Almost everyone has gone through a time when they could not sleep well. This happens to all of us but usually just once in a while and not for an extended length of time. If you are under a lot of stress at home or at work or have a lot of big changes in your life, you can probably expect to have some trouble sleeping. However, if sleep problems are causing you to struggle day after day it is possible you have a sleep disorder. Not getting enough sleep is very hard on your body, your mind, your spirit and your overall health. Luckily, more is understood about sleep disorders than ever before so there is help available for you. Keep reading to find out about the different sleep disorders that may be affecting you, how you can find relief and when you need to reach out to experts for their help with your sleep issues.
What You Need to Know About Sleeping Disorders and Other Sleep Issues
Sleeping disorders and other sleep problems affect many people around the country, so don’t feel alone if you are having these issues. The National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research found that close to 40 million people in the US have serious sleep disorders that prevent them from sleeping on a regular basis and close to 30 million people in the US have issues with sleeping from time to time.
We all have a night where we don’t sleep well from time to time and there is nothing to worry about if that is the extent of your problem. However, if you spend more nights not sleeping than sleeping and are always tired, your health could be in danger. Losing sleep on a regular basis can affect your overall health in many ways and your life as well. When you don’t get enough sleep, you can find yourself gaining weight, your relationships can suffer, you can suffer from more illness, you can be more accident prone and your work can suffer.
There are things you can do if you feel like you are heading down the road to serious health problems from a lack of sleep. The first step is to keep a record of how long you sleep and how well you sleep every night. That will allow you to figure out what you need to change about your day and about what you do before you go to bed. If you are still not sleeping well, you may have to consult a professional in the field of sleep who can work with you to figure out why you are not sleeping well and what you can do about it.
What Does a Sleep Disorder or Sleep Problem Look Like?
What should you look for to figure out if you are having normal sleep problems or if you have a bigger problem that you need to seek medical help for? Start recording your symptoms on a regular basis including how you feel when you are trying to sleep and how you feel during the day after not sleeping well.
If you are feeling tired and cranky while awake, finding yourself falling asleep when you are relaxing at home, having trouble staying awake when you are driving, finding yourself not able to concentrate, hearing from others that you look like you are not sleeping well, noticing your reaction time is slower than normal, feeling more emotional than normal, needing naps more often than normal or consuming more caffeine than normal you may have a problem. Having several of these symptoms is a sign that you should get professional help.
Insomnia Sleep Disorders
What is Insomnia?
One type of sleep disorder you may have is insomnia. People with insomnia are either unable to go to sleep or they cannot stay asleep throughout the night. More people are diagnosed with insomnia than any other sleep disorder. You can develop insomnia as a result of being under too much stress, traveling across time zones, having other health problems, taking certain medicines or consuming too much caffeine.
How can you tell if you have insomnia?
How can you tell if you have insomnia? The following are symptoms to look for:
- Troubles falling asleep i.e. trouble getting to sleep or trouble staying asleep all night long
- Finding yourself awake several times through the night
- You don’t feel refreshed and awake in the morning
- You find yourself turning to sleeping medication or alcohol to fall asleep
- You are tired and listless after sleeping
How to Overcome Insomnia?
If you suspect that you may be suffering from insomnia, you should start using techniques like meditation to relax before you go to sleep and make sure you pay attention to what helps you sleep and what keeps you up at night. Often, people with insomnia can use these methods to overcome their sleeping disorder so they can avoid seeking further medical help or taking medication.
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
Circadian rhythm sleep disorder is another cause of sleep issues. All humans function on a biological clock inside us that tells when to sleep and when to wake up. Sunlight triggers the biological clock and causes us to wake up and darkness at night results in melatonin being produced in the body which is a hormone that helps us fall asleep. If our circadian rhythms get out of whack, we can end up wanting to sleep during the day when we should be wide awake and wanting to be awake when we should be sleeping. Problems with your circadian rhythms can cause insomnia, jet lag and cause problems in people who do shift work. These problems can also aggravate various mental health issues.
Shift Work Disorder
Shift work disorder is common in people who work an opposite schedule than their normal biological clock function. Today, there are more people than ever who work a variety of shifts including the night shift and who even change shifts frequently. Working these atypical schedules makes you go against your body’s natural signals to sleep and to wake.
