Are you regularly struggling with a sleep problem? It may be a sleep disorder. Here’s how to recognize the symptoms and get the treatment you need.

Many of us experience trouble sleeping at one time or another. Usually it’s due to stress, travel, illness, or other temporary interruptions to your normal routine. But if sleep problems are a regular occurrence and interfere with your daily life, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder.

A sleep disorder is a condition that frequently impacts your ability to get enough quality sleep. While it’s normal to occasionally experience difficulties sleeping, it’s not normal to regularly have problems getting to sleep at night, to wake up feeling exhausted, or to feel sleepy during the day.

Frequently having trouble sleeping can be a frustrating and debilitating experience. You sleep badly at night, which leaves you feeling dead-tired in the morning and whatever energy you have quickly drains throughout the day. But then, no matter how exhausted you feel at night, you still have trouble sleeping. And so the cycle begins again, taking a serious toll on your mood, energy, efficiency, and ability to handle stress. Ignoring sleep problems and disorders can damage your physical health and lead to weight gain, car accidents, impaired job performance, memory problems, and strained relationships. If you want to feel your best, stay healthy, and perform up to your potential, quality sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.

Even if you’ve struggled with sleep problems for so long that it seems normal, you can still learn to sleep better. You can start by tracking your symptoms and sleep patterns, and then making healthy changes to your daytime habits and bedtime routine. If self-help doesn’t do the trick, you can turn to sleep specialists who are trained in sleep medicine. Together, you can identify the underlying causes of your sleeping problem and find ways to improve your sleep and quality of life.

Signs and symptoms of a sleep disorder

Everyone experiences occasional sleeping problems, so how can you tell whether your difficulty is just a minor, passing annoyance or a sign of a more serious sleep disorder or underlying medical condition?

Start by scrutinizing your symptoms, looking especially for the telltale daytime signs of sleep deprivation.

Do you…

  1. feel irritable or sleepy during the day?
  2. have difficulty staying awake when sitting still, watching television or reading?
  3. fall asleep or feel very tired while driving?
  4. have difficulty concentrating?
  5. often get told by others that you look tired?
  6. react slowly?
  7. have trouble controlling your emotions?
  8. feel like you have to take a nap almost every day?
  9. require caffeinated beverages to keep yourself going?

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms on a regular basis, you may be dealing with a sleep disorder. The more you answered “yes”, the more likely it is that you have a sleep disorder.

Types of common sleep disorders

Insomnia

Insomnia, the inability to get to sleep or sleep well at night, can be caused by stress, jet lag, a health condition, the medications you take, or even the amount of coffee you drink. Insomnia can also be caused by other sleep disorders or mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Whatever the cause of your insomnia, improving your sleep hygiene, revising your daytime habits, and learning to relax will help cure most cases of insomnia without relying on sleep specialists or turning to prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pills.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a common (and treatable) sleep disorder in which your breathing temporarily stops during sleep, awakening you frequently. If you have sleep apnea you may not remember these awakenings, but you’ll likely feel exhausted during the day, irritable and depressed, or see a decrease in your productivity. Sleep apnea is a serious and potentially life-threatening sleep disorder, so see a doctor right away and learn how to help yourself.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that causes an almost irresistible urge to move your legs (or arms) at night. The urge to move occurs when you’re resting or lying down and is usually due to uncomfortable, tingly, aching, or creeping sensations. There are plenty of ways to help manage and relieve symptoms, though, including self-help remedies you can use at home.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that involves excessive, uncontrollable daytime sleepiness. It is caused by a dysfunction of the brain mechanism that controls sleeping and waking. If you have narcolepsy, you may have “sleep attacks” in the middle of talking, working, or even driving. Although no cure yet exists, a combination of treatments can help control symptoms and enable you to enjoy many normal activities.

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