Have you been tossing and turning all night for weeks, unable to find that blissful sleep you’ve been so desperate for? For some, this may mean a sleep disorder is at hand. But what kind? And what can you do to manage it?
Keep reading to learn about the most common sleep issues and what you can do to treat them, and when to check in with a medical professional.
What are Sleep Disorders and Sleep Issues?
Sleep disorders are conditions that impair sleep quality, duration, and efficiency, and overall sleep health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep issues. Some of the causes of sleep issues include stress, medications, environmental disturbance, physical and mental diseases, unhealthy work schedules (for example, doing night shifts may disturb your internal body clock), etc.
Here’s a breakdown of the 8 most common sleep disorders and sleep issues, plus ways to manage them.
Almost everyone will experience some level of insomnia in their lives. But when it’s consistent and repetitive, it’s worth giving it the attention it deserves. Some symptoms to look out for include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early (before completing your sleep stages.).
This sleep disorder is the most common among U.S. adults, with 30 percent or more experiencing insomnia at some point in a year and 10% experiencing chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia (not sleeping well regularly) can lead to poor quality of life, health issues, depression, and accidents.
Maintaining healthy sleep habits may protect against insomnia and help reduce its severity if it arises. Having consistent bedtimes and wake times (even on weekends) is crucial to developing optimal sleep habits.
Limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption to the early parts of the day may help prevent night-time alertness that can interfere with sleep onset and stability.
Finding effective ways to cope with stress (like exercising regularly no later than three hours before bedtime) can also improve your sleep health and reduce your risk of insomnia.
These strategies are a collection of healthy sleep habits that help ensure restorative sleep and a feeling of well-being during the day. Sleep experts call them good “sleep hygiene,” and they may help deal with insomnia and allow you to sleep more restfully.
At least 22 million Americans have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and millions more – up to 90% – are thought to be undiagnosed and untreated. Sleep apnea is a severe medical condition where the airway is blocked, breathing is strained, or the body stops breathing during sleep. It’s a potentially fatal condition, with harmful short- and long-term complications, that affects more than 1 in 3 men and 1 in 6 women.
There are several forms of sleep apnea including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in your throat collapse, causing a partial or full blockage of airflow. Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain doesn’t signal your body to keep breathing while you sleep.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, your brain senses when you’ve stopped breathing and causes you to wake up just enough to gasp and start breathing again. Then you fall back to sleep, and the cycle begins again. This cycle can happen over 100 times every hour, and you may not even remember waking up.
Sleep apnea symptoms include snoring, constant tiredness, poor concentration, night sweats, weight gain, lack of energy, and forgetfulness.
As you may imagine, apneas put immense short- and long-term strains on the body. The first step to treating sleep apnea is recognizing its symptoms and signs and getting more information from your doctor.
If you find yourself feeling uncontrollably tired and experiencing sporadic periods of sleep throughout the day, you may have narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate the normal sleep-wake cycle leading to excessive tiredness during the day with a tendency to fall asleep at inappropriate times. This life-long condition affects approximately 200,000 Americans.
Individuals with narcolepsy experience different ranges of daytime and nighttime sleep problems. The most common symptom of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness, coupled with sudden, involuntary bouts of sleep that can strike at any time. Sometimes, these ‘sleep attacks’ only last a few seconds; other times, they last a few minutes longer. Excessive daytime sleepiness can also cause a constant state of fatigue, affecting concentration and attention during waking hours.
If you think you might have narcolepsy, your doctor will ask you about your sleeping habits and may request a clinical examination and a thorough understanding of your medical history. They may also refer you to a sleep specialist for further consultation.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Do you experience “pins and needles feelings,” an “internal itch,” or a “creeping, crawling sensation” that causes an irresistible urge to move your legs when you are trying to sleep? If Yes, then you may have restless legs syndrome.