Not everyone who works atypical shifts or varying shifts suffers from shift work disorders but they all miss out on the type of sleep that humans need. People who work shifts and are not sleeping enough are often tired during their work day and are unable to concentrate which makes them less able to do their job well and more likely to get injured at work.
Tips for Shift Work
If you do have to work atypical shifts, you should consider the following tips:
- Avoid changing shifts and take your provided breaks during your shift
- If you do have to switch shifts, try to move to a later shift instead of an earlier one because your body adjusts to moving ahead easier than moving back
- Try to keep your sleep-wake cycle regular by working in a brightly lit area and sleeping in a dark area. Don’t watch tv or use electronics before bed and invest in good curtains to keep the light out of your room.
- Think about using melatonin as a natural sleep aid.
Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder
Delayed sleep phase disorder is a sleep problem that occurs when your biological clock is not keeping up like it should. This causes people to be unable to fall asleep until early in the morning and to be able to sleep well into the afternoon. Unfortunately, this type of sleep pattern does not work well for most people. It is hard to attend school or work a job when you are working a job during daytime hours.
People with delayed sleep phase disorder are often thought to enjoy being up late but the truth is that they cannot go to sleep before the early hours of the morning no matter how hard they try and they find it very difficult to wake up when they should. If sufferers can sleep during the times that they are naturally tired, they will be able to be well rested. Adolescents are much more likely to suffer from delayed sleep phase disorder and many find it goes away on its own with time. If it lasts into adulthood, it can be treated with light and time therapy if they consult a specialist in sleep disorders.
Jet Lag Sleep Disorders
Jet lag is a type of circadian rhythm disorder that happens when you cross time zones. Jet lag causes you to feel tired during the day, to have head and stomach issues and to have insomnia. Generally, people start to feel the symptoms of jet lag 24 or 48 hours after traveling. The severity of jet lag can be affected by the length of your flight and whether you are traveling to the west or the east. Travel to the east is more likely to give you jet lag.
For every time zone you cross, you can expect 24 hours to get used to the time change. If you travel through 2 time zones, you will probably be feeling more like yourself in 48 hours. Certain things can increase the length of time you suffer from jet lag including not sleeping when traveling, dealing with stress, consuming caffeine or alcohol and being too sedentary during travel.
Sleep Apnea Disorder
Sleep apnea is another sleep disorder that occurs frequently but is easy to treat. In people with sleep apnea, the upper airways are blocked which causes them to stop breathing which wakes them up many times during the night. Usually, people who suffer from sleep apnea are not aware that they are waking up during the night but they do feel tired, cranky, sad and they are often less productive at home or at work. Sleep apnea, if it goes undiagnosed, can lead to death.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea Disorder
Symptoms to look for include:
- Snoring nightly that disrupts your sleep or the sleep of those around you
- Periods where you stop breathing at night
- Waking up because you gasp, snort or feel like you are choking when you are sleeping
- Waking up feeling tired even after supposedly sleeping for 8 or more hours during the night
- Feeling like you can’t breathe, having chest pains, sinus issues, throat pain or headaches in the morning
If you have several of these symptoms, you should find a local sleep specialist who is familiar with sleep apnea.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) Sleep Disorder
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that affects the limbs, causing a person to feel like they must move them anytime they sit or lay in bed. The person feels a tingle or other odd feeling in the limbs that cause them to have to move.
If you are experiencing a painful feeling in your inner legs that causes you to need to move and these painful sensations occur more often when you are off of your feet or sleeping, you may have RLS. Other signs of Restless Leg Syndrome include painful sensations that go away for a short time if you stand and walk around, stretch or rub the limbs and cramps in the limbs and a jerking of the limbs when you are sleeping. If you suspect you may have RLS, you can find more information online or you can contact a sleep specialist.
Narcolepsy Sleep Disorders
Narcolepsy is another common sleep disorder that causes people to fall asleep uncontrollably during the day. People with narcolepsy have an issue with the part of the brain that tells the body when to sleep and when to wake up. Narcolepsy can cause people to fall asleep in the middle of a conversation, at work or even when driving their car.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy Sleep Disorders
If you are experiencing some of the following symptoms, you may want to consult a sleep specialist:
- Experiencing visual or auditory hallucinations when tired or having dreams when you have not fallen asleep yet.
