Sleep Disorders – What Are They?

Many people suffer from a form of sleep disorder. Although occasional sleep disruption is normal, it becomes a problem when it occurs for an extended period in a regular pattern. These changes in sleep patterns that negatively affect health are also referred to as somnipathy.

Generally, sleep disorders are characterized by the interruption of sleep. The interruption can range from mild to severe, depending on the type of sleep disorder. Some people suffer from one type, while others experience multiple types of somnipathy.

Most people’s initial reaction to sleep disorders is to try and treat them using sleep aids and over the counter medication. It is important to note that sleep-inducing medication should only be used when prescribed by a doctor. Furthermore, sleeping pills deal with the disorder’s symptoms while neglecting the underlying cause. Their use can worsen the disorder over time.

What Causes Sleep Disorders?

The cause of sleep disorders is unknown. However, several factors are linked to its occurrence. Below are some of the issues that lead to the development of the condition.

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Physical Issues

The cause of sleep disruption might be a mild problem like a vitamin deficiency or a more serious one like chronic pain. Because the disorder presents itself at the same time as other health issues, such as teeth grinding, hormonal imbalances are linked to it.

Food Allergies and Intolerances

According to research, gluten allergies cause restless leg syndrome. They are also proven to contribute to periodic limb movement disorder in some people. If one’s body is unable to process certain foods, one may find it hard to fall or stay asleep.

Mental Health Problems

When a person is depressed, they are likely to have a hard time falling asleep. They may also wake up repeatedly during the night, struggling to breathe. Other mental health problems that can cause the development of a sleep disorder include anxiety, stress, and trauma.

Environmental Factors

Although environmental factors cannot be a standalone cause of the disorder, they increase one’s chances of suffering from it. Pregnancy, late-night jobs, and jet-lag can contribute to somnipathy.

How to Tell if You Have a Sleep Disorder

Everyone experiences different symptoms of sleep disorders. However, all sleep disorders have sleep disruption that leads to restlessness at night and fatigue. Below are other signs that you are suffering from this condition:

  1. Tense and sore muscles;
  2. Feeling cold because of poor blood circulation;
  3. Difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions, and reacting appropriately to situations;
  4. Blurry eyesight and poor focus;
  5. Uncontrollable emotions including anxiety, irritability, and stress;
  6. Loss of hair caused by high stress levels;
  7. Weight gain due to increased consumption of caffeinated snacks to deal with fatigue.

Types of Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders come in various forms. Each type has unique contributing factors, symptoms, and effects. Here are common sleep disorders that one may experience.

Insomnia

Insomnia is the inability to fall or stay asleep at night. It also refers to restless sleep that causes one to feel fatigued rather than refreshed when they wake up in the morning. Triggers of insomnia include:

  • Stress;
  • Illness;
  • Medication;
  • Mental health issues;
  • Other sleep disorders.

Insomnia is often a short-term condition that is treated through lifestyle changes. Unlike most sleep disorders, medication is not always needed.

Sleep Bruxism

It is a sleep-related movement disorder in which one grinds, gnashes, or clenches their teeth while sleeping. In some people, bruxism is so infrequent that it does not require treatment. In others, it is severe enough to cause chipped teeth, jaw soreness, headaches, and difficulty chewing. Some causative factors of bruxism are:

  • Stress;
  • Habit for people with an aggressive personality;

This condition is noticeable in childhood, and some people outgrow it without getting treatment. If it persists, medication, therapy, and dental treatment are necessary to deal with it.

Sleep Terrors

These are episodes of intense fear that happen when one is asleep. Although these sleep disruptions seem similar to nightmares, they are more dramatic and alarming. Someone experiencing night terrors will scream, fight, and thrash around. One may sit up in bed, seemingly awake, yet they are deep asleep.

It is difficult to wake someone during an episode. When victims of night terrors wake up, they are usually confused because they do not know what happened. Night terrors are more common in children but also occur in adults. Some of the causes of this sleep disorder include the following:

  • Mood disorders like anxiety and depression;
  • Stress;
  • Sleep deprivation;
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • Other sleep disorders.

Treatment options vary based on the severity of the condition. Psychotherapy, medications, stress reduction, and prevention by waking up before episodes are some of the ways to treat night terrors.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that occurs when one’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. In its most serious form, this disorder is life-threatening. The main cause of sleep apnea is tissue blocking the airways. It is commonly referred to as obstructive apnea.

When the airway is partially obstructed, the condition is referred to as hypopnea. It is characterized by shallow breathing due to reduced airflow. Although the airway is not fully obstructed, one may still experience difficulty breathing and gasp for air.

One may jerk awake when their breathing is interrupted. Loud snoring and erratic breathing may also be noticeable during an episode. Even though most people wake up without the memory of sleep disruption, their bodies feel tired and lethargic because they did not rest well.

