Sleep is a vital, yet often overlooked component of our overall health and well-being. It is the time when our body performs the essential repairs that are critical for our immune function, heart health, memory and learning. Inadequate or disturbed sleep often leads to severe health problems and weakened immunity.
WHAT IS A SLEEP DISORDER?
Any condition that prevents us from getting a night of restful sleep is termed as a sleep disorder. It affects our overall health and increases the risk of other chronic complications like diabetes, thyroid, cardiovascular diseases, and also mental health problems.
The most common sleep-related problems include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, parasomnia, circadian disorders and narcolepsy. While there are different causes for different sleep disorders, stress and pre-existing ailments like asthma or chronic pain often seem to be the usual triggers leading to disturbance in sleep.
As of 2018, in India, insomnia was observed to be prevalent in 9% of the population and as many as 30% experienced sleeping disorders at one time or the other. A report by the Neurological Society of India revealed that at least 28% experienced trouble initiating and staying asleep.
Insomnia is a difficulty in the initiation, maintenance, duration or quality of sleep. People may experience poor concentration, decreased productivity and poorer work quality as a result of this sleep disorder. It happens to be the most common sleeping disorder around the world.
Studies have concluded that most people suffering from depression have insomnia, making it one of the symptoms used to diagnose depression. The other way around also holds true. People suffering from insomnia are more likely to develop depression making it the most common cause of insomnia.
2. SLEEP APNEA
Sleep apnea refers to the repeated disruption in breathing during sleep. It is potentially a more serious sleep disorder. Loud and chronic snoring accompanied by pauses in breathing during sleep is the major warning sign of this sleep disorder. People diagnosed with sleep apnea also often complain about daytime fatigue.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea ( OSA). It causes repeated blockage of a person’s airway while sleeping which momentarily cuts off breathing. People with a neck circumference greater than 40 cm are identified to be at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. Other risks include being overweight, having a family history and hypertension.
3. RESTLESS LEGS SYNDROME
Restless legs syndrome is an overpowering urge to move your legs. It is considered to be a sleep disorder because it usually happens while a person is resting. People having this nerve condition experience strange tingling or crawling sensations in their legs which urges them to move those limbs around for relief.
The cause of this sleep disorder can be abnormalities in the brain chemicals or in the central nervous system. Underlying conditions like iron-deficiency (Anaemia) or diabetes that causes damage to the nerves of the arms or legs can also trigger restless legs syndrome in people.
Characterized by abnormal sleep behaviors like sleepwalking, night terrors, sleep paralysis and more, parasomnia is a group of sleep disorders involving unusual movements during sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) behavior disorder in which people physically act out of their dreams is one specific type of parasomnia that is diagnosed in people and is potentially more dangerous.
While determining the exact cause of parasomnia is difficult as it might be the result of a lot of underlying disorders or certain medications, it is possible to effectively treat it. It is more common in children as their sleep-wake cycle is immature. Stress and depression are also said to trigger parasomnia. Maximizing your sleep hygiene can help minimize the occurrence of these abnormal sleep behaviors.
5. CIRCADIAN DISORDERS
Problems with the circadian rhythm which is the internal body clock can lead to a recurrent pattern of sleep disturbance. The circadian rhythm disorders make your sleep-wake cycle out of sync with your environment due to which you might find it difficult to sleep or wake up. It can cause insomnia, daytime sleepiness, reduced focus, irritability and problems in decision-making.
A proper understanding of one’s sleep habits is needed to identify the type of circadian disorder one has developed. It can be a result of frequently traveling across at least two different time zones. Irregular shift timings at work can also cause circadian disorder in working professionals.
HOW TO PREVENT COMMON SLEEP DISORDERS?
- A balanced healthy diet and regular exercise routine are key to keeping sleeping disorders at bay.
- Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is highly critical. Fix your bedtime and wake-up time for all seven days of the week to help align your body clock to the desired sleep routine. This helps the circadian system to regulate your sleep-wake cycle and have you feeling awake during the day and sleepy during the night.
- Go easy on after-dinner drinks and avoid caffeine all together post-lunch. It is the best way to avoid disturbance in sleep caused by alcohol and lack to sleep triggered by caffeine.
- Practice proper sleep hygiene to maximize the quality and quantity of sleep. It includes limiting daytime naps, avoiding excessive light exposure prior to bedtime by staying away from screens and creating a relaxing environment for sleep.
- Indulging in recommended practices like taking a hot shower prior to sleep, sipping on a hot drink that induces sleep or using music therapy to have a sound sleep can also help in improving your sleep health.
Good sleep habits are key to prevent all kinds of sleep problems. If you still feel that your sleep is being compromised and you are not able to wake up feeling your best, start by doing a self-analysis of what might be triggering it. It can be something as basic as a faulty mattress or new medication. If nothing works, it is best to consult a specialist and seek timely help.