As long as there has been sleep there have been sleep disorders. As they say, “to err is human”, and even with something as seemingly simple as sleep we seem to be able to muck things up.
- When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, ‘Did you sleep good?’ I said ‘No, I made a few mistakes.’
- Steven Wright
That’s not to say it is entirely your fault if you are troubled in the sleep department. There are a variety of sleep disorders and a variety of causes for these problems. Some are biological problems, some are due to stressful circumstances, and some are because of our own bad habits.
Below are some of the most common sleep-related issues people face.
Insomnia, like a fever or a cough, is not so much a disorder as it is a symptom of other problems. From the Latin In (not) + Somnus (sleep), insomnia literally means “not sleeping”.
- Life is something that happens when you can’t get to sleep.
- Fran Lebowitz
Most people suffer from bouts of sleeplessness from time to time, usually attributable to anxiety, illness or poor diet. Insomnia is classified into three categories according to duration:
- Transient Insomnia – Lasts less than a week
- Acute Insomnia – From one week to one month in duration. Acute insomnia does not mean the person has not slept at all for a month, but that sleep has been difficult to initiate or sustain, or that the quality of the sleep has been very poor and unrestful.
- Chronic Insomnia – More than one month of poor sleep. Additional effects caused by long term sleep disruption may include severe muscle fatigue, aches and pains, hallucinations, lack of concentration, mental fatigue and double vision.
Many people who suffer from transient and acute insomnia can overcome the problem by practicing better sleep habits. By following the suggestions in my Sleep Tips page most sufferers should be able to get better sleep quickly.
If you are struggling with chronic insomnia you should meet with your doctor or a sleep specialist (a doctor who specializes in the field of sleep) to discuss options. Click here for more information about insomnia.
Sleep State Misconception
Oftentimes we believe we are suffering from insomnia or some form of sleeplessness when we are not. Many people suffer from ‘sleep state misconception’, believing they have taken much longer to fall asleep than they really have. A person may believe they laid awake most of the night and only got four hours of sleep when in fact they slept a full eight hours. This may also be because some people sleep so lightly in stage 1 of the sleep cycle that they are somewhat aware of the passage of time.
- Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
The word apnea means to stop breathing (a- without + pneos- breath). Sleep apnea is when the sleeper stops breathing momentarily, and periodically throughout the night. This can happen twenty or more times throughout the night. Sleep apnea is sometimes equated with snoring. Snoring is sometimes a symptom of sleep apnea, but snoring can be caused by any number of other issues unrelated to apnea.
Although apnea is not particularly dangerous in the short term, it is still a good idea to get your doctor involved if you believe you suffer from this common disorder. He may be able to suggest some ways to correct the problem easily and painlessly.
There are a number of things you can try at home to correct sleep apnea:
- Lose weight. Overweightedness contributes to restlessness and poor quality of sleep which increases the suceptibility to apnea
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol
- Change sleep positions
- Purchase an apnea prevention device. These are designed to keep your tongue from falling into the back of the throat, which is usually the cause of apnea. Such a device should also prevent or reduce snoring.
Other solutions such as sleep masks, breathing machines and surgery should only be considered under the guidance of a medical professional. For more information about Sleep Apnea see my more recent and more detailed post.
- Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.
- Anthony Burgess
Although the person who snores isn’t usually aware of their snoring, they can still be affected in a number of ways.
- Sometimes the snorer will erupt with an explosion of snoring that can awaken them suddenly. Though the person might not be aware of the cause of their abrupt awakening they may experience an aroused state that makes it difficult to get back to sleep.
- If your spouse is bothered by your snoring both of you could experience sleep anxiety. Your spouse may be anxious they won’t be able to sleep if you snore, but you may also be worried about snoring and keeping your spouse awake.
- There are other, more serious, medical issues that correlate to snoring
There are a few things that contribute to snoring that you may wish to avoid or limit. Smoking, drunkenness, sleeping pills, eating too much before bed, and stress all increase the likelihood of snoring. If you are overweight, losing a few pounds can help prevent snoring as well.
There are other remedies such as chin straps, face masks, sleeping positions, even losing weight. However, it should be noted that different people snore for different reasons, and what works for your friend may not work for you. The key is to try different solutions until you find the one that does work for you. You may also wish to discuss your snoring with your doctor to try to determine the root cause. For a more thorough examination of the causes of and solutions to snoring, see my complete article on snoring.
- If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there and worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the loss of sleep.
- Dale Carnegie
Sleep anxiety is essentially anxiety about sleep. It is one of the leading causes of insomnia. People who are afflicted with sleep anxiety worry about not being able to sleep, even during the day. Such worry and anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, keeping the sufferer tossing and turning, looking at the clock repeatedly and generally being unable to find rest.
Sleep anxiety ranges from mild to chronic cases, but if not addressed can become a serious psychological disorder. There may be specific sources for the anxiety, such as a snoring spouse or a recurring loud noise such as a passing train in the night.
It is important to get at the cause of the worry and deal with that head on. Also, practicing good pre-sleep activities and creating a relaxing routine before bedtime can be a big help. Using prayer or meditation during the day to combat anxiety when it springs up is also a useful remedy.
- How many of our daydreams would darken into nightmares if there seemed any danger of their coming true!
- Logan Pearsall Smith
Most of us have had nightmares from time to time. They are especially common in children. Nightmares are dreams that are particularly vivid and contain disturbing or frightening content. They usually cause arousal, dilated pupils, sweating, and terror and often end with sudden awakening that may including screaming or crying out.
If you experience a severe nightmare and you are unable to calm down quickly you should get out of bed, move around, and find something relaxing to do, such as reading a book in dim light. Drinking a warm beverage such as chamomile tea or warm milk can also help calm your nerves and bring you out of the aroused state.
If you are a chronic nightmare sufferer you should consult your doctor. Most sleep disorders, including nightmares, can usually be treated.
Sleep disorders are common among the human race. If you are suffering some sort of sleep-related problem now, you are not alone. The above list are just some of the sleep problems we experience. Over the next few weeks and months I will be including more information about specific disorders and I will also update this page periodically to keep it current.