Seeing a doctor is the only way to get treatment for sleep apnea. A device that clears airways and helps you breathe at night may be prescribed. Self-care through exercise and weight loss may also help treat this sleep disorder.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a disorder that is defined by a decreased ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. It causes a person to be excessively sleepy and fall asleep at inappropriate times. Some of the causes of this disorder are:

  • Extreme emotional reactions to stress;
  • Depression;
  • Brain dysfunction that impairs control over sleep cycles.

This disorder is dangerous because someone can have an episode while driving or operating machinery. Treatment is usually done through a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)

This is a type of sleep disorder, also known as parasomnia. People who suffer from it enact their dreams during the REM phase of sleep. It happens because their muscles do not enter the temporary state of paralysis that they should during the REM phase. So, the person acts out their dreams in dramatic or violent ways while still asleep.

Although it can occur in people of all ages, this sleep disorder is frequently diagnosed among older people. The violent behavior can be dangerous to the victims and anyone they share a bed with.

Restless Leg Syndrome

This disorder causes unpleasant sensations in the legs and the urge to move. During sleep, people suffering from this disorder find it hard to lie still. It results in them lacking restful sleep and waking up tired.

Sleep disorders often become worse. In some cases, they are indicators of serious underlying health or psychological issue. For example, night terrors, RBD, and bruxism indicate that someone might be suffering from PTSD. Sleep apnea leads to rapid weight gain, diabetes, and cardiac problems. As sleep disorders worsen, the underlying health issues progress to the extreme.

If you frequently have a hard time falling or staying asleep, you must identify which disorder you are suffering from. Knowing that helps manage symptoms and get the right treatment. Clinical diagnosis of a sleep disorder is best done by a doctor or therapist. Consulting one to get an assessment is advisable.

How Are Sleep Disorders Treated?

Persistent sleep disorders that negatively affect one’s well-being and daily functioning require professional treatment. Before creating a treatment plan, a mental health professional will recommend a sleep study that diagnoses the specific disorder you are suffering from and its cause.

There could be more than one cause of your sleep disorder. Treatment may take several months because of the complexity of your case. There is no standard treatment regimen for sleep disorders; the approach varies depending on the symptoms. Usually, a combination of medication and psychotherapy is used to address the sleep disorder.

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Medication

There are a variety of medicines and supplements that can help you fall and stay asleep. Because your body might become dependent on medication to the point where you can’t sleep without it, it is advisable to use it under a doctor’s guidance. Find out the side effects of all drugs before you start taking them.

In case a sleep disorder is associated with a mood disorder, antidepressants are recommended. Herbal remedies like chamomile and dietary supplements like melatonin are also useful in the management of sleep disorders.

Psychotherapy

If sleep disorders are associated with PTSD, anxiety, or depression, psychotherapy is essential. It helps to isolate the root cause of the problem and find strategies to cope with causative events. Stress, traumatic events, and negative emotions that cause sleep disorders can be managed through this approach.

A therapist may use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to teach you some coping mechanisms. You will learn how to change the thoughts that are causing sleep disruption. It is usually the first line of treatment for disorders like insomnia.

Light therapy is also used to help patients re-set their internal clock. It works by reestablishing healthy sleep patterns, especially for those suffering from circadian rhythm sleep disruption.

Lifestyle Changes

Treatment of sleep disorders is ineffective without some lifestyle changes. Some practices that help to manage a sleep disorder include the following.

Eating Healthy Meals That Do Not Trigger Allergies

If you associate the food you eat with sleep interference, you might want to see a dietitian. You will have to keep a food diary that logs your meals and the symptoms you experience during the night.

A balanced meal should contain vegetables, fruits, proteins, and whole-grain carbohydrates. It ensures that your body is well-nourished and capable of replenishing while you sleep.

Quit Smoking and Drinking

Research has shown that smokers are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. People who drink alcohol are prone to night terrors. The use of drugs is bad for your health for many reasons, including the fact that it leads to vitamin and mineral deficiency. It is best to quit it to improve your sleep patterns.

Daily Exercise

Any type of exercise releases energy and helps you fall asleep faster. You may opt for walking, gardening, swimming, running, weight lifting, or biking.

Weight Loss

Overweight people are prone to sleep apnea and other health issues. Keeping your weight at the recommended level improves the quality of sleep.

Practicing Relaxation Techniques

In the evenings, you may practice relaxation techniques that get your body into the right state for sleep. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and other mindfulness practices are helpful.

Quit Caffeine

People with sleep disorders often turn to caffeine to feel energized during the day. This is not helpful because caffeine worsens sleep patterns and exacerbates the problem.

Maintaining a Regular Schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets your internal clock. It helps your body to be prepared for night time. If you can, skip day time naps.

Getting Rid of Electronics

For at least 30 minutes before bed, stay away from electronics. These include tablets, laptops, and smartphones. Specialists associate them with the inability to fall asleep.

Hiring a Therapist to Deal with Your Sleep Disorder

Sleep disorders can be detrimental to one’s well-being. To get as much rest as possible at night, it is important to get treatment. Identify a mental health professional who deals with sleep disorders and find out about the available treatment options. To find a sleep therapist near you, search our online directory.

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