Sleep disorders are changes in sleeping patterns or habits. Signs and symptoms of sleep disorders include excessive daytime sleepiness, irregular breathing or increased movement during sleep, difficulty sleeping, and abnormal sleep behaviors. A sleep disorder can affect your overall health, safety and quality of life. With accurate diagnosis, doctors can treat most sleep disorders effectively.
Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint. It occurs when you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep even though you had the opportunity to get a full night of sleep. The causes, symptoms and severity of insomnia vary from person to person. Insomnia may include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep throughout the night
- Waking up too early in the morning
Insomnia involves both a sleep disturbance and daytime symptoms. The effects of insomnia can impact nearly every aspect of your life. Studies show that insomnia negatively affects work performance, impairs decision-making and can damage relationships. In most cases, people with insomnia report a worse overall quality of life.
As many as 30 to 35 percent of adults complain of insomnia. Everyone has the occasional night of poor sleep. In many cases this is due to staying up too late or waking up too early. This does not mean you have insomnia, it means you didn’t get enough sleep.
As many as 30 to 35 percent of adults complain of insomnia. It is more common in groups such as older adults, women, people under stress and people with certain medical and mental health problems such as depression.
There are two types of insomnia based on the regularity and duration of the sleep disturbance and daytime symptoms:
- Short-term insomnia: This type of brief insomnia lasts for up to three months. It occurs in 15 to 20 percent of people.
- Chronic insomnia: This type of insomnia occurs at least three times per week and lasts for at least three months. About 10 percent of people have chronic insomnia.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. The airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, you may snore loudly or making choking noises as you try to breathe. Your brain and body becomes oxygen deprived and you may wake up. This may happen a few times a night, or in more severe cases, several hundred times a night.
In many cases, an apnea, or temporary pause in breathing, is caused by the tissue in the back of the throat collapsing. The muscles of the upper airway relax when you fall asleep. If you sleep on your back, gravity can cause the tongue to fall back. This narrows the airway, which reduces the amount of air that can reach your lungs. The narrowed airway causes snoring by making the tissue in back of the throat vibrate as you breathe.
Sleep apnea can make you wake up in the morning feeling tired or unrefreshed even though you have had a full night of sleep. During the day, you may feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating or you may even unintentionally fall asleep. This is because your body is waking up numerous times throughout the night, even though you might not be conscious of each awakening.
The lack of oxygen your body receives can have negative long-term consequences for your health. This includes:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Pre-diabetes and diabetes
There are many people with sleep apnea who have not been diagnosed or received treatment. A sleep medicine physician can diagnose obstructive sleep apnea using an in-lab sleep study or a home sleep apnea test. Sleep apnea is manageable using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, the front-line treatment for sleep apnea, oral appliance therapy or surgery.
Obstructive sleep apnea in adults is considered a sleep-related breathing disorder. Causes and symptoms differ for obstructive sleep apnea in children and central sleep apnea.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is a neurological sleep disorder that make you have an overwhelming urge to move your legs. Restless legs syndrome makes it difficult to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. The symptoms are usually worse at