What comes to your mind when you think about sleep disorders? Most of you might answer insomnia or lack of sleep.
Did you know that sleep disorders cover a myriad of sleep-related conditions apart from insomnia?
Lack of awareness about common sleep disorders could lead to low quality of sleep and various chronic conditions.
According to a recent systematic review, around 93% of the Indian population is sleep deprived. This could be a symptom of sleep disorder. Sleep disorders, when left untreated, could lead to issues such as excessive stress and adverse effects on heart health.
What is a sleep disorder?
A sleep disorder is a condition where a person has trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or both. They may disrupt your sleep or keep you from getting
enough restful sleep, which may lead to daytime sleepiness as well as other symptoms such as fatigue and digestive problems.
People occasionally have trouble sleeping as a result of stress, busy schedules, and other external factors. However, they might be signs of a sleeping disorder if they start to happen frequently and interfere with daily life. Here are some speciﬁc warning signs and symptoms that may point to a sleep disorder:
- Recurring issues with falling asleep or disturbed sleep.
- Daytime fatigue even after 7-8 hours of sleep during the night.
- Lower energy levels during the daytime to carry out the daily chores.
Some common causes of sleep disorders
Often, when you have difﬁculty falling asleep, you might have thought of a cause like “May be it was because of a movie or show that I watched before sleeping” or “May be sleeping on the wrong side of the bed could be the reason”. But lack of sleep or disturbed sleep could be due to an underlying sleep disorder.
What could possibly cause these sleep disorders?
- Chronic pain due to underlying medical conditions such as arthritis, migraines, etc.
- Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and chronic stress are
- Medical issues such as sleep apnea, which is also caused by respiratory and heart health issues
- Work schedules (night shifts)
- Frequent urination during the night
Different types of sleep disorders
Diagnosis and immediate treatment are critical when you have a sleep disorder to prevent the negative health consequences.
Untreated sleep disorders may also have an adverse outcome in areas such as your work performance, relationships, and even in performing your daily activities.
Here are some common types of sleep disorders that you need to know about:
The characteristic feature of insomnia is that you face troubles while falling asleep or constant disturbance during sleep. This could be caused due to jet lag, chronic stress, hormonal imbalance, or digestive issues.
2. Sleep apnea
Pauses in breathing while sleeping are a deﬁning feature of sleep apnea. Any serious medical condition, such as respiratory issues that result in lower absorption of oxygen by the body, can cause sleep apnea. This could wake you up in the middle of the night.
Narcolepsy is characterized by “sleep attacks,” i.e., unexpected drowsiness or extreme exhaustion when the person is awake. It can lead to sleep paralysis and physical immobility on waking up. There is no known cause of narcolepsy, but it could be associated with conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Parasomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person engages in abnormal behaviors or movements during sleep. For instance, bed wetting, teeth grinding, sleep walking, etc.
5. Circadian rhythm disorder
Circadian rhythm disorder is a condition where your sleep-wake cycle gets disrupted. The body’s internal clock that sends the signals for sleeping and waking up gets affected. This results in trouble falling asleep and waking up. Such disorders may occur due to jet lag, shift working (working night shifts), irregular sleep schedules, and so on.
7 common symptoms of sleep disorders
Research says that every person might encounter sleeping issues at least 1-2 times throughout their course of life. But as discussed earlier, these sleep issues might be a signal for sleep disorders. So, when exactly should you become alert and talk to your physician about it? The earlier, the better, as prevention is always better than cure.
If you feel any of the following symptoms of sleep disorders for more than a month’s time, it’s advisable to reach out to your doctor for the best course of action:
1. Daytime sleepiness
Feeling drowsy during the day, even after 7-8 hours of sleep, is a sign of sleep deprivation. The severity of this symptom can range from mild daytime sleepiness to an irresistible urge to fall asleep during the daytime. If this continues for a long time, daytime sleepiness can hamper work productivity and quality of life.
Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, circadian rhythm disorder, and insomnia are majorly associated with this symptom.
Note: It’s not always a sign of a sleep disorder to feel tired or sleepy all day long. But if you consistently feel exhausted despite being able to pinpoint the cause, you may have a sleep disorder.
2. Poor concentration
Another typical sign of sleep deprivation is trouble concentrating. You may have trouble focusing or ﬁnishing easy tasks throughout the day if you are not getting enough good sleep or giving your body and brain enough time to recover at night.
A person who is sleep deprived may not react as quickly to distractions. This potentially impairs their capacity to respond to situations. For instance, if you don’t get enough sleep, even a routine activity like your daily commute home can become a little bit riskier.
Inadequate quality sleep can also hamper your ability to learn, remember the past, and make new memories. Following simple instructions might become difﬁcult in some cases.
