Many of us have trouble sleeping at one time or another. Usually it’s due to stress, travel, illness, or other temporary interruptions to your normal routine. However, if sleep problems are a regular occurrence and interfere with your daily life, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders cause more than just daytime sleepiness. They can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health, leading to memory problems, weight gain, and impacting your energy, and mood. There are many things you can do to get a good night’s sleep and improve your health.
What is a sleep disorder?
A sleep disorder is a condition that frequently impacts your ability to get enough quality sleep. While it’s normal to occasionally experience difficulties sleeping, it’s not normal to regularly have problems getting to sleep at night, to wake up feeling exhausted, or to feel sleepy during the day.
If you are frequently having trouble sleeping can be a frustrating and debilitating experience. And so the cycle begins again, taking a serious toll on your mood, energy, efficiency, and ability to handle stress. Ignoring sleep problems and disorders can damage your physical health and lead to weight gain, accidents, impaired job performance, memory problems, and put a strain on your relationships. If you want to feel your best, stay healthy, and perform up to your potential, quality sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.
Even if you’ve struggled with sleep problems for so long that it seems normal, you can still learn to sleep better. You can start by tracking your symptoms and sleep patterns, and then making healthy changes to your daytime habits and bedtime routine.
Types of common sleep disorders
Sleep apnea is a common (and treatable) sleep disorder in which your breathing temporarily stops during sleep, awakening you frequently. If you have sleep apnea you may not remember these awakenings, but you’ll likely feel exhausted during the day, irritable and depressed, or see a decrease in your productivity. Sleep apnea is a serious and potentially life-threatening sleep disorder, so see a doctor right away and learn what you can do to help yourself.
Insomnia, the inability to get to sleep or sleep well at night, can be caused by stress, jet lag, a health condition, the medications you take, or even the amount of coffee you drink. Insomnia can also be caused by other sleep disorders or mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Whatever the cause of your insomnia, improving your sleep hygiene, revising your daytime habits, and learning to relax will help cure most cases of insomnia without relying on sleep specialists or turning to prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pills.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that involves excessive, uncontrollable daytime sleepiness. It is caused by a dysfunction of the brain mechanism that controls sleeping and waking. If you have narcolepsy, you may have “sleep attacks” in the middle of talking, working, or even driving.
Although no cure yet exists, a combination of treatments can help control symptoms and enable you to enjoy many normal activities.
Circadian rhythm sleep disorders
We all have an internal biological clock that regulates our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, also known as our circadian rhythms. Light is the primary cue that influences circadian rhythms. At night, when there is less light, your brain triggers the release of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. When the sun comes up in the morning, the brain tells the body that it’s time to wake up.
When your circadian rhythms are disrupted or thrown off, you may feel groggy, disoriented, and sleepy at inconvenient times. Circadian rhythms have been linked to a variety or sleeping problems and sleep disorders, as well as depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (the winter blues).