 2020, which means more than 300 million people suffer from sleep disorder, according to a report released by the Chinese Sleep Research Society. Sleep disorders have become a prominent problem impacting broader society, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although people are spending more time at home sleeping, a growing number of them are finding it difficult to achieve the quality of rest needed to live out productive lives. 

Sleep is important, it accounts for one third of the life span, according to Wang Xuehua, a sleep medicine specialist at Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU). Long-term sleep disturbance increases risk of physical and mental illnesses, such as the cardiovascular disease, mental illness, metabolic disease, diabetes, and potentially, cancer. 

To date, the common sleep problems are insomnia and sleep-related breathing disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea, Wang noted. Snoring is a sound produced by the vibration of the upper airway soft tissue during sleep. According to Wang, habitual snoring is very common among individuals aged between 30 to 60, 44 percent of men and 28 percent women. Although snoring is an acoustic phenomenon, its existence indicates that patients' upper airway may be partially or completely blocked during sleep. Loud snoring, uneven and intermittent, may indicate that their obstructive sleep apneas and hypopneas occurred. The common causes of upper airway narrowing includes obesity, nasal obstruction, hypertrophy of tonsils and adenoids, and decreased thyroid function. 
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common sleep-related breathing disorder. OSA mostly occurs in older males, but it can also affect women and children. The incidence rises following menopause so that rates are similar between postmenopausal female and male. Apneas and hypopneas can cause the decrease of blood oxygen saturation, the increase of carbon dioxide concentration and the fragmentation of sleep. The long-term persistence of these conditions can lead to a further increase in body weight, memory loss, lack of concentration, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer as well. 

"Insomnia is also a common sleep problem. It may be associated with acute stress, medication or other substances, poor sleep habits, or changes in the sleep environment, " Wang said, the diagnosis of insomnia requires three main components: persistent sleep difficulties, adequate sleep opportunity, and associated daytime dysfunction. 

Risk factors for insomnia include age, gender, genetic characteristics, history of physical and mental illness, and other external factors, such as environmental and drug factors and so on. Insomnia is divided into short-term insomnia and chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia can increase the risk of obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental illness. It can also cause immunosuppression and increase the risk of cancer.   
Wang Xuehua, sleep medicine specialist at BJU Photo: Courtesy of BJU

Wang Xuehua, sleep medicine specialist at BJU Photo: Courtesy of BJU

According to Wang, key factors in people's sleep are homeostatic and circadian systems. Homeostatic process controls an individual to obtain a certain amount of sleep. Exercise can increase the sleep drive of the homeostatic process. The time of sleep and wakefulness (circadian rhythm) is controlled by the biological clock in the body, and melatonin is a necessary substance to maintain the biological clock. If the level of melatonin does not reach the high peak of secretion, people will not easy to fall asleep. 

There are some simple tips to improve conditions needed for a good night's sleep, such as stopping entertainment an hour before going to bed, not spending excessive time on mobile phones, and turning off the lights in time. Adjust biological clock to a "rest state" so that people can fall asleep easily and improve the quality of sleep. More importantly, people should develop a correct understanding of sleep. As long as the next day is in a state of good mental and physical function, it means that people have had enough sleep, Wang said.