Restless legs syndrome, which affects approximately 10% of American adults, is a neurologic sensorimotor disorder that comes with an overwhelming urge to move the legs when they are at rest. You may wake up several times during the night to move your legs around and get rid of the sometimes unpleasant sensations. This restlessness can lead to fatigue and sleep deprivation.
More than 80 percent of people suffering from RLS also suffer from a condition known as periodic leg movements of sleep. Similar to restless legs syndrome, periodic leg movements of sleep cause the legs or feet to involuntarily flex for a few seconds many times throughout the night. The primary difference between restless legs syndrome and periodic leg movements is that restless legs syndrome occurs while you’re awake, and periodic leg movements occur while sleeping. Restless legs syndrome is often unrecognized or misdiagnosed, especially if the symptoms are intermittent or mild. Once correctly diagnosed, restless legs syndrome can often be treated successfully. You should talk to your doctor if you believe you have this disorder.
Do you have to travel for work and spend a lot of time on an airplane bouncing coast to coast? Your sleep issues could be the result of something known as jet lag.
Every day, millions of travelers are affected by this common disorder. When you travel incredibly long distances, your biological clock can get out of sync because you’ve disrupted your natural circadian rhythm, which tells your body when to fall asleep and wake up. After traveling, it takes some time for your circadian rhythm to adjust and remain on the same biological schedule for several days. You may find yourself wanting to go out in the middle of the night or sleep through the day.
You can minimize the effects of jet lag yourself by making some simple adjustments before, during, and after arrival at your destination to put you back on track with the day and night cycle at your new location. Some of these strategies include exposing yourself to daytime sunlight, maintaining optimal hydration, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, supplementing melatonin, exercising at the early hours of the day, etc.
If you grind or clench your teeth while asleep, you may have sleep bruxism. But know that you’re not alone. This sleep disorder affects 13% of the adult population and ranges from 5.9% to 49.6% in children.
Sleep bruxism is a movement disorder during sleep that results in dental pain or damage, facial pain, headaches or earaches, or disturbed sleep.
Though sleep bruxism is still being studied, it may also be a symptom of anxiety, smoking, sleep apnea, or snoring. Your dentist can look for changes in your teeth and mouth to confirm that you have bruxism and offer a mouth guard or even dental correction to treat the issue.
Other Sleep Issues
Snoring may not only drive your partner crazy, but it may also affect your quality of sleep. 37 million people snore every night, and 90 million people have snored at some point in their life.
Snoring, defined by its raspy, hissing sound, is caused by a partially closed upper airway (the nose and throat). Everyone’s neck muscles relax during sleep, but sometimes they relax so much that the upper airway partly closes and becomes too narrow for enough air to travel through to the lungs.
When this happens, the person isn’t taking in enough oxygen to perform its essential functions. The brain then sends a signal to the body to wake up to get the oxygen it needs, likely resulting in the person waking up throughout the night without realizing it.
Snoring can lead to daytime sleepiness and heart disease and is sometimes linked to sleep apnea. We suggest trying a snoring mouth guard. If your snoring is disrupting your sleep life or the sleep of your partner, your doctor may want to monitor your sleep and decide the best path for treatment.
If you constantly feel exhausted and sleepy during the day and seem to gain or lose weight without explanation, you may be experiencing sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation, which could be a symptom of an undiagnosed sleep disorder, happens when your body isn’t getting enough sleep or only gets very sleepy during the day. Sleep deprivation may increase your chances of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and depression. It’s also one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and accidents.
The first step to treating sleep deprivation is finding out what’s preventing you from fully resting at night. A sleep doctor may help you better understand why you’re sleep-deprived and the appropriate intervention for your case.
Next Steps for Dealing with Sleep Issues & Disorders
After taking a closer look at the most common sleep issues, you might find yourself homing in on one that sounds like the reason you can’t catch your Zzzs each night.
You may want to schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine what’s behind your daytime sleepiness and inability to get some rest. If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist.
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