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Understanding Sleep Disorders
Sleep problems plague many of us. Did you know there are different kinds of sleep disorders? Some are mostly annoying, causing daytime fatigue and long nights, while others put us at risk for serious illnesses and injuries.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for health and a good quality of life. Let’s take a look at some common sleep disorders and explore ways to resolve them.
People who suffer from insomnia may not get enough sleep, and the sleep they do get may be of poor quality or interrupted. There are many causes of insomnia, including drinking too much caffeine, eating heavy meals in the evening, stress, depression, pain and medication.
Chronic insomnia has deleterious effects on your physical and mental health. You are likely to feel fatigued, irritable or distracted during the daytime, and sleep-deprived individuals are at an increased risk for accidents.
Treating insomnia depends upon the underlying cause; most often it is a combination of factors needing to be corrected. Keeping a journal may help you identify underlying causes.
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2. Circadian Rhythm Disorders
While anyone can develop a circadian rhythm disorder, if you travel frequently or work nights you have an elevated risk of developing one.
Our bodies follow natural cycles every day called its circadian rhythm. It is an innate ability, similar to the cycles of the seasons, tides and other naturally occurring events. Every day our bodies perform different functions optimally at various times during the day and night, including the sleep-rest cycle.
Circadian rhythm disorders are treated depending upon the underlying cause. For example, if you travel frequently or perform shift work, it is helpful to establish a regular sleep time regardless of what the clock says. Dietary measures, medications, and the use of melatonin may help to correct a circadian rhythm disorder.
Some people have an internal clock keeping them up at night and makes them want to sleep late in the morning. Many people who experience this develop a circadian rhythm disorder due to a combination of the internal clock problem and unhealthy habits.
For example, if you have acclimated to being a night owl and sleep until noon every day, it is highly unlikely you will be tired at a “normal” bedtime. You need to take vigilant steps to change your habits.
Get plenty of exercise, rise early even if you haven’t slept, and create a healthy, relaxing bedtime routine. Eventually you will be able to correct the disorder. This can take several months to accomplish.
You may initially need to use medications to promote sleep. Avoid the use of alcohol, caffeine and heavy meals, especially late in the day.
As people age the need for sleep often diminishes; many older adults find they fall asleep early in the evening and awake well before dawn. This type of circadian disorder can be difficult to change, so talk with your health care provider if you suffer from it.
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Snoring can disturb your own sleep or that of the person you sleep with. Snoring occurs when the air passages in your throat and back of your mouth relax. This may result from structural abnormalities or allergies.
There are many devices available that may help to relieve snoring, and changing your position may help too. Most snoring is harmless, however it may be a sign of sleep apnea.
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4. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is when a person temporarily stops breathing in their sleep due to a blockage of air passages, sometimes caused by smaller than normal air passages. A less common form of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, is due to altered brain signals.
Your sleep quality is likely to be poor if you suffer from sleep apnea, as you may not reach the deeper restful stages of sleep and you may awaken countless times during the night. As a result you may suffer from daytime fatigue.
If you suspect that you might suffer from sleep apnea, consult with your health care provider, who may refer you to a sleep specialist. Your partner may be more aware of your symptoms than you are.
Sleep apnea is associated with hypertension and increased risks for cardiovascular disease, including strokes and heart attacks. If you have sleep apnea you may need to use a special breathing machine at night that delivers pressure in order to keep your airways open.
Sleep apnea is sometimes associated with obesity, so taking off excess weight is helpful. Changes in sleeping position may be beneficial. If you drink alcohol, your sleep apnea may worsen.
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Many people who suffer from narcolepsy have chronic sleepiness during the day time and may fall asleep suddenly. This is particularly hazardous while operating equipment, driving, or conducting other potentially harmful activities.
Medications are often prescribed to treat narcolepsy. The condition is caused by a disorder within the brain, and sometimes even runs in families.
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6. Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is a common disorder common among middle aged and older adults. Cramping and restless sensations in the legs impair the affected person’s ability to fall and stay asleep.
Over-the-counter, natural and prescription remedies are used to treat this uncomfortable sleep issue.
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7. Nightmares and Night Terrors
Nightmares are frightening dreams that occur during deep sleep. They may arise occasionally or repeatedly.
Stress and medication may increase the frequency of nightmares, but often the cause of nightmares goes undetected. Individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders are prone to having nightmares more often.
Severe nightmares are called night terrors. Some people who have night terrors may scream or cry out.
Nightmares and night terrors may occur at any age. People who suffer from nightmares and night terrors may or may not remember their dreams. Underlying causes need to be explored and corrected if possible.
If you sleep with a person who is having nightmare or night terror, try to wake them up or ask them to change their position.
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Some people walk or perform other activities while in a deep sleep. They are likely to have no memory of their actions the next morning.
The most dangerous concern for sleep walkers is the risk for injury. Taking preventative steps to reduce risks of injury is an important aspect in sleep walking management.
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9. Other Conditions
Pregnancy may result in sleep loss due to stress, nausea, discomfort, movements of the baby, and finding comfortable sleeping positon. Hormonal changes, back discomfort and leg pains may negatively impact a woman’s ability to sleep while pregnant as well.
If you are pregnant and suffer from a lack of sleep, contact your health care provider. After giving birth sleep may be interrupted by physical and emotional challenges, as well as frequent waking for baby care.
Many health conditions may result in poor sleep. Mental and emotional issues, pain, cardiac and breathing disorders make sleep difficult for many people. Keeping the underlying conditions under control will lead to improved sleep.
Changes in sleep patterns and their treatments are diverse. Check with your health care provider for further information about causes and treatments.