We all go through times in our lives where sleep is difficult to come by. For most of us, these are sporadic and can often be linked to some specific circumstance of our life, such as trouble at work or with children, or a big event that is coming up.
Unfortunately, a significant number of people suffer longer-term or chronic trouble sleeping. Most people, when they struggle with the inability to get to sleep, regard the issue as insomnia. In truth, there are several different sleep disorders any of which could be the culprit.
Trouble Falling Asleep
The medical term for having trouble getting to sleep is ‘sleep latency’. There is somewhat of a misconception about sleep latency, and many people believe they have insomnia when, in truth they fall asleep in a normal amount of time. The typical adult takes between sixteen and 20 minutes to fall asleep.
It is also common for people to misjudge how long it takes them to get to sleep. These people believe they are lying awake for hours or are waking up repeatedly throughout the night when in reality their sleep latency falls within normal parameters. This type of insomnia is referred to as ‘paradoxical insomnia’ because it is not true insomnia, but only a misconception of reality.
Sleep Onset Insomnia
This is a type of insomnia in which the brain of the sufferer remains overactive. It won’t slow down enough for the person to enter into sleep. Although many of us have experienced this in connection with some problem in our lives (as already mentioned), frequently there is no specific event going on in the person’s life. This problem can become self-perpetuated, as the person becomes anxious about trying to sleep in the evening before bed, leading to an even more hyperactive mind.
Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder
Our sleep patterns are largely guided by a biological circadian rhythm that makes us sleepy at night and active at other times of the day. This disorder is a problem with that circadian rhythm. The sleep cycle may be shifted several hours. Instead of being sleepy between midnight and 5 A.M., a person may not be tired enough to sleep until four or five in the morning. At midnight, such a person feels like most of us feel in early evening – alert and ready for activity.
Restless Leg Syndrome
This is different than simply having a tendency to shake or wiggle ones legs while sitting. With this disorder, which can occur chronically or in connection with physical or psychological stress, the person gets a sensation in their legs that makes them feel that they must move them. It is a compulsion that is difficult to resist, and is compounded when sharing the bed with another person.
Other Problems with Getting Sleep
Not everyone who has trouble sleeping has a problem with getting to sleep quickly. Instead, their struggle may be with staying asleep throughout the night, or with waking up early and then not being able to return to sleep.
Sleep Maintenance Insomnia
Most people wake up a few times during the night, although these are usually so brief that we have no memory of it in the morning. When these awakenings happen so frequently, or last so long before returning to sleep, that you can remember them you may have this type of insomnia. The brain interprets the awakening as a signal that it is really time to wake up. It immediately becomes active.
Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder
This is the opposite of the previously described ‘Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder’. In this case the person’s circadian sleep cycle is several hours earlier than normal, so that they are ready to go to sleep by 8 P.M. or earlier and are wide awake by 3 or 4 in the morning. Provided you can adjust your schedule to fit this cycle there isn’t much trouble.
Depression and Other Medical Disorders
Depression can affect all aspects of sleep – latency, awakenings and early mornings. Likewise, other medical issues such as reflux, hypothyroidism, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can cause sleep disorders. Because sleep disorders can be a symptom of such serious health issues it is a good idea to consult your physician if you believe you may be affected.