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Sleep Disorders – Symptoms, Treatments and Healthy Sleeping Tips!

Sleep deprivation is something that many people suffer from every day. Going to work after getting very little sleep and performing at your best is difficult when you wish you could take a nap half way through the day! Let’s take a look at some of the most common sleep disorders and the various treatments available.

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia. Insomnia occurs when someone has difficulty falling or staying asleep for certain periods of time leaving them with symptoms of fatigue, the inability to concentrate fully, low energy levels and mood changes. Insomnia can be divided into two categories, the first being acute insomnia. This occurs when someone struggles to sleep due to certain circumstances such as nerves before an exam or upon receiving stressful news. This is usually resolved on its own without the need to seek treatment. The second category, chronic insomnia, is different as it usually occurs more frequently – at least three times a week over a period of at least three months. This condition could be a result of various circumstances, such as working irregular hours, changes in the environment, unhealthy sleep habits, specific medications or clinical disorders. It can also be related to other medical conditions such as asthma, arthritis and chronic pain to name a few. These conditions either cause insomnia or the symptoms related to these conditions prevent people from getting enough sleep.

Please contact your doctor if you feel that you suffer from some form of insomnia, he/she will be able to guide you through further testing, medication, cognitive therapy, advising on healthy sleep habits and other sleep specialists that may assist.

Sleep apnoea is a serious yet common condition that causes someone to stop breathing during sleep. The airway continually becomes blocked thus limiting the amount of air that reaches the lungs. This occurs as the tissue at the back of the throat collapses. When lying on one’s back, the muscles of the upper airway relax and gravity causes the tongue to fall back, which results in loud snoring and choking noises. As there is no oxygen reaching the brain, the person will wake up – this can range from a few to a hundred times a night. This leads to fatigue and lack of concentration throughout the working day. The body is tired as a result of waking up throughout the night, many times of which you were not aware.

This disorder could result in many other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and depression. However, it can be treated in various ways. CPAP therapy involves wearing a mask which keeps the airway open with a constant stream of air ensuring that you get a full restful night of sleep.  Oral appliances can also assist by holding the tongue or supporting the jaw in the correct position. These are similar to a mouth guard or retainer.  Surgery is another option if the other treatments are unsuccessful.

Restless legs syndrome is a condition whereby the person has an overwhelming urge to move their legs and this discomfort makes it difficult to fall asleep. People describe restless legs as having burning or itching sensations in their legs, once they move or get up this discomfort disappears.  If you suffer from this disorder please do not ignore it. Seek treatment, otherwise symptoms can become more severe and frequent. People with severe cases of this disorder get less than five hours sleep per night whilst milder cases do not affect sleep to such a large extent; however the sleep will be of a poorer quality. Again, this disorder will result in fatigue during the day, irritability and lack of concentration and can later result in depression and anxiety.

Treatment for restless legs includes both behavioural therapy and medications. Behavioural therapy includes enjoying regular light exercise such as walking or bike riding – this may relieve symptoms – however, too much strenuous activity can increase the symptoms. Stress reduction activities such as meditation and yoga before bed, as well massaging your legs and soaking them in a hot bath can be helpful. Alcohol, smoking and caffeine can also aggravate restless legs and should be avoided. Medications are also available to assist with this disorder. Please consult with your doctor for these treatments.

Here are a few helpful tips for healthy sleeping habits :

  • Create a routine for yourself by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day – this can help set your internal body clock and improve quality of sleep.
  • Avoid long naps as this can interfere with sleep patterns. Limit naps to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
  • Avoid going to sleep too early. If you feel tired too early, do something to stay awake such as reading a book or washing dishes, otherwise you might wake up later in the night and struggle to go back to sleep.
  • Avoid light from the television or cell phones at least 1-2 hours before bedtime as this can limit the amount of melatonin produced. Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone which regulates your sleep-wake cycle and is controlled by exposure to light. The brain secretes more melatonin when it is dark thus making you feel sleepy, and less when it is light therefore making you more alert.
  • Exercise regularly during the day.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bed.
  • Avoid big meals at night by eating earlier and avoiding heavy rich and spicy food, which may cause heartburn or stomach issues.
  • Avoid drinking too much liquid late at night as this will result in frequent bathroom visits throughout the night, thus disrupting sleep.
  • Come up with “before bedtime” rituals that will relax you such as listening to soft music, taking a warm bath and meditation.
  • Keep your bedroom well ventilated, as a room that is too hot or cold could disturb sleep.
  • Take magnesium and/or calcium supplements at night. Magnesium helps calm nerves and relaxes muscles which in turn may improve sleep.
  • Calcium will also help the brain produce melatonin. which aids sleep.

Try these tips to ensure a more restful night of sleep thus ensuring that you are able to be productive the next day. Please remember that there are many people who suffer from sleep disorders – you are not alone and the right treatment can help improve your quality of life.