If you’ve been experiencing long nights, tossing and turning, then you’re certainly not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 adults is not getting the recommended amount of daily sleep.
Although for some, this may have been by choice, for many, it’s a nagging condition that’s seemingly beyond their control. Insomnia, for instance, is prevalent among 1 in 4 adults today. And it’s linked to increased risks of various health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and mental health disorders. So, taking note of your sleep troubles is more critical than you may have thought.
Understanding sleep disorders
The Mayo Clinic defines sleep disorders as “conditions that result in changes in the way that you sleep”.
Anyone can suffer from a sleep disorder during their lifetime. It’s a far more prevalent health issue than many people realize. But how would you know whether you suffer from a sleep disorder? Here are some of the most common symptoms.
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up several times during the night
- Restlessness marked by symptoms such as movements and irregular breathing patterns while asleep
- Unusual sleepiness and fatigue during daytime
- Irregular sleep-wake patterns
Persistent signs of these symptoms could signal a sleep disorder. Now, this could arise due to several reasons, the most common causes being:
- Poor lifestyle choices. Your dietary habits, exercising routines, smoking, as well as stress can all result in sleep disturbances.
- Aging. Sleep patterns can change with age, mostly due to an altered circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock. In fact, 40–50% of adults over 60 report sleep difficulties, with insomnia being the most common condition.
- Medical conditions. Sometimes, sleep disorders could be the outcome or symptom of a physical health condition. For example, patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson and kidney disease often report sleep irregularities. It’s also common among arthritis patients who experience chronic pain.
- Mental health conditions. Sleep irregularities could be a symptom of psychiatric disorders as well. For example, studies show that insomnia is prevalent among up to 40% of individuals experiencing a mental health disorder. And this percentage rises to as much as 90% for those with anxiety disorders.
- Medications. Certain medications such as beta blockers and diuretics prescribed for high blood pressure and corticosteroids used for inflammation and asthma are all known to cause sleep disturbances.
Common sleep disorders
While anyone can encounter an occasional sleep disturbance, persistent irregularities could hint at a more serious condition. Here are the most common sleep disorders that demand medical attention.
This is the most frequently reported sleep disorder that’s keeping millions of people awake at night. Symptoms typically include difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the night, or waking too early and being unable to fall asleep.
While there are different classifications of insomnia, it’s mainly categorized into acute and chronic conditions based on the severity.
- Acute Insomnia — lasts for a few days or weeks.
- Chronic Insomnia — lasts for 3 nights a week for at least a month.
And according to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of experiencing insomnia is higher for females, adults over 60, and those who experience high levels of stress, or mental or physical health conditions.
2. Sleep Apnea
This sleep disorder is usually identified by halted breathing for short durations. Other symptoms can include severe snoring, gasping for breath, and excessive sleepiness and fatigue during the day.
There are two main types of sleep apnea.
- Obstructive sleep apnea — This takes place when the muscles at the back of the throat collapse, thereby blocking the airways. It can last even longer than 10 seconds and could become a frequent occurrence.
- Central sleep apnea — This occurs when the brain doesn’t signal the relevant muscles to continue with the breathing process.
The risk of experiencing sleep apnea is higher for those with nasal obstructions, a large neck girth, obesity, as well as family history. Men are also more likely to experience this sleep disorder compared to women. And if left untreated, it could lead to serious complications when breathing stops and the oxygen supply is shut down.
Symptoms of narcolepsy often include excessive sleepiness during daytime and disturbed nighttime sleep. Hallucinations, sleep paralysis, and a sudden loss of muscle tone, referred to as cataplexy, are also common among those suffering from this sleep disorder.
It’s a chronic neurological condition that could severely disrupt an individual’s daily activities. While the exact causes are still unknown, scientists have found links to family history. And although there is still no cure for narcolepsy, there are medication and behavioral treatments to help manage and even improve its symptoms.
4. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
RLS is characterized by an unusual and uncomfortable sensation that creates the urge to move the legs. It often occurs when the body is relaxed and can be the cause of frequent sleep disturbances. And it can also occur in other parts of the body, such as the arms or head, although these are less common.
Women are at higher risk of experiencing RLS, while it’s further associated with family history, certain medication, and health conditions such as iron deficiency.
Better sleep health for a healthy body and mind
The bottom line is, guarding your sleep health is essential for a healthy body and mind. Understanding your own sleep behavior is key to identify any signs of underlying health conditions. And while many sleep disorders can be addressed with lifestyle changes, they could also require medical intervention. Therefore, consulting a doctor is important if symptoms persist.