Written by Josh Horsman
Good quality sleep is a key foundation of any healthy lifestyle, but it doesn't come easy to all of us. For many, getting in to bed at the end of the day is just the beginning of a battle to drift off. There are many common sleep-related conditions which can not only hinder our night-time rest, but our daily lives too.
Here's our guide to the most common sleep issues and how to beat them:
Insomnia is described as difficulty with getting to sleep or staying asleep, even when the opportunity to sleep is presented. The effects of this translate into a range of symptoms, including: Fatigue, inability to concentrate and mood-swings, all of which may significantly affect the individual’s performance at work or school.
Insomnia can be caused by many different factors, both medical and lifestyle related. Pregnancy and the Menopause are common causes of insomnia in women, while age and certain medications can also bring on insomnia. Lifestyle factors which can be causes include: Stress, caffeine consumption, poor sleeping habits and irregular work schedules.
For mild to moderate cases of insomnia, the best way to treat the condition is to work on forming good sleep habits. This can include:
Further options include relaxation training and cognitive behavioural therapy.
However, in more severe cases of insomnia, it may be necessary to discuss medical solutions with your doctor. The treatment that’s best for you will be dependent on individual health factors and also the symptoms you are experiencing. Therefore it’s important to have a consult with a doctor before taking any sleep aids.
Common insomnia medications include benzodiazepine hypnotics, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, and melatonin receptor agonists.
Snoring is extremely common and something we have all experienced at some time, whether you yourself snore or you have had the misfortune of sleeping near someone else who does. The sensation occurs when air cannot move freely through the nose and throat during the night. This results in the vibrating of the tissue within and the ensuing unmistakable sound.
Snoring can have many different causes, but the most common are:
If your snoring is a result of lifestyle factors, then it is possible that you might be able to significantly reduce the effects through increasing exercise, eating healthily and cutting out smoking and excessive drinking.
However, if nasal and sinus problems are the problem, and your snoring is impacting your daily life, then you should seek the advice of your doctor. They will be able to prescribe medication or refer you to an ‘Ear, Nose & Throat’ specialist in order to address not only your snoring, but the underlying causes.
For almost all causes of snoring, adjusting your sleeping position and not eating immediately before you sleep can also be effective in reducing the disruption snoring causes to your sleep.
Sleep apnea is a condition whereby the airways become blocked during sleep. This blockage, or partial blockage causes breathing difficulties for short bursts of time and this causes sleeplessness and wakefulness during the night and therefore tiredness during the day. If left untreated, sleep apnea can ultimately raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
If you are experiencing mild sleep apnea, or simply want to reduce your risk of developing it, lifestyle changes should be the first priority. Studies have suggested that obesity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are all significant risk factors for the condition and so the first-step towards treating sleep apnea should be evaluating your lifestyle against these factors and making changes as necessary.
The next step is to arrange a consultation with your doctor. There are several safe and effective treatment options which are commonly prescribed to sleep apnea patients. These can include Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines and other devices to use at night to keep the airway open. In extreme cases, surgery may be required and there are also several relatively safe and effective procedures which could be considered here.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome is a relatively common condition, affecting between 2 and 3 percent of people in the USA. Those with the condition are prone to extreme discomfort in their legs when resting and especially when sleeping. This discomfort, often described as ‘tingling, crawling, aching, pulling, or painful sensations’, causes an intense desire to move the legs for relief. Naturally, these movements can be extremely disruptive to sleep.
It is thought that the dietary nutrient iron could play a significant role in the treatment of RLS. While it is not known if RLS is caused by iron deficiency, studies do show that people with iron deficiency are far more likely to develop the condition than those who do not. Therefore increasing your iron intake is a good place to start if you are experiencing RLS. However it is important to consider your sources of iron as consuming excessive red meat can increase your risk of heart disease problems.
There are also a range of medical treatments which doctors may prescribe to treat RLS. However because the effectiveness may vary among different treatments, it might take time, working with your doctor, in order to find the medication which works for you. Such medications may also be accompanied by side-effects. If you are experiencing mild to moderate RLS, schedule an appointment with you doctor who will be able to advise you which medications may be right for you.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Your circadian rhythm refers to your body’s internal ‘clock’, the natural cycle of sleep and alertness - night and day. This rhythm is compromised when a regular cycle of sleep and alertness is disrupted. Causes of this include jet-lag, shift-work and illness which cause you to fall asleep and wake up too early, or too late.
Obviously, correcting this disorder requires making adjustments to your daily routine or habits in order to restore a regular ‘normal’ sleeping pattern.