Sleep disorders affect approximately 30% of the adult population. Some sleeping disorders, like sleepwalking, are less dangerous, while others, like sleep apnea, can cause serious medical conditions. One thing is certain – all sleeping disorders affect our sleep one way or another. Our article explores how exactly sleep disorders interfere with normal sleep, the most common types of sleeping disorders, and their symptoms, so if you’re interested to learn more about this, read on.
We have also included a FAQ section as well as some tips on how to improve your sleep.
Let’s start with the 101 on sleeping disorders.
What Are Sleep Disorders
Before we move on to exploring the manner in which sleep disorders affect our sleep, let’s see what sleep disorders are exactly. Sleep disorders can be defined as conditions that interfere with and disturb our sleeping schedule, resulting in many symptoms that affect our day to day lives.
It’s important to distinguish between a problem related to sleep that can be caused by stress, a poor diet, or another lifestyle-related issue, and actual sleep disorders. In order to make this distinction, take a look at the symptoms you’re experiencing and their duration, a segment we will cover later on in the article.
Causes of Sleep Disorders
As we mentioned, innocuous sleeping problems can be caused by lifestyle choices, among other reasons, but what exactly causes sleep disorders?
There are several causes of sleep disorders, including:
- Poor diet choices, such as consuming alcohol and coffee in large quantities;
- Some medications;
- Genetics can also play a role in sleep disorders;
- Medical conditions, such as asthma
- Diseases related to our major organs, such as heart and lung disease;
- Mental illnesses, like depression and anxiety;
Symptoms of Sleep Disorders
Sleeping disorders can manifest themselves through different symptoms, some of which correspond to other conditions, making it harder to get a proper diagnosis. Here are some of the most common symptoms of sleep disorders you should watch out for:
- Memory loss or difficulty retaining information;
- Difficulty falling asleep at night;
- Snoring or choking while sleeping;
- Being snappy and prone to outbursts;
- Excessive movements during the night;
- Difficulty concentrating and solving basic problems;
- Falling asleep in unusual and dangerous situations, like while driving.
If you’ve experienced a couple of these symptoms, chances are you’re suffering from a sleep disorder. If the symptoms are persistent or they gradually become worse, we recommend seeing a specialist as soon as possible.
Types of Sleep Disorders
Now that you’re aware of some of the most common symptoms of sleep disorders, it’s time to take a look at each sleep disorder individually and examine how it interferes with our sleep.
The most well-known type of sleep disorder is insomnia. Insomnia occurs when you have trouble falling asleep, falling back asleep, or sleeping for a prolonged period of time. Some common symptoms of insomnia include waking up tired and groggy, constantly waking up before your alarm clock, having trouble falling asleep at night, and waking up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason.
There are two main different types of insomnia: short-term and chronic. If your insomnia-related symptoms don’t last for a long time, chances are you’re dealing with short-term insomnia. If, however, the symptoms remain persistent, then you might be dealing with chronic insomnia.
Short-term insomnia is usually caused by stressful periods and shifts in our day to day schedule, such as a new workplace, whereas chronic insomnia is associated with severe conditions like depression. The tricky thing about insomnia is that it can be caused by a myriad of different factors and conditions, so it’s often hard for the patient to get to the root of the issue.
Insomnia affects our sleep by disturbing restorative REM sleep, thus making us more tired in the morning and hindering the brain’s ability to detoxify itself during the night. It’s important to find its root cause and treat it as soon as possible to avoid the negative effects associated with insomnia.
Another common sleep disorder a lot of people struggle with is sleep apnea, which is characterized by an interruption in our breathing while we sleep. This means that people who suffer from sleep apnea completely stop breathing at various points throughout the night. The most common causes of sleep apnea are a narrowing of the throat and obesity.
There are two main types of sleep apnea: OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) and CSA (central sleep apnea). The former is a result of a blockage in the airway and is considered to be the more common and milder of the two. The latter occurs because your brain fails to send the right signal to the muscles of your body that are responsible for breathing.
More often than not, the halt in breathing causes the person who’s experiencing sleep apnea to wake up, which interrupts their sleep and causes tiredness during the day. If it’s left untreated, sleep apnea can be the cause of serious medical problems, such as high blood pressure and even a heart attack, so we recommend contacting your doctor as soon as you notice sleep apnea symptoms.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is one of the less severe sleep disorders, characterized by an incessant need to move one’s legs due to an unpleasant sensation. Some people describe this sensation as an ache and a feeling that something is crawling inside them. It occurs both during the day and during the night; however, most patients claim that the disorder seems to be at its worst during the night. It can also be aggravated by spending a prolonged period of time sitting down or lying in bed.
Since RLS is at its worst during the night, people who suffer from RLS often experience difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. You can probably guess the consequences of these side-effects, such as lack of concentration, tiredness, and mood swings.
One factor that contributes to RLS is an iron deficiency, so if you suspect that you might suffer from RLS, it might be a sign to get your blood work done. RLS can occur at any age, but it’s most common in adults and elders and tends to get worse as we age. The most common treatment that doctors prescribe for RLS patients is CBT and medication.
Snoring affects a high percentage of people, but it’s more common among men. It occurs when air passes through the tissues in your throat, which vibrate as you breathe. Even though snoring doesn’t have direct health consequences like some of the other sleeping disorders we mentioned in our article, it can still cause sleep disturbances and disrupt your sleep cycle. Not to mention, snoring can also be a hindrance on your partner’s sleeping hygiene.
Snoring can be prevented and treated by making some lifestyle changes, like losing weight, sleeping on your side, and limiting your consumption of alcohol. If the condition is severe, surgery is also an option. The bad news is that snoring gets worse as we age and it can cause sleeping problems for years on end.
