5 top sleep questions, answered

What you need to know about sleep paralysis, the ultimate pre-bed routine, and more

Experts agree that sleep is just as crucial as nutrition and exercise for an athlete to perform optimally. But sometimes it's frustratingly hard to get enough zzz's. And since it’s often most convenient to ask the internet for advice on issues such as sweating the bed, nightmares, and more (especially at 3 a.m.), we turned to Natasha Bhuyan, M.D., with One Medical in Phoenix, to provide sound answers for some of the most Googled sleep questions.

What is sleep apnea?

One of the most common sleep disorders, sleep apnea is a condition when a person has pauses in breathing while they sleep, Bhuyan says, and healthy folks are not immune. It can happen when the soft palate of the throat becomes relaxed as you dip into deeper sleep and will have negative effects on the quality of sleep. As a result, you may feel fatigued during the day or even suffer headaches from lack of good rest. Other warning signs include snoring, dry mouth at night or in the morning, and even high blood pressure due to the stress on the body. If you're experiencing these symptoms despite getting enough hours of sleep, make an appointment with your doctor.

What is sleep paralysis?

Another frightening term that is top of mind for Googlers, sleep paralysis is a condition in which you feel as if you are unable to move either as you’re falling asleep or while you're waking up. While not inherently dangerous, “it can be a very scary sensation, as the person is awake but unable to move their body,” says Bhuyan. “It can sometimes even involve hallucinations, where it appears there is someone else in the room hovering over your bed.” It’s fairly common and often affects young, healthy people in their teens and 20s. The exact causes aren’t known, but an irregular sleep schedule, chronic lack of adequate sleep, and general stress may be factors.

How can I know if I'm sleep-deprived?

According to a recent CDC study, one-third of Americans do not get enough sleep. The symptoms are pretty obvious: "You may be lacking sleep if you are feeling tired often, having issues with memory, trouble concentrating, or feeling irritable,” says Bhuyan. "Optimally, people need at minimum seven hours of quality sleep each night. If you know that you regularly get less than that, or your sleep is often interrupted, you are probably sleep-deprived."

What is REM sleep?

REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, and it’s considered the most important phase of sleep. “As your brain activity increases during this stage, scientists think it stimulates an important part of the brain used in learning and memories,” Bhuyan says. Vivid dreams are one sign of REM but "if you sleep seven or eight hours per night, you have likely reached this stage," adds Bhuyan. Not getting enough REM has been linked with weight gain and memory loss issues, which can negatively affect an athlete's performance.

How can I sleep better?

First, says Bhuyan, set a consistent sleep schedule, where you go to bed and get up at the same time every day. When you vary this too much, your internal clock can get confused, known as “social jetlag,” because it has similar negative effects to a time-zone change. Also, you want to make a bedtime routine that’s conducive to good sleep. “Reserve your bed for sleep, not reading or TV or work,” says Bhuyan, who also recommends not eating or drinking too close to bedtime, and shutting off all media devices at least an hour before you retire. Not only does the blue light these emit interfere with the body’s natural wind-down mechanisms, but, “so many of my patients go on social media before bed for much longer than they intend, which delays their bedtime,” she says.