- Having muscle weakness or loss of control when your emotions are intense.
- Immediately having dreams when falling asleep or consistently dreaming intensely
- Having paralytic experiences that prevent you from moving during sleep or when you are near sleep.
How Can You Treat Your Sleep Disorders or Other Sleeping Issues?
Record in your Sleep Diary
One way to figure out what type of sleep disorder or sleep problem you are experiencing is to record the things you do and feel during the day and at night. There are many things that could be doing that could keep you awake. It is also important to record how you sleep at night to see if there are any patterns that emerge.
Things to Record in Sleep Diary
Things to record in your sleep diary are:
- The times you go to bed and the times you wake up
- The amount of time you sleep and how well you think you slept
- How long you were awake before you fell asleep and how you spent that time (did you lay in bed and try to sleep or do some stretching?)
- How much and what kind of things you ate and drank prior to going to bed
- What you moods and emotions were before you went to bed
- What medications you were taking, how much you took and when you took them
These types of notations in your sleep diary will allow you to see what you are doing that may be preventing you from sleeping well. You may see patterns like when you have a soda before bed you don’t sleep well that night.
Prepare Yourself for a Better Night of Sleep All Day Long
No matter what type of sleep disorder you are suffering from, developing a good sleep routine and better habits with regard to how you sleep will go a long way to helping you sleep well. There are many things you can do including getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day and take steps to keep your stress levels under control. The best way to figure out what helps you sleep is to try different things and to use the information you record in your sleep journal.
More Things You Can Do
A few things you may want to consider that could help you sleep include:
- Sticking to the same schedule every single night as much as possible. That means getting
Try the following simple changes to your daytime and pre-bedtime routine:
- Try to go to bed and get up on a regular schedule even on days when you don’t have school or work
- Make sure you have between 7 and 8 hours to sleep every single night so you can be refreshed and awake the next day
- Keep your bedroom at a low enough temperature that you can sleep comfortably, keep the room dark using blackout window coverings and sleep in a quiet environment
- Avoid using electronics for several hours prior to going to sleep. Phones, tablets, computers and televisions give off a type of light that tells your body it is time to wake up and keeps your body from producing melatonin which helps you sleep
Are Sleeping Pills the Answer to Your Sleep Issues?
If you consult your doctor and only use sleeping pills temporarily, they can be helpful to get through temporary sleeping issues. Sleeping pills are not the answer for long term sleeping problems, though. Conditions like insomnia won’t get better if you take sleeping pills, in fact they may make your condition worse.
Sleeping pills are intended to be used for specific situations and only for a short period of time. Long distance travel crossing time zones and periods of stress that affect your sleep are examples of how sleeping pills are meant to be used. When sleeping pills are not used properly and are used long term, they tend to start to become less effective which means that people can become addicted to them.
Guidelines to Use Sleep Pills
If you do decide to take sleeping pills, you should follow the guidelines below to make sure you are safe:
- Don’t take a sleeping pill unless you will be able to sleep for 7 to 8 hours.
- Make sure you understand what you are taking and how to take it properly by reading the information in the package.
- Stay home and away from any machinery that may harm you or others when you have taken sleeping pills.
Consult a Specialist
How do you know if you need to consult a specialist about your sleep problems? If you are experiencing the following you should talk to your doctor:
- You are still sleepy during the day despite taking all the possible steps to help yourself.
- You are finding yourself choking or gasping during sleep or you have periods of not breathing.
- You can’t stay awake when you are doing normal everyday activities.
Make sure you bring your sleep diary and information about any medications you have been taking to your doctor visit.
What will happen if you do end up going to a sleep clinic? You will spend the night at the clinic while hooked up to machines that will monitor how you sleep, what your brain does during the night, what your heart is doing and many other things that can help them figure out why you are having issues sleeping. It is not as scary as it sounds! Once the doctor gets the results, your doctor will recommend the next steps to deal with your sleep problems.