3. Frequent infections
When the body doesn’t get enough sleep, it cannot recover well. Inadequate recovery can lead to a weakening of the immune system, which in turn reduces the power of the body to ﬁght off infections. Thus, a weakened immune system is an early sign of sleep deprivation.
A study examined our bodies’ ability to fend off the common cold. According to the ﬁnal analysis, people who got enough sleep in the two weeks before being exposed to the rhinovirus had a lot lower chances of getting the ﬂu than those who did not get enough sleep.
Thus, a lack of adequate sleep could make you susceptible to frequent infections.
4. Disrupted sleep or sleeping patterns
Walking during sleep, frequent nightmares, frequent disturbances in sleep, heavy snoring, etc. are some of the examples of disrupted sleep or sleeping patterns. People also complain of having trouble falling or staying asleep despite their efforts to reduce their caffeine intake and adopt good sleep habits.
Any of these symptoms, when continued for a longer period of time, suggests a sleep disorder. The severity of these patterns can vary depending on the type of sleep disorder.
5. Sudden changes in weight
Chronic sleep deprivation can cause changes in your weight, including weight gain or loss. Lack of proper sleep can cause hormonal imbalances in the body, i.e., increased levels of stress hormones and impaired secretion of digestive hormones. This could lead to overeating or binge eating, which could eventually result in obesity. Daytime fatigue can also set-in due to a lack of adequate sleep. This increases the levels of physical inactivity, which again, is linked to the development of obesity.
6. Poor performance at work and school
Working memory plays a crucial role in work performance. During the daily goal-directed activities at work, working memory is the type of recall that necessitates the retention and manipulation of information for work completion.
According to studies, the amount of sleep deprivation directly affects your working memory. Your ability to remember simple tasks throughout the day, like following straightforward instructions or using the correct ingredients when cooking, is likely to get worse with increasing sleep deprivation.
Lack of adequate sleep, probably due to a sleep disorder, could also lower the cognitive abilities of children at school and hamper their school performance.
7. Anxiety and irritability
Experts say that sleep disorders are also associated with anxiety. Anxiety is a condition in which a person has overwhelming feelings of worry or fear. Sleep issues can cause or exacerbate anxiety symptoms, and anxiety itself can keep people from falling asleep.
Lack of adequate sleep can also make you feel irritated throughout the day. Even partial sleep deprivation, which we sometimes assume cannot have signiﬁcant effects, has been shown to have a signiﬁcant negative effect on mood. According to psychologists, even minor variations in sleep patterns throughout the night can have an impact on how people react to everyday events. People don’t experience
the same boost in happy emotions from their happy events when they sleep less than usual.
How are sleep disorders treated?
Sleep disorders may occasionally be a sign of another physical or mental illness. Once the underlying cause is treated, these sleep disorders may gradually go away on their own.
But when sleep disorder is not a result of any medical condition, the treatment typically entails a combination of medicine, lifestyle, and dietary modiﬁcations.
Here’s a small list of the treatments:
Medications for sleep disorders:
The doctor might prescribe the following drugs based on the diagnosis of sleep disorder
- Sleeping pills
- Melatonin supplements
- Disease-speciﬁc medications if the sleep disorders are caused by any medical conditions such as colds, allergies, respiratory disorders, and so on
The doctor might also suggest surgery or a breathing device in the case of sleep apnea.
Lifestyle changes for sleep disorders:
Following are a few lifestyle changes that could be effective for patients having sleep disorders:
- Limit your caffeine intake in the afternoon, evening, and a few hours before going to bed.
- Sleep in a noise-free, dark environment.
- Try to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Relieve your stress with exercises such as yoga and activities such as meditation.
- Eat a low-carbohydrate dinner.
- Limit the use of alcohol and tobacco.
- Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
What to do if you suspect a sleep disorder?
Most of the time, sleep disorders can be cured by simple lifestyle changes. If you suspect that you are having any of the above mentioned symptoms for more than 30 days, try tracking and correcting your sleep schedule, dietary habits, and lifestyle. Even after these changes, if the problem persists at the same intensity, do contact your doctor and get the right treatment to prevent adverse outcomes.
Pro-tip: Herbs such as ashwagandha, turmeric, chamomile, etc. can also help to improve the quality of your sleep. You can try them with proper guidance from your healthcare provider.
Wrapping it up
Thus, the intensity of sleep disorders can vary depending upon the severity of the symptoms. There are multiple causes and types of sleep disorders. Being aware of each one of them can help you make the right decision to prevent and manage sleep disorders.
When left untreated for a longer period of time, sleep disorders can lead to adverse physical and mental health consequences such as infections, anxiety, depression, and so on. Lifestyle and dietary changes can play a crucial role in the treatment of sleep disorders. However, if needed, your doctor would also prescribe some medications, devices, and even surgery (in rare cases, to improve the quality of breathing) to treat sleep disorders.
“Early diagnosis, and right action can restore your valuable sleep and improve the quality of life!”