Having trouble sleeping lately? If so, you’re having the same issue that roughly 50 to 70 million U.S. adults are dealing with. While you might just chalk it up to a streak of bad nights, there may be an underlying condition causing you to miss out on restful sleep.
How can you be sure that you have a sleep disorder, though? Are there any signs or symptoms outside of losing sleep? If you do have one, how can you treat it so your life can get back to normal?
This article is here to help you identify common sleep disorders and provide proven methods for relief. Before diving into these conditions, it’s important to understand the havoc that a lack of sleep can wreak on your body.
The Dangers of Losing Sleep
While you probably know that a lack of sleep can make you irritable or foggy headed, there are far more severe consequences to be aware of. For instance, did you know that sleeplessness is one of largest causes of automobile crashes? An estimated 100,000 accidents a year are attributed to fatigue in the U.S. alone.
Your brain needs sleep to function properly. Without it, your cognitive function is impaired, and daily tasks can quickly become dangerous. Aside from an auto accident, you might end up hurting yourself at work or even falling down a flight of stairs. Simple tasks like opening a can of soda or even holding a coffee mug can become challenging.
You might also notice that you have trouble paying attention throughout the day, or even forget the events that happened yesterday. Losing out on sleep affects nearly every area of your brain which, as you can imagine, severely impacts your ability to function.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to severe health complications, too. Some of which include:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack and failure
- An irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- And an increased risk for diabetes
Roughly 90% with insomnia, one of the most common sleep issues, have another medical condition caused by their lack of a good night’s rest. You might also find yourself feeling depressed, gaining weight, or losing the ability to focus during the day.
Identifying Sleep Disorders
There are a number of common sleep disorders that many individuals experience at some point in their lives. Identifying them is simpler than you might think, but also requires the help of a professional for an accurate diagnosis. Below are the five most common sleep issues as well as how to treat them.
This is the number one cause of sleeplessness. It is defined as a difficulty getting and staying to sleep. Individuals can have either transient (short-term) or chronic insomnia.
Transient often occurs after you’ve experienced a stressful life event such as losing a loved one or relationship issues. You might also find that it coincides with jet lag or a sudden change in work shifts. Often times, transient insomnia will also make it tough to relax throughout the day.
Insomnia becomes chronic when it lasts for more than one month. You might experience a few good nights of sleep here and there but generally stay awake most nights. Reasons you might have developed insomnia include:
- Poor sleep hygiene
- Breathing disorders such as sleep apnea
- Medical conditions that make it hard to stay asleep
- Hormonal imbalances
- Excess movement during your sleep
- Circadian rhythm disorders, which affect your internal sense of time
No matter how tired you feel, insomnia will keep you awake through the majority of the night. It often becomes challenging to concentrate during the day, affecting your social life and work. You might also develop headaches, tense muscles, and gastrointestinal issues.
Treatment for insomnia includes prescribed medications. A physician can help determine what the underlying cause of the sleep issue is, then prescribe something to treat that cause. For instance, anxiety medication might be the solution if your anxiousness is keeping you awake.
Stimulus control, relaxation techniques, and behavior therapy may also be used in place of medications. Regardless of what method is used, you should avoid both caffeine and alcohol until the problem goes away. Even though alcohol can have a calming effect, it is ill-advised to drink due to your impaired cognitive function.
Obstructive sleep apnea happens when you airways repeatedly become blocked, stopping your breathing in the middle of the night. In minor cases, an individual may make noises or snore loudly. In more severe cases, this can lead to choking in your sleep.
You can identify sleep apnea with some common symptoms. If you wake up during the night with a sore throat, wake up from gasping or choking, or snore loudly, then you might suffer from this sleep issue. An overall lack of energy and irritability come along with missing out on rest.
Thankfully, sleep apnea can be treated in a variety of ways. The most prominent is CPAP therapy, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. Treatment requires you to sleep with a machine attached to your nose or mouth that uses mild air pressure to keep your throat open during the night.
Several dental/oral appliances can also help to achieve this desired result, as can losing weight in some cases. Many also undergo positional therapy, which involves training your body to stay on its side during the night.
In rare cases, you might need surgery to ensure your airways stay open. The procedure is a simple one, ensuring that you do not suffocate in your sleep and put an end to your sleepless nights.
Individuals with this condition find themselves falling asleep at anytime, anywhere. Narcolepsy is uncontrollable and often strikes at strange times. For instance, you could be in the middle of enjoying lunch when all of a sudden you fall asleep in your salad.
Narcolepsy is easy to identify. If you find yourself falling asleep without warning, then you have it. You might also have sleep paralysis, temporary loss of muscle control called cataplexy or even hallucinations from your incredibly disrupted sleep schedule. Individuals with narcolepsy often have insomnia as well.
Treatment involves prescription medication along with a rigorous schedule of naps to help curb the sudden instances. Talk to your physician or psychiatrist to get started.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Everyone gets the jitters from time to time, but actual restless leg syndrome is an uncontrollable impulse that causes you to move your legs while resting. It might be accompanied by aching, tingling, or burning as well. In some cases, individuals experience the feeling of something crawling on their legs or other parts of their body.
Symptoms are often worse whenever you become inactive, and you might not even notice that you have this disorder when moving around. These symptoms also worsen at night when you lay down to sleep, making it hard to get any rest.
A combination of medications and behavioral therapy is often required to treat restless leg syndrome. This condition can also turn into periodic limb movement disorder, which causes similar disturbances in your sleep.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep happens whenever you dream. When people dream, their eyes move around uncontrollably. Most individuals experience a light paralysis once they fall asleep, but this sleep issue causes the rest of your muscles to move as well during the REM phase.
People with REM sleep behavior disorder often wake themselves up after being hit by one of their moving limbs. In most cases, an individual might also shout, scream, or talk excessively in their sleep as well.
There are multiple medications available for this condition with a prescription. While there is no specific therapy available, a doctor will advise you on injury prevention techniques to keep you safe from your flailing limbs.
If you think that you have any of these sleep issues, it is vital that you speak with a professional for help. They can better identify which condition you may be dealing with and provide the appropriate treatments. In most cases, your doctor will recommend a sleep physician within your healthcare network.
You can learn more about these and any other sleep disorders on the American Association Sleep Technologist website. They have a free ebook that you can download as well called Sleep Technology Terms and Definitions. Both will help to familiarize you with terms relating to sleep disorders and important information regarding their treatment.
Sleep issues can affect every aspect of your life from work to home and relationships. You may feel irritable and confused about what is happening due to the lack of rest, which is all the more reason to seek immediate medical attention.
The effects of sleep deprivation are serious, often leading to injury or illness. Don’t wait until things become worse. Talk to your doctor today and get your sleeping habits back on track.
Feature image via Sleep Disorders 101