Sleep seems like the most natural thing in the world for many people. It’s the foundation of everything we do, and essential for our health. Unfortunately, many people suffer from disordered sleep that can cause a vast number of problems, both physical and mental.
Sleep disorders are common. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that around 20 million Americans have occasional sleeping problems and wake up in the middle of the night. And as many as 40 million suffer from chronic sleep disorders every single year.
The problems caused by sleep disorders can span far beyond bedtime. If you’re having trouble getting good quality sleep, it can cause issues like poor concentration, irritability, lack of focus, and creativity, as well as low mood. The physical side-effects can also be problematic. Issues may include weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
In this guide, we’re going to look at some of the most common sleep disorders in adults. We’ll examine some of their symptoms and side effects, as well as how they can be treated with natural remedies, rather than prescription medication.
Why Is Sleep So Important?
Before we look at sleep disorders that are the most common, let’s examine why sleep is so essential for the body. Here are some of the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep – and some of the adverse effects of not getting enough sleep. The benefits of getting plenty of sleep are as follows:
- Improved memory. During sleep, your brain processes memories, which ‘strengthens them. This can help improve your memory over the long-term.
- Less inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to many conditions, including stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Studies have shown that people getting less than six hours of sleep each night have high inflammation levels in their bodies.
- Maintenance of a steady weight. Sleep and metabolism are closely linked. A study has shown that dieters who got enough sleep lost more fat than those who weren’t getting enough (who ended up losing muscle).
- Better mood. You may have noticed that you end up very irritable when you don’t get a good night’s sleep. A solid eight hours of sleep can help with the regulation of your emotions and keep you in a better mood.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you put yourself at risk of:
- Heart disease. Increased blood pressure and inflammation are both side-effects of lousy sleep – both of these can lead to heart disease.
- Poor balance. Lack of sleep can cause poor balance in many people, which could lead to an increase in accidents or injuries.
- Insulin production. Sleep helps to regulate your body’s release of insulin. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body can have trouble controlling blood sugar levels, which may lead to diabetes.
- Concentration problems. Tiredness can make it difficult to focus. For those who must concentrate on their jobs, or for those who must take care of children during the day, this can be very problematic.
What Are the Most Common Sleep Disorders?
Let’s take a look at some of the disorders that are preventing millions of Americans from getting the sleep they need.
Sleep apnea is a condition where an individual’s breathing is interrupted while they sleep. This means the brain is deprived of oxygen for a few seconds and can lead to many other health problems. If you’re suffering from sleep apnea, you’re also at risk of high blood pressure, a stroke, headaches, depression, and worsening of conditions like ADHD. It’s thought that around one in five adults has a form of sleep apnea.
There are two main types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common of the two. It happens when the airways are blocked by something physical, usually soft tissue from the back of the throat.
The other type of sleep apnea is known as central sleep apnea. This doesn’t involve a blockage of the airway but is a problem with signals from the brain. The part of the brain that controls respiration fails to tell the muscles to breathe, leading to a lack of oxygen.
The symptoms of sleep apnea include headaches in the morning, sleepiness during the day, and loud snoring at night. Most people don’t realize that they have a problem with sleep apnea until someone else tells them about their snoring – they often put their daytime fatigue and morning headaches down to something else entirely.
Treatment for sleep apnea includes something called CPAP. This stands for ‘continuous positive airway pressure. It’s a machine that helps hold a person’s throat open while they sleep, so the airways can’t close down for any reason, and oxygen can keep flowing.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless Leg Syndrome, also known as RLS or Willis-Ekbom disease, is a condition that causes an irresistible urge to keep the limbs moving (not just the legs, as the name suggests). Sufferers might also experience a crawling or itching sensation in their limbs.
The movements caused by RLS are involuntary and can’t be controlled. About 10% of the population is thought to have RLS, with most of them being women.
Neurologists believe that RLS comes from an issue with how the body processes dopamine. Dopamine is one of the hormones involved in controlling muscle movement. Symptoms of the condition often occur in the evening, or while the sufferer is resting.
This can affect sleep enormously. If the limbs are continually twitching, the body is not resting and recuperating as it should be – it’s using energy to keep those muscles moving. That’s why it should be treated before the lack of quality sleep can cause a long-term problem.
The treatment for RLS can include more exercise and a reduction in stimulants like caffeine. Those who suffer from a severe case of RLS may be able to get prescription medication.
Insomnia is perhaps the most common sleep disorder affecting adults. It’s a condition that makes it difficult for people to get the amount of sleep they need to maintain good health. This could mean they find it hard to get to sleep, or they find themselves waking up many times throughout the night.
It’s not unusual for people to struggle with sleep from time to time. But when the problem gets to the point that your lack of sleep affects your daily life, that’s classed as insomnia. Perhaps you feel irritable or grumpy during the day. Maybe you find it hard to concentrate when you need to. All of these symptoms are signs of insomnia. Insomnia has many causes. These can include:
- Hormone fluctuations or conditions like hyperthyroidism
- Chronic pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Sleep apnea
- Certain foods, drinks, and substances – alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, etc.
If you suffer from insomnia, it can also be made worse by other factors in your life. If you’re someone who regularly takes naps every day, you may be affecting your ability to sleep at night. Sleeping in short bursts is not as good for your health as getting eight hours in one stretch. Issues, like not getting enough exercise or working late shifts, can make insomnia worse.
Treatment options for insomnia can vary. Medications are available, but these come with a range of side effects. Some can be addictive, and others can cause issues like dizziness, headaches, and grogginess throughout the day.
There are various natural treatments for insomnia which can be very helpful. Plants like melatonin, lavender, chamomile, and valerian all have properties that promote relaxation and sleep, whether that’s opening specific gateways for hormones or aiding muscle relaxation. Minerals like magnesium are also beneficial – you can take supplements, eat magnesium-rich foods, or soak in an Epsom salt bath.
Gentle exercise like yoga, meditation, swimming, and pilates can all be useful in fighting insomnia. They can tire out the body without overstimulating it like vigorous exercise. This may allow you to relax and sleep through the night without resorting to prescription medications.
Sleepwalking is a condition where sufferers get out of bed during the night and wander around. It’s most common in children – but it can persist into adulthood in some individuals. Many people who sleepwalk have no memory of doing so the next morning. If you sleepwalk, you’re not getting efficient sleep. Though you may not be conscious at the time, your body is functioning on some level, which means you’re not fully resting.
Experts aren’t entirely sure why some people sleepwalk, but there seems to be a genetic element. The condition can run in families – if a member of your close family has sleep behavior like this, it’s more likely that you’ll experience it at some point too.
If you’re prone to sleepwalking, certain things can trigger or exacerbate it. These include:
- Stress or anxiety
- Drinking too much alcohol or taking recreational drugs
- Lack of sleep
As you can see, lack of sleep can exacerbate sleepwalking, but sleepwalking can also cause a lack of proper sleep. This can create a cycle that is hard to break, making sleepwalking a problematic condition to sleep. Treatments for this condition can include establishing a good sleep routine, keeping a quiet bedroom, limiting liquids before bedtime, and engaging in relaxing activities before bed.
Narcolepsy is quite a well-known sleeping condition, thanks to instances of it shown in film or on TV. However, it’s not very common – in fact, less than 1% of the population suffers from this condition. People with narcolepsy get a normal amount of sleep – but they have no control over when they get that sleep.
The main symptom of narcolepsy is falling asleep mid-activity. Sufferers can become excessively tired while eating, speaking, working, or even driving – which can be very dangerous. Also, if the sufferer has had a full night’s sleep, they can still fall asleep seemingly randomly.
Narcolepsy also triggers another condition called cataplexy. This involves a sudden loss of muscle tone, often when the sufferer is feeling an emotional particularly strongly. This can cause people to collapse while they’re angry, laughing, or surprised.
Bruxism is a condition also known as teeth grinding. It affects as many as 45 million Americans – and can also be very unpleasant for the people they share a bed with. Symptoms of this condition include waking up with headaches or a sore jaw, caused by the grinding of the teeth.
If you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep, you’re not entirely relaxed. You may feel tired the next morning, and the pain you’re experiencing might make it difficult for you to sleep the night after.
Experts aren’t sure what triggers bruxism, but most blame it on stress and anxiety. If you have bruxism, it’s recommended that you don’t bite or chew anything that isn’t food. This can train the jaw to mimic a chewing motion, even when there’s no food in the mouth – including during sleep.
Treatment for bruxism is relatively simple. In severe cases, a dentist will provide a mouth guard, to make it impossible for sufferers to grind their teeth.
Sleep terrors can be horrifying for sufferers. They can cause shouting and violent outbursts, even while the person involved remains seemingly asleep. They’re unlike nightmares, which have a narrative thread – sleep terrors can involve hallucinations and irrational fears becoming crystallized for the sufferer.
Sleep terrors are quite rare, but experts believe they’re caused by sleep deprivation and medications. They’re more common in children – it’s quite rare for adults to suffer from them, but those who do suffer from them can find it very hard to get a full night’s sleep.
Because experts aren’t sure of the cause of sleep terrors, treatment can be tough. It’s recommended that sufferers try to improve their sleep environment to prevent disturbances during the night. This can mean getting rid of any light pollution and trying to block out any sounds that might cause sufferers to wake up partially.
Useful Tips for Overcoming Sleep Disorders
Each sleep disorder is completely different and will require different treatment depending on the severity of the condition. However, there are things you can do to reduce your likelihood of suffering from a sleep disorder like insomnia. These include:
- Developing a healthy sleep routine. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning can be helpful in putting a stop to conditions like insomnia.
- Create an appropriate sleep environment. Block out all light – even the light from LED alarm clocks and such. Try to keep the area quiet, or block out all noise. This can be accomplished with a white noise machine.
- Consider trying yoga or meditation. Many sleep conditions, like bruxism and insomnia, stem from anxiety or stress. Managing those issues can help you to get a better night’s sleep, and yoga and medication are crucial tools for doing so.
- Exercise more. Getting around 30 minutes of exercise each day can improve the quality of sleep you get at night.
- Avoid stimulants. Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are all stimulants. Consuming them too close to your bedtime can leave you at risk of conditions like insomnia.
Sleep can seem like one of the most natural parts of life – for those who don’t suffer from a sleep disorder. However, for the millions of adults who struggle with disordered sleep, just getting the required amount can be a daily battle.
The key to overcoming a sleep disorder is to have it diagnosed. Doctors will be able to provide advice and support based on your particular problem. You should also look into things you can do at home to improve the quality of your sleep. Natural home remedies and activities like yoga and pilates are all helpful in enhancing your sleep quality.
Medications can be helpful in treating certain conditions. However, not all sleep problems can be solved with prescription drugs. It’s recommended that conditions like insomnia are treated as naturally as possible.