Sleep plays a vital role in the body—giving it the means to rest, repair, and rejuvenate itself for the various activities done during the day.
However, stress from day-to-day life and the current pandemic health and financial crises, including the pressure to self-isolate and stay locked in to avoid risks of infection, makes getting a good night's rest an even bigger challenge for many people today.
An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a disorder of sleep and wakefulness, hindering daily functioning and adversely affecting their health and longevity. The situation is not different in many other parts of the world, too.
While stress can in deed be a big factor in missing sleep, regularly having sleepless nights can be a sign of something more concerning—sleep disorders.
Symptoms of Sleep Disorders
The best way to determine if you're suffering from a sleep disorder is to pay close attention to how you feel, both during the day and before bed.
Make sure to keep a record on your smartphone or a diary to monitor the frequency and intensity of these symptoms better. Should you need to consult with a doctor, these notes may come in handy to describe your situation better.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms regularly, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder.
Physical symptoms include:
- Falling asleep during the day
- Daytime fatigue
- Taking frequent naps
- Struggling to stay awake while sitting still, reading, or watching something
- Slowed or delayed reactions
- Sluggishness or lack of energy
- Having a "tired" appearance
- Unusual breathing patterns while asleep
- Unusual or unpleasant movements while asleep
- Unusual or unpleasant urges to move while falling asleep
Mental symptoms include:
- Inability to control emotions
- Lack of concentration
Types of Sleep Disorders
Several types of sleep disorders may be caused by underlying health conditions. Some of the common sleep disorders are:
Insomnia is the inability to fall or remain asleep. Possible causes of insomnia include stress, certain medications, hormones, or digestive problems.
Insomnia can also be a symptom of other medical conditions. This sleep disorder is normally classified into one of three types:
- Chronic - Insomnia occurs regularly for at least a month
- Intermittent - It occurs periodically
- Transient - Insomnia lasts for a few nights at a time
II. Sleep apnea
This sleep disorder is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, resulting in frequent wakings and a lowered oxygen intake.
There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive, wherein an obstruction or a narrow airway stops the airflow; and central, where the problem lies in the connection between the brain and the muscles associated with breathing.
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that can be life threatening if left untreated.
III. Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is caused by an overwhelming need to move one's legs (or arms) while lying down or resting, which may be due to uncomfortable, tingly, aching, or creeping sensations.
This sleep disorder involves excessive and uncontrollable "sleep attacks" that occur while awake. People suffering from narcolepsy may feel extremely tired and fall asleep anytime without warning. This can happen in the middle of talking, working, or even driving.
V. Delayed sleep phase disorder
This occurs when the biological clock is significantly delayed. Individuals with delayed sleep phase disorder end up sleeping and waking up later compared to other people. As a result, they struggle to keep routines and commitments during normal waking hours.
VI. Shift work sleep disorder
Shift work sleep disorder occurs when the biological clock and working hours are out of sync. These work schedules result in people going against the body's natural circadian rhythms, forcing themselves to work during typical sleeping hours and sleep when the body wants to wake up. These result in poor quality sleep and can affect overall productivity.
Tips to Prevent Sleep Disorders from Home
Depending on the kind of disorder you have, you may need to see a doctor to properly treat and prevent it. Alongside this, try the following methods to help prevent sleep disorders or reduce its occurrence:
1. Develop a bedtime routine
A bedtime routine can help prepare both your mind and body for sleep. Incorporate light, soothing activities like reading or meditation.
Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool, and avoid blue light from screens at least an hour before your bedtime. Avoid heavy meals and water intake before going to bed.
2. Create a sleep-wake schedule
Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day can help train the body's biological clock to follow the same schedule. It also serves to improve the quality of sleep you're getting.
3. Manage mental health
Stress and anxiety can contribute to keeping you awake at night. Engage in stress management techniques like communicating with loved ones and practicing mindfulness during waking hours.
Avoid dwelling on stressful or negative thoughts during bedtime. Instead, set aside time in the day to process them. Seek the help of a psychologist or therapist if stress and anxiety are becoming too difficult to manage and affecting your sleep.
4. Return to sleep when you wake up at night
If you find it difficult to return to sleep after briefly waking up in the night, try to focus on your breathing or other relaxation techniques.
If a stressful or worrying thought wakes you up, take note of it in your diary or on your phone and deal with it during your working hours.
5. Change your eating habits
Healthier eating habits can significantly improve your sleep quality. Add more fish and vegetables into your diet.
Reduce sugar intake and eat smaller, low-carbohydrate meals before bedtime. Avoid the intake of caffeine and alcohol four to six hours before going to sleep.
6. Make healthy lifestyle changes
Small but impactful lifestyle changes can make all the difference in getting a good night's rest. Things like staying active through stretching and regular exercise, reducing the use of substances like tobacco and alcohol, and avoiding naps anytime later than 3 P.M. are just some of the ways you can modify your day-to-day life.
Sleep disorders can leave you tired, both physically and mentally. It can affect your daily routine, mood, and overall health. Identifying the type of sleep disorder you have and taking the necessary steps to reduce and prevent the loss of sleep is key to overcoming this problem.
Be proactive to get a good night's sleep every day. Whether with home remedies or medical help, you can beat sleep disorders. A restful sleep leads to better health and a better, more successful life.