Everyone experiences occasional sleep problems, but getting a good night’s sleep is essential for feeling refreshed and alert during the day. Lack of sleep might make you feel foggy and unable to concentrate, or just a lesser version of your normal self. Sleep problems will eventually disrupt your work, family and personal relationships.
How do you tell if your sleepless night is an isolated occurrence or if it is related to a chronic sleep problem or disorder? Start by identifying your symptoms. Particular behaviors during the day are telltale signs of sleep deprivation. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms on a regular basis, your sleeplessness might be part of an ongoing problem or sleep disorder.
Almost everyone will be affected by insomnia at some point during life. Insomnia – a short term or chronic inability to get high quality sleep – is a common sleep problem and can be caused by a variety of things including stress, a change in time zones, an altered sleep schedule or poor bedtime habits. Whether your problem is an occasional sleepless night or a series of them, plenty of solutions exist to help you get better sleep.
The great news is that insomnia doesn’t have to be a permanent problem. In many cases, self help techniques, including improved sleep hygiene, relaxation and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can alleviate insomnia and promote better health as well as better sleep. Helpguide has two articles devoted to a wide range of insomnia cures and self help tips for improving your sleep.
Medications should be a last resort for insomnia – they do not provide lasting treatment and have numerous possible side effects.
Sleep apnea sleep disorders
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that can be potentially very serious, and even life-threatening. In sleep apnea, your breathing stops or gets very shallow while you are sleeping. Each pause in breathing typically lasts 10 to 20 seconds or more, and the pauses can occur 20 to 30 times or more an hour. During the episodes of apnea, the sleeper wakes up to breathe again, disrupting sleep, and also suffers from a brief lack of oxygen.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Frequent gaps in breathing during sleep (apnea)
- Gasping or choking for air to restart breathing, often causing sleeper or partner to wake
- Loud snoring
- Feeling unrefreshed after a night’s sleep and excessive daytime tiredness
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. Causes of sleep apnea are generally physical in nature, including excess weight or tissue (sometimes from being overweight or obese), large tonsils or adenoids, nasal congestion or blockage or a unique shaped head, neck or chin.
CPAP, a mechanical device worn while sleeping which provides continuous air pressure to keep the airway open, is the most recommended treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea. CPAP can take some getting used to, but provides effective relief when used correctly.
Self help treatments, like losing weight, elevating the head of the bed or sleeping on your side, can also be effective remedies for mild to moderate sleep apnea. Dental appliances and surgery are also treatment options.
Snoring, which is sometimes confused with sleep apnea, can be a significant obstacle to quality sleep both for yourself and your partner.
Snoring is caused by a narrowing of your airway, either from poor sleep posture, excess weight or physical abnormalities of your throat. A narrow airway gets in the way of smooth breathing and creates the sound of snoring. The snoring noise doesn’t necessarily that the airway is obstructed, as it is in sleep apnea. Snoring may accompany sleep apnea, but not always.
There are many self help remedies and cures for snoring. If you are a mild snorer, sleeping on your side, elevating the head of your bed, or losing weight may stop the snoring. Don’t give up trying to find a solution for your snoring – it will make you and your partner sleep better.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep (PLMS)
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder causing an almost irresistible urge to move the legs (or arms). The urge to move occurs when resting or lying down and is usually due to uncomfortable, tingly, or creeping sensations in the legs or affected limbs. Movement eases the feelings, but only for a while.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) is a related condition involving involuntary, rhythmic limb movements, either while asleep or when awake. While most people who have Restless Legs Syndrome also have PLMD, only some people with PLMD also have RLS.
RLS can occur on its own or be related to other medical conditions, such as anemia, kidney disease, pregnancy, thyroid problems, Parkinson’s or alcoholism. RLS may run in families.
Alternative therapies, lifestyle changes, and even nutritional supplements have proven helpful for RLS and PLMD sufferers.
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes extreme sleepiness and may even make a person fall asleep suddenly and without warning. Specific causes of narcolepsy are not known but people with narcolepsy are lacking hypocretin, a brain chemical which regulates sleep and wakefulness.
The “sleep attacks” experienced by people with narcolepsy occur even after getting enough sleep at night, and make it difficult for people to live normal lives. Falling asleep during activities like walking, driving or working can have dangerous results.
Symptoms of narcolepsy include:
- Intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Sudden, short-lived loss of muscle control during emotional situations (cataplexy)
Narcolepsy may be genetic, but it also appears to be influenced by environmental triggers. Treatment requires a combination of medication, behavioral treatments, and counseling.