Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel.
June 18, 2021
While everyone encounters sleep problems from time to time, certain people may struggle with actual sleep disorders.
A sleep disorder is something that disrupts you from falling asleep, staying asleep, or safely sleeping overnight. Sleep disorders are chronic and can affect anyone regardless of age or gender.
Just like any other condition, it’s best to speak with a medical professional about any concerns you may have, but in the meantime, understanding sleep disorder symptoms can help you identify whether or not you have one.
The symptoms of sleep disorders can vary quite a bit from one to another. Some issues that may be suggestive of an underlying sleep disorder include:
Although these symptoms might suggest an underlying sleep disorder, they might be temporary or caused by other conditions like anxiety.
Keep an eye out for inexplicable changes to your sleep schedule and chronic symptoms that don’t go away with making lifestyle changes.
Though there are many sleep disorders, there are five that are the most common:
Insomnia, in general, is a term used if you have trouble falling or staying asleep. You may have insomnia if you:
There are two types of insomnia:
Individuals experience transient insomnia after a life event outside of normal circumstances. For example, if you lose a loved one, have jet lag, or can’t stop thinking about a major business meeting coming up. Your body loses its ability to relax, which can disturb your sleep.
Chronic insomnia is the type you’ll likely need treatment since it doesn’t go away after the stressful event has passed. Transient insomnia can turn into chronic insomnia.
Another one of the main types of sleeping disorders is obstructive sleep apnea. While all of these conditions are serious, sleep apnea is especially dangerous. When you’re experiencing this type of disorder, your airway becomes blocked over and over again while you’re sleeping.
Whenever this happens, you won’t be able to breathe. Some people begin to choke, snore, or will suddenly wake up gasping for air. It may only happen a couple of times a night for some people, while others stop breathing hundreds of times while sleeping.
Signs you may have sleep apnea are:
Sleep apnea is dangerous because it can cause other complications due to blood oxygen levels dropping and other disruptions to the body. Some complications include:
Narcolepsy is another dangerous sleeping disorder that might be easier to diagnose. It involves falling asleep uncontrollably. This can happen in the middle of a conversation while eating or even while driving. It also won’t be solved by getting more sleep at night. You may have this type of sleep disorder if you:
A less common and more unique sleep issue is REM sleep behavior disorder. This is where you act out your dreams while you’re asleep. For example, if you’re running a marathon in a dream, you may get out of bed and start running in place.
This can be extremely dangerous to yourself and anyone around you if you experience nightmares or unpleasant dreams. Signs that you could have this disorder are:
Signs of this sleeping disorder might progressively worsen, starting with talking and moving in bed and then transitioning to more dangerous situations.
Lastly, restless legs syndrome, or RLS, can be experienced during sleep or awake hours. While experiencing it, you may move your legs excessively while you’re sleeping. It also includes the feeling of something crawling under your skin, burning, aching, and tingling in your legs.
You may have restless legs syndrome if you:
This uncomfortable leg condition makes it incredibly hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Some of the most common causes for sleep issues are:
In many people’s cases, sleeping disorders pop up for no reason, and there may have never been preventative actions for them to have taken.
Getting treated for sleep disorders can be life-changing. With treatment, you may be able to get plenty of sleep, feel rested, and take back control of your life. There are certain steps you can take on your own to try and rid yourself of the sleep disorders, but medical help either from a doctor, therapist, or sleep specialist is the best way to go.
Insomnia requires doctors to take a look at any other underlying conditions such as anxiety or depression. You may be prescribed a short-term prescription and asked to take part in a sleep study. Lifestyle changes, including decreasing caffeine intake, may also help.
Many patients with narcolepsy seek treatment by scheduling naps and taking medication. Avoiding activities such as driving may be required.
Those suffering from RLS will likely be prescribed medication and asked to participate in physical or behavioral therapy. Performing certain stretches or activities during the day and avoiding sitting still for too long will likely be suggested by doctors.
There are several options available for those with sleep apnea. The most popular being a CPAP breathing machine that helps keep your airway open as you sleep. Other treatment options are:
The most common treatment for REM sleep behavior disorder is medication. Your doctor will want to prevent you from injuring yourself or others if you have this. A sleep study can help show professionals how you act out your dreams.
According to Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology Matthew Walker, “If you are starting to struggle with sleep, then you should go and see your doctor and find ways, such as CBT-I, that can help you improve your sleep. The goal here is to decrease your chances of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Many issues come up from lack of sleep, and since sleep disorders cause that shortage chronically, it’s a good idea to go to the doctor once you’ve noticed serious problems arising in your sleep schedule.
You can make an appointment with a quality online doctor through our partner site, PlushCare.
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