Most people have difficulty sleeping at some points in their life. It can often be attributed to change or a particular stress in their lives. Usually, the problem sleeping resolves itself with time and self-care (for example, healthy eating, exercise, implementing a bedtime routine). If the difficulty persists, you may be diagnosed with a sleeping disorder.
Sleep disorders are conditions that result in changes in the way that you sleep. A sleep disorder can affect your overall health, safety and quality of life. Sleep deprivation can affect your ability to drive safely and increase your risk of other health problems.
Some common types of sleep disorders include:
- Insomnia – difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night.
- Sleep apnea – abnormal patterns in breathing while you are asleep.
- Restless legs syndrome (RLS) – a sleep movement disorder which causes an uncomfortable sensation and an urge to move the legs while you try to fall asleep.
- Parasomnias – arousals from REM sleep or partial arousals from non-REM sleep, including nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, and confusional arousals
- Narcolepsy – extreme sleepiness during the day and falling asleep suddenly during the day
- Shift work sleep disorder – trouble sleeping because you work nights or rotating shifts
- Circadian rhythm disorders – disruptions to the “internal body clock” that regulates the (approximately) 24-hour cycle of biological processes in animals and plants.
Signs and Symptoms
There are many different types of sleep disorders. They’re often grouped into categories that explain why they happen or how they affect you, such as:
- problems with your natural sleep-wake cycles
- breathing problems
- difficulty sleeping
- how sleepy you feel during the day
There are many ways to help diagnose sleep disorders. Doctors can usually treat most sleep disorders effectively once they’re correctly diagnosed. A range of sleeping medicines are available, which work in different ways. Doctors may also recommend a breathing device or surgery (usually for sleep apnea) or a dental guard (usually for teeth grinding).
Lifestyle changes and other non-medical interventions are helpful to anyone experiencing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. You might consider:
- incorporating more vegetables and fish into your diet, and reducing sugar intake
- reducing stress and anxiety by exercising
- creating and sticking to a regular sleeping schedule
- drinking less water before bedtime
- limiting your caffeine intake, especially in the late afternoon or evening
- decreasing tobacco and alcohol use
- eating smaller low carbohydrate meals before bedtime
If you lie awake worrying about work, family or financial problems, you may need to get help with these issues before sleep can return to normal. If stress, depression or another mental health problem is making it difficult to fall asleep, consider seeking counselling or talking therapy.