You’ve been tossing and turning all night for weeks now, unable to find that blissful sleep you’ve been so desperate for. Does this sound familiar? There are a wide variety sleep issues that plague Americans each year. More than 120 million Americans suffer from some kind of sleep issue. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that between 50 and 70 million people have a wake or sleep disorder. If you can’t figure out what’s causing your sleep to be disrupted, read on to see the most common sleep issues and what you can do to treat them.
If you’re feeling extremely tired, find yourself nodding off during the middle of the day, or seem to be gaining or losing weight with no explanation, you could be suffering from sleep deprivation. This occurs when your body isn’t getting enough sleep or is constantly going to sleep at the wrong time of the day. Sleep deprivation may be a symptom of an undiagnosed sleep disorder. It can increase your chances of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and depression. It’s also one of the leading causes of sleep injuries and accidents. The first step to treating sleep deprivation is finding out what’s causing you not to rest. You’ll need to see a sleep doctor to determine the exact reason for your sleeplessness and the best treatment for your case.
A very common sleep issue that almost everyone experiences at one time or another is insomnia. Insomnia symptoms include difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up too early before you’ve finished your sleep cycles. This sleep disorder is the most common sleep disorder among U.S. adults, with 30 percent or more of adults in the U.S. experiencing insomnia at some point in a year. For 10 percent of those people, insomnia is chronic. Chronic insomnia (not sleeping well on a daily basis) can lead to poor quality of life, health issues, depression, and accidents.
Maintaining a strong sleep routine can help guard against insomnia, as well as help diminish its severity if it does arise. A healthy sleep routine includes regular bedtimes and wake times—a schedule that you adhere to even on weekends. Managing other waking habits can also help strengthen sleep and may reduce your risk of experiencing insomnia. Keeping caffeine consumption in check, and limiting caffeine to the early part of the day will help avoid night-time alertness that can interfere with sleep onset.
Avoiding alcohol within four hours of bedtime can prevent the disruption to sleep—especially to the second half of the night—that’s associated with drinking later in the evening. Finding ways to cope effectively with stress is another important way to improve sleep and reduce your risk for insomnia. A routine of regular exercise is also a great way to manage stress and to improve sleep at the same time. Research indicates exercise can help ease symptoms of insomnia. Just be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime, or you may interfere with sleep. Leave at least three hours between exercise and your regular bedtime.
These strategies together amount to what sleep experts call good “sleep hygiene”—a collection of healthy sleep habits that help ensure plentiful, restorative, refreshing sleep, and a feeling of well-being during waking life. Strong sleep hygiene will help you protect against insomnia and allow you to sleep more restfully and well.
Sleep apnea could also be to blame for your poor sleep quality. At least 18 million Americans have been diagnosed with this disorder, and many millions more may have it. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition where either the airway is blocked, and breathing is strained, or the body stops breathing when you are sleeping. 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 two basic types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) where there is something about the person’s anatomy—possibly a large tonsil or steep palate—that is blocking the airway; and central sleep apnea which occurs when the brain tells the lungs not to breathe. When 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 can happen more than 120 times every hour, even though you may not remember waking up.
As you can imagine, apneas put immense short- and long-term strains on the body. Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, constant tiredness, poor concentration, night sweats, weight gain, lack of energy and forgetfulness. The first step toward treating sleep apnea and living healthier is recognizing the symptoms and signs of sleep apnea and asking your doctor to get screened and tested.
If you find yourself feeling uncontrollably tired throughout the day, you may have narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate the normal sleep-to-awake 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 suffering from narcolepsy experience various day and nighttime sleep problems. The most common symptom of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), 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 can last a few minutes or longer. EDS can also cause a constant state of fatigue, which can affect 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. If your doctor thinks that you have narcolepsy, he or she may refer you to a sleep specialist for further consultation.
If you experience “pins and needles feelings,” an “internal itch,” or a “creeping, crawling sensation” that cause an irresistible urge to move your legs when you are trying to sleep, you may have a bothersome sleep issue known as Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). Restless Legs Syndrome, which affects approximately 10% of American adults, is a neurologic sensorimotor disorder that is characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs when they are at rest. During the night, you may awaken several times to move your legs around and get rid of the sometimes-unpleasant sensations. This can cause restlessness that 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 (PLMS). Similar to RLS, PLMS causes the legs or feet to involuntarily flex for a few seconds many times throughout the night. The primary difference between RLS and PLMS is that RLS occurs while you’re awake and PLMS occurs while sleeping. RLS is often unrecognized or misdiagnosed. This is especially true if the symptoms are intermittent or mild. Once correctly diagnosed, RLS can often be treated successfully. You should talk to your Doctor if you believe you may be affected by 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, especially long distances, your biological clock can get out of sync because you’ve disrupted your natural circadian rhythms which tell your body when to fall asleep and wake up. When you travel, your circadian rhythms take some time 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 all 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.
Snoring can drive your partner crazy, but snoring can also affect your quality of sleep. 37 million people snore each night, and 90 million people have snored at some point during 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, it means that a person isn’t taking in enough oxygen for the body to perform its important 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. If your snoring is disrupting your sleep life or the sleep of your partner, your doctor will want to monitor your sleep and decide the best path for treatment.
If you’re grinding or clenching your teeth at night, you may have sleep bruxism, a type of movement disorder that occurs while you’re sleeping. If you’re experiencing dental pain or damage, facial pain, headaches or earaches, or disturbed sleep from it, you’re not alone. Eight percent of the adult population grinds their teeth at night, and one-third of children do it too. Though sleep bruxism is still being studied, you may be experiencing it as 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 can offer a mouth guard, or even dental correction to treat the issue.
Next Steps for Dealing with Sleep Issues
After taking a closer look at the most common sleep issues, you might find yourself honing in on one that sounds like the reason you can’t catch your zzzs each night. You’ll 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.