It’s important to distinguish that snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, but it can also be a minor disorder on its own. If you notice that your symptoms are getting worse, it’s likely that you’re dealing with sleep apnea which requires a visit to the doctor.
Just like the name suggests, sleep hypoventilation is a sleep disorder that causes trouble with breathing while asleep, making it either too slow or too shallow. Many causes are associated with sleep hypoventilation, like weak breathing muscles, genetics, obesity, and some lung disorders.
Sleep hypoventilation affects the quality of our sleep since it mostly occurs during the REM stage of sleep, so we get none of the benefits associated with deep sleep even if we sleep enough hours during the night.
Just like sleep apnea, sleep hypoventilation can be dangerous if it’s left untreated and cause heart failure, so it’s crucial that you consult a specialist if you suspect that you might be suffering from sleep hypoventilation. Luckily, it’s a condition that’s easily treated.
Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder where the patient is constantly switching between being awake and sleeping. Those who suffer from narcolepsy are prone to falling asleep during the day and frequently have strong attacks of sleep – the urge to sleep comes suddenly and can result in potentially life-threatening situations. Other symptoms associated with narcolepsy include hallucinations, uncontrollable laughter, cataplexy, and even sleep paralysis. It’s important to mention that symptoms vary between each patient – some patients experience all of the abovementioned symptoms, while others only suffer from sleep disturbances. Narcolepsy can be accompanied by other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and insomnia.
We often hear about the dangers of not sleeping enough hours, however, the opposite is also true – sleeping for more than the recommended amount can result in unpleasant symptoms. Not only does narcolepsy result in a lower quality of sleep, but it significantly affects our mood and productivity levels throughout the day.
Unfortunately, narcolepsy is a condition for which there is no official cure. With that said, there are some steps you can take to help with the symptoms. The most commonly prescribed treatments for narcolepsy are medicine and certain lifestyle changes. You should definitely see a doctor if you’re feeling excessively drowsy during the day and it’s affecting your quality of life.
Children aren’t the only ones who are prone to sleepwalking, it’s also a common sleep disorder among adults. The disorder is officially known as parasomnia and the patient is in a state between being awake and sleeping. Unlike some of the disorders we mentioned previously, parasomnia occurs during the non-REM stages of sleep.
The most common symptoms of sleepwalking apart from walking in your sleep include running, partaking in sexual behaviour, and even doing some daily tasks like making the bed. Several lifestyle factors and medical conditions can cause sleepwalking, such as alcohol use, certain medications, and genetics.
Sleepwalking can become dangerous if the parasomniacs are constantly disturbed, if they suffer from injury, or injure someone themselves. If sleepwalking doesn’t occur on a regular basis, treatment won’t be necessary. In most children who suffer from sleepwalking, it typically goes away on its own once they reach their teenage years.
The last sleep disorder we will cover is called bruxism and it includes an uncontrolled movement of the teeth during sleep. This disorder isn’t inherently dangerous but it can result in jaw problems, bites, and even teeth damage, which is why some doctors might recommend using protective teeth gear.
The only way to confirm a diagnosis for a sleeping disorder is to visit your doctor. After you communicate your symptoms to your doctor, they will ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam or other types of tests that can determine exactly what kind of a disorder you’re suffering from. Additionally, they will ask you a series of questions relating to your sleeping patterns and symptoms that will help them determine the exact diagnosis.
Your doctor might also recommend a sleep study that will monitor your brain waves, heart rate, and eye movements while you sleep. By doing so, they will be able to gather important data regarding your sleeping pattern such as how quickly you fall asleep, how deep your sleep is, and how often you wake up during the night.
The treatment your doctor will prescribe depends on the type of sleep disorder you’re diagnosed with. Some common treatments include:
Lifestyle changes, such as improved diet and inclusion of regular exercise in your day to day routine.
Natural supplements, such as melatonin and vitamins which can help you fall asleep faster.
Certain medications, such as sleeping pills.
CBT and counselling can significantly help with stress management and anxiety.
Sleep restriction therapy that includes lying in bed only for a limited amount of time in order to increase the desire to sleep.
Hypnosis is also often used as a treatment for some sleeping disorders.
Tips for Better Sleep
Here are some tips that can improve your overall quality of sleep and help you with any symptoms you might be experiencing.
Turn off all the lights in your room before you go to sleep and avoid using technology at least two hours before you fall asleep.
Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks at the later part of the day. The caffeine can stay in your system for hours after you’ve finished your drink, which is why coffee is a commonly overlooked cause of restlessness in bed.
Exercise can help you immensely on your journey to improving both the quality of your sleep and your sleeping schedule. With that said, avoid working out a couple of hours before you go to bed because it can give you a lot of energy.
And lastly, make sure the temperature in your room is optimal before going to bed.
What Are Some Disorders that Interfere with Sleep?
Some common sleeping disorders include insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, and sleepwalking.
How Does Insomnia Affect Your Sleep?
Insomnia affects your sleep by making it harder for you to fall asleep and sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. As you can imagine, this can cause you to feel tired during the day as well as some other symptoms like lack of concentration.
How Do Sleep Disorders Affect Daily Life?
Sleep disorders can have a negative impact on your daily life by causing the following symptoms: drowsiness, lack of concentration, mood swings, and irritability.
We hope you’re now better informed on this subject after reading all about how sleep disorders interfere with normal sleep.
To summarise, the most common types of sleep disorders are insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, snoring, sleep hypoventilation, narcolepsy, and bruxism. While all these disorders manifest themselves through different types of symptoms, what they do have in common is that they disrupt your sleep, prevent you from enjoying a deep night’s rest, and thus impact your overall quality of life.
To prevent experiencing any of the complications associated with these disorders, we recommend seeing a sleep specialist or a doctor.