Sleep disruptions and disorders affect more people in the US and globally than at any other time in history. According to multiple research studies, between 35%-45% of the world’s adult population suffers from some form of sleep dysregulation.
Sleep is so essential to our physical and mental health that we spend one-third of our lives sleeping. It is during our time asleep that our bodies maintain all their systems. They heal our injuries and illness, and our minds can process our experiences and emotions of the previous day. Our memory can sort and store our memories in our short-term or long-term memories.
The three essential parts of sleep are:
- Length: How long you need to sleep to feel rested and healthy
- Continuity: Your sleep needs to be uninterrupted and continuous.
- Depth: You should enter deep REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep
Our bodies have non-REM and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is our light sleep. Our muscles relax, and our body temperature drops. During REM sleep, our eyes move rapidly back and forth behind our eyelids. This is the phase of sleep when we dream. Our body temperature rises, and our muscles become paralyzed. This is our body’s way of protecting us from acting out our dreams. It is during REM that we get our deepest, most restorative sleep.
It’s the circadian rhythm that manages our wake and sleep cycles. When it is light, our body sends out chemicals telling our body it’s time to wake up. When it is dark, our body sends neurotransmitters to tell us it’s time to sleep. Thus, our circadian rhythm and the sun are inexorably linked. This body, sun connection is a genetic inheritance from our ancient ancestors. They lived their lives by the rise and setting of the sun. Daylight provided them the light they needed to gather and hunt safely. However, once the sunset and darkness set in, they knew it was no longer safe to be out. So they sought out shelter and slept until it was safe to move about once more. Thus, our circadian rhythm was set thousands of years ago. Despite the progress and evolution of our species, the lizard part of our brain still functions the same way it always has.
Globally, between 35%-45% of people have some form of sleep dysregulation. However, only one-third of people with sleep problems seek professional help. Most sleep disorders are preventable or treatable.
With so much at stake, we must understand what disrupts our sleep and how those disruptions happen. There are over eighty diagnosed sleep disorders. Today we are going to look at the top five.
- Sleep Apnea
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
“I wish patients wouldn’t wait to make an appointment when they start having sleep disruptions. Sleep affects every aspect of the body and overall quality of life. And sleep disorders are usually treatable.” Dr. Tomkinson
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult for patients to fall or stay asleep. There are two different forms of insomnia. Transient insomnia is the type of insomnia that patients often develop after times of great stress. It can also occur as a result of schedule changes or jet lag. Chronic insomnia is insomnia that lasts for a minimum of one month. Patients with chronic insomnia may have trouble falling asleep, experience disturbed sleep, or have difficulty staying asleep. Patients with chronic insomnia often display a pattern of getting one or two good nights of sleep followed by many nights of insomnia. These patients feel exhausted throughout the day but still cannot sleep at night.
Reasons For Chronic Insomnia
- Bad Sleep Habits
- Obstructed Breathing
- Dysregulated Hormones
- Disrupted Circadian Rhythm
- Restless Legs
There are several symptoms to look for to determine if you have insomnia.
- Even when tired, you cannot sleep.
- Even when you do sleep, you do not feel well-rested when you wake-up
- Your sleep is restless, and you are exhausted all the time.
- You can’t concentrate during the day
- You are easily irritated or become overly emotional
- You no longer have the energy to enjoy your life and friends
- You have headaches
- You have digestive or stomach problems
- Your muscles are tense
- You feel depressed
Treatments for Insomnia
You may need to be treated and take medication for an underlying condition or illness. For instance, if you have arthritis and the pain keeps you awake, you may need to see your doctor to treat arthritis.
If you are depressed, you should seek treatment from your doctor. Depression and insomnia exacerbate each other and can lead to serious escalation, even suicide. Seek your doctor for treatment of your depression as soon as possible. They may prescribe you medication for depression and anxiety. They also may recommend seeing a therapist.
Other treatments for insomnia can include lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy, and hypnosis.
Sleep Apnea is a common sleep disorder, but it can be dangerous. Sleep apnea is caused when your airway becomes obstructed, and you stop breathing. This can happen many times throughout the night, and some people experience it up to fifty times an hour! As a result, you may snore loudly, gasp for breath, or make choking noises. In addition, you may wake up because you’re not getting enough oxygen.
“Sleep apnea is dangerous. It puts unnecessary strain on the patient’s heart every night that they go untreated.” Dr. Tomkinson
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
These are some symptoms you should look for if you think you may have sleep apnea.
- You have a sore or dry throat when you wake up
- People remark on how loudly you snore
- You feel exhausted throughout the day, even falling asleep while doing tasks
- You wake up in the middle of the night choking or gasping for breath
- You are irritable or overly emotional
- You have headaches or migraines
- You have low-energy
Treatments for Sleep Apnea
There are several standard treatments for sleep apnea.
- CPAP Machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Therapy) A CPAP machine keeps your airway open when you sleep by using air pressure blown through a mask that you wear at night. This is the most common therapy for sleep apnea.
- Dental appliances can be inserted into your mouth to maintain an open airway.
- Surgery may be prescribed if a CPAP does not work for you.
- Lose weight. Being overweight is one of the significant causes of sleep apnea. Losing weight can resolve the issue.
- Change sleep positions. Some people only suffer from sleep apnea when sleeping on their backs. Changing sleep positions can resolve the problem.
Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) is an uncontrollable urge to move your legs when you are trying to sleep. This urge can present differently for different patients. Some of these feelings in the legs can be a burning sensation, tingling, aching, or like something is crawling on you.
“Patients with RLS suffer a lot of frustration. They desperately want to fall asleep in every way, but their legs feel like they want to run a marathon instead.” Dr. Tomkinson
Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome
These are some symptoms to look for if you think that you may have restless leg syndrome.
- A strong urge to move your legs.
- You have the “creepy-crawlies” on your legs. You feel like something is crawling up your legs.
- The restless feeling is worse when you don’t get enough exercise or activity.
- The feeling is helped by moving, walking, stretching, or massaging your legs.
Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome
The most used treatment for RLS is medication.
You have no control over where and when you fall asleep if you have Narcolepsy. Patients with narcolepsy cannot regulate their circadian rhythms. As a result, they often fall asleep while doing everyday tasks like eating, bathing, or working.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
The following are symptoms to look for if you think that you may have narcolepsy.
- You fall asleep without any warning.
- You feel tired all day.
- You become paralyzed when you sleep (sleep paralysis).
- You lose control of your muscles, especially when feeling strong emotions (Cataplexy). During an episode of Cataplexy, you feel weak and can drop things or even fall.
- You hallucinate when you are starting to fall asleep or when you are waking up.
- You experience insomnia at night.
Treatments for Narcolepsy
The only treatment for narcolepsy is medication and a strict sleep schedule.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
REM sleep behavior disorder causes you to act out your dreams while you are asleep. When a person has a normal REM sleep cycle, the body naturally protects itself by causing the muscles to become paralyzed during REM sleep. However, patients with this disorder do not experience this paralysis. This is particularly alarming if you become a danger to yourself or other people while you sleep. An example is dreaming that you are jumping from a plane. Instead, you jump down the stairs while acting out the dream.
Symptoms of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
- You talk in your sleep.
- You strike out while sleeping.
- You move around a lot while sleeping.
Treatments for REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
Treatment for this disorder is medication.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these disorders, make an appointment with a doctor. These disorders are treatable. Sleep is vital to your physical and mental health. Don’t allow a treatable condition to stand in the way of getting a good night’s sleep.
“We must raise the public’s awareness that sleep disorders are treatable.” Dr. Tomkinson
The information in this article is not meant for diagnostic purposes, and we are not doctors. Please consult your doctor before making any decisions concerning your healthcare.
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