You spend roughly one-third of your life asleep. It’s an important part of your life that affects every other part. Just try going without sleep for a few days and see what happens to you physically and mentally! Sleep is just as important to your physical and emotional health as it was when you were younger.
While many people with sleep disorders are well aware of their difficulties, many others have sleep disorders but don’t realize it. Could you be one of the 70 million people in the US alone that suffer from a sleep disorder?
Let’s find out.
Several symptoms suggest you might be suffering from a sleep disorder:
- Tired even after a full night of sleep. Do you still feel tired after you’ve gotten at least seven hours of sleep? Try to keep track of the time you fall asleep and when you wake up. If you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep and still feel tired, this is a strong indication that you might have a sleep disorder.
- Loud snoring, gasping, or you stop breathing during sleep. Does anyone tell you that you snore loudly? Or that you stop breathing during the night? Do you gasp for breath in your sleep? You might have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can also cause excessive fatigue since you’re not sleeping well.
- Fall asleep at the wrong times. Do you find yourself nodding off at work or in front of the TV in the early evening? This is another sign that your normal sleep is disturbed in some way.
- Difficulty falling asleep or can’t stay asleep. If you have had either of these issues for more than a month, you may have a sleeping disorder. Waking up early and not being able to fall back asleep can also be a sign of depression.
Do any of these symptoms seem familiar? If so, you might have a sleeping disorder. The first step is to ensure that you’re getting enough time in bed each night. If that’s not the issue, it might be time to schedule an appointment with your doctor.
There are five primary types of sleep disorders:
- Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when breathing isn’t continuous during the night. This can either be due to an obstruction in the airway or a lack of coordination between the brain and the muscles involved in breathing.
- This is a difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep. There are many potential causes of insomnia, including stress and hormonal issues.
- These are unusual behaviors that occur during sleep. These include:
- Teeth grinding
- Sleepwalking and sleep talking
- This sleep disorder involves falling asleep very quickly when you should be awake. At the most extreme, a narcolepsy sufferer could suddenly fall asleep while driving. More mild cases might involve suddenly excusing yourself from the dinner table and lying down for a nap.
- Restless leg syndrome. This sensation is hard to describe if you’ve never experienced it. It feels similar to your foot or leg falling asleep. It’s not quite the same prickly feeling, but it’s close. It’s a very uncomfortable tingle. You also have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs to relieve the discomfort.
Whether it’s when you first get into bed or after waking up in the middle of the night, you may find it hard to drift off to sleep. These tips help explain what to do when you can’t sleep:
Try Relaxation Techniques: Don’t focus on trying to fall asleep; instead, focus on just trying to relax. Controlled breathing, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery are examples of relaxation methods that can help ease you into sleep.
Don’t Stew in Bed: You want to avoid a connection in your mind between your bed and frustration from sleeplessness. This means that if you’ve spent around 20 minutes in bed without being able to fall asleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing in low light. Avoid checking the time during this time. Try to get your mind off of sleep for at least a few minutes before returning to bed.
Experiment With Different Methods: Sleeping problems can be complex and what works for one person may not work for someone else. As a result, it makes sense to try different approaches to see what works for you. Just remember that it can take some time for new methods to take effect, so give your changes time to kick in before assuming that they aren’t working for you.
Keep a Sleep Diary: A daily sleep journal can help you keep track of how well you’re sleeping and identify factors that might be helping or hurting your sleep. If you’re testing out a new sleep schedule or other sleep hygiene changes, the sleep diary can help document how well it’s working.
Sleep disorders can range from mildly annoying to dangerous. You can’t live indefinitely without sleep, and the quality of your sleep impacts the rest of your life.
When to talk to a doctor about sleep problems:
If your attempts to solve your sleep problems are unsuccessful, keep a sleep diary and take it to your doctor. Write down when you use alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, and keep track of your medications, exercise, lifestyle changes, and recent stresses. Your doctor may then refer you to a sleep specialist or cognitive behavioral therapist for further treatment, especially if insomnia is taking a heavy toll on your mood and health.
If you think you might have a sleep disorder, make an appointment with your physician. You might find yourself spending a night in a sleep laboratory!
Sleep makes up a third of your life. It’s important to get it right!