Overview and Facts
Sleep problems are so common that more than 70 million of Americans experience them. Restless nights, sleepwalking, problems falling asleep – while these can be common issues, they can indicate something more serious. When someone has problems with sleep that start to affect one’s ability to function, it may be a sleep disorder.
The most common sleep disorders are:
- Insomnia – an inability to fall or stay asleep through the night
- Sleep apnea – when sleep is interrupted by breathing difficulties
- Narcolepsy – excessive daytime sleepiness and sleep attacks
- Restless legs syndrome – tingling, prickly sensation in the legs.
Your sleep health is very important, as it is vital to your overall health. A sleep disorder disrupts your overall quality of life, so it is important to diagnose them and seek treatment so you can sleep better.
Signs and Symptoms
Do you find yourself constantly tossing and turning? Falling asleep during an afternoon meeting? While it’s possible you just didn’t get enough sleep, these can also be signs of sleep problems, which can indicate a sleep disorder. Sleep disorder symptoms generally involve trouble sleeping, but the different types of sleep disorders can yield different symptoms:
- Inability to sleep through the night
- Daytime fatigue
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up earlier than normal
- Loud snoring
- Extreme daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Waking up with choking or gasping feeling
- Sore or dry throat
- Waking up with headaches
- Severe sleepiness during the day
- Dreaming during naps
- Experiencing dream-like hallucinations when falling asleep or waking up
- Loss of muscle control
- Sudden daytime sleep attacks
- Sleep paralysis
Restless leg syndrome
- Compelling urge to move legs in middle of night, or even during the day
- Twitching or crawling sensation in calves, feet, thighs or arms
- Kicking or twitching movements during sleep
- Restlessness while sleeping
Causes and Diagnosis
Sleep disorders are very common and can be caused by a number of different factors, from certain illnesses to your regular sleeping habits. The only known sleep disorder to have a genetic link is narcolepsy – the others seem to be caused by outside environmental factors.
- Mental and Physical condition: Stress can without a doubt keep you up at night. Having things like financial worries and family stress can make it difficult to wind down at the end of the day, which can make you not sleep well.
- Daily habits: If you are constantly busy right up until the point where you to go sleep, it can be hard to sleep. Exercising vigorously or watching TV, especially violent stories and images, should be avoided before bed.
- Food and drink: Too much caffeine, smoking and alcohol before bed can interfere with sleep.
- Medications: Some prescriptions medications can contribute to poor sleep.
- Sleep environment: Sleeping in a room that is noisy or not completely dark can affect the sleep you get.
To determine whether or not you have a sleep disorder, you may want to first keep a record of your sleep patterns. If you have a sleeping partner, he or she should help you identify your sleeping habits. A sleep diary should include information such as the total number of sleep hours, the quality of your sleep, what you ate and drank before bed, medications being taken and feelings or activities before bed.If after recording your sleep activities you believe you have a sleep problem, it is important to see a doctor about your sleep health. A doctor will factor in your sleep symptoms, age, gender, sleep center data, sleep diary, medical condition and psychological history. Your doctor may recommend you go to a sleep clinic where your sleep is monitored to truly diagnose your sleep disorder.
Tests and Treatment Options
After a sleep disorder has been diagnosed, your doctor may recommend different types of sleep treatments in order to relive your sleep disorder symptoms. These vary, depending on the sleep disorder.
Insomnia: Your doctor will likely recommend home remedies and good sleep hygience, meaning ways you can better your sleep health
Sleep apnea: Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills can relive apnea symptoms, as can weight loss. A doctor may also recommend a device called continuous positive airway pressure for sleep apnea treatment. With CPAP, the patient wears a mask that increases air pressure inside the throat. This allows the person to sleep without breathing interruption.
Narcolepsy: Naps often relive narcolepsy symptoms. Also, a doctor may prescribe stimulants to help you stay alert throughout the day.
Restless legs syndrome: Reducing caffeine intake can help treat restless legs syndrome. Other relaxation measures taken before bed can also help. Medications are available as well, but there are potential side effects.
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
There are many things one can do to improve sleep health and overall, sleep better.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Don’t take naps, especially after 3 pm
- Do not exercise within two hours of bedtime
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the four to six hours before bed
- Be sure your bedroom is dark and quiet
- Avoid stressful or vigorous activity before bed
- Wind down by doing something relaxing in the 30 minutes before you go to sleep
- Avoid eating large meals before bed