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Do I Have a Sleep Disorder? Types and Symptoms Explained

Do I Have a Sleep Disorder? Types and Symptoms Explained

We have all experienced a bad night’s sleep, and felt the effects the next day. Most of the time, by making sure we get adequate rest the following night, we can restore balance and feel better.

However, for some, poor sleep is a common occurrence, and no matter how hard they try, quality rest seems unattainable. If you regularly have trouble falling asleep, or wake up multiple times during the night, it could be a sign of an undiagnosed sleep disorder. Here, we examine the causes, symptoms and treatments of the five main sleep disorders that risk compromising your body’s natural ability to rest.


Insomnia

If you suffer from insomnia, it means you experience problems either falling asleep, or staying asleep throughout the night. Typically, it can improve by altering your sleeping habits. There are different types of insomnia — acute or chronic.

The most common causes of insomnia include mood disturbances (like anxiety, stress, or depression), alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, recreational drugs, jet lag, or shift work. Sleeping in a noisy, cold, and light environment can also trigger insomnia.


Symptoms

You could have insomnia if you regularly experience the following symptoms:i

  • Find it difficult to fall asleep

  • Lie awake at night

  • Rouse several times during the night

  • Wake up early and can’t get back to sleep

  • Feel tired and lethargic after waking up

  • Feel irritable and groggy all-day

  • Struggle to concentrate during the day due to tiredness

  • Find it difficult to nap during the day despite feeling exhausted


Insomnia is a treatable condition, there are a variety of methods you can use to manage it and get a restful night’s sleep. Relaxation and mindfulness-based techniques and behavioural techniques, like cognitive behavioural therapy or sleep restriction therapy, can help ease the body into sleep. Ensuring you get plenty of exercise during the day, and limiting the consumption of foods that are known to disrupt sleep may also promote quality rest.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to managing insomnia. You have to find what works for you. Discover natural remedies to support the reduction of insomnia here.


Sleep apnoea

A relatively common condition, sleep apnoea occurs when the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, which interrupts the flow of normal breathing. This can disrupt sleep and impact your quality of life.

Sleep apnoea can affect men and women of any age — even children can develop the condition. However, certain factors can predispose you to the condition. You are more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea if you’re overweight, male, over 40 years old, have a large neck (upwards of 16 inches in women and 17 inches in men), experience nasal obstruction due to allergies, sinus problems, or a deviated septum, or have a family history of sleep apnoea. Alcohol, smoking and medication with a sedative effect may also be contributing factors.


Symptoms

A family member, partner, or friends will usually notice the symptoms of sleep apnoea while you sleep. The signs include:ii

  • Waking up with a very dry or sore throat

  • Waking up with a gasping or choking sensation

  • Loud snoring

  • Laboured and noisy breathing

  • Night sweats


Depending on the severity of your sleep apnoea, you may be able to treat it by altering your lifestyle. Losing weight and avoiding alcohol, sleeping pills, and smoking are some of the best measures to take. Changing your sleeping position to improve airflow can promote better sleep, too. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may need to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device or wear a mandibular advancement device (MAD). Occasionally, surgery is needed.


Narcolepsy

A rare, long-term brain condition, narcolepsy causes people to fall asleep suddenly at inappropriate times. Although this sleep disorder doesn’t have any serious long-lasting health problems, it can have a sizeable impact on daily life.

Several factors can increase the risk of narcolepsy. Inherited genetic fault; major psychological stress; hormonal changes (like puberty or menopause); infection, such as streptococcal infection or swine flu; or a sudden change in sleep patterns can trigger narcolepsy.


Symptoms

Symptoms may develop rapidly over a few weeks or gradually over several months. These include:iii

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

  • Cataplexy – sudden temporary loss of muscular control or muscle weakness

  • Sleep attacks

  • Sleep paralysis – the inability to speak or move during waking or falling asleep

  • Memory problems

  • Hallucinations 

  • Depression


There are currently no known cures for narcolepsy, but there are many things you can do to manage the symptoms and reduce the effect it can have on your daily life. Taking regular, brief naps and sticking to a strict bedtime routine can help with a narcoleptic person’s sleep hygiene. Avoiding caffeine, smoking, alcohol, vigorous exercise, and heavy meals before bed can also support the reduction of symptoms. Some medicines, like stimulants, sodium oxybate, and antidepressants may help, too.

Learn more about the treatments and causes of narcolepsy here.


Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is the temporary inability to speak or move when you’re falling asleep or waking up. Despite being a frightening experience, sleep paralysis is harmless and short-lived.

Sleep paralysis transpires when periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occur when you’re awake. Scientists are still unsure why this is, but it has been linked to irregular sleeping patterns, narcolepsy, sleep deprivation or insomnia, sleeping on your back, or a family history of sleep paralysis.


Symptoms

During an episode of sleep paralysis, you may experience the following symptoms:iv

  • Being completely aware of your surroundings but unable to move or speak

  • Finding it difficult to inhale fully, as if your chest is restricted or being crushed

  • Feeling an ominous presence in the room with you

  • Feeling scared


Find out more about the symptoms of sleep paralysis and understand why they happen, here.

Improving your sleeping habits can hlep reduce sleep paralysis. Try to implement a regular bedtime routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time. Also, it can help to sleep in a temperate, quiet, and dark environment. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or heavy meals before bed can support the reduction of sleep paralysis, as can regular exercise.


REM sleep behaviour disorder

REM sleep disorder involves unusual behaviours or actions during the rapid eye movement stage of sleep. The root cause of this sleep disorder is still largely a mystery, but it has been associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol or drug withdrawal.


Symptoms

Someone with REM sleep behaviour disorder may exhibit the following behaviours:v

  • Screaming

  • Shouting

  • Talking

  • Lashing out physically

  • Cursing

  • Sleepwalking

  • Being able to recall dreams vividly


Treatment for REM sleep behaviour disorder is generally successful. Lifestyle changes, such as moving the bed away from windows, keeping sharp objects and furniture away from the bed, installing padded bedrails can help to manage symptoms. Medication can also prove useful.

This guide should not be taken as a substitute for a formal medical diagnosis. Always speak to a doctor if you suspect you have any of the aforementioned sleep disorders.

To learn even more about sleep health, as well as common conditions and treatments, explore our dedicated resources on sleep health.



References:

  1. nhs.uk. Insomnia. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insomnia

  2. nhs.uk. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obstructive-sleep-apnoea

  3. nhs.uk. Narcolepsy - Symptoms. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/narcolepsy/symptoms

  4. nhs.uk. Sleep Paralysis. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sleep-paralysis

  5. Mayo Clinic. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder - Symptoms and Causes. Available online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rem-sleep-behavior-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352920

   

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Our Author - Olivia Salter

Olivia

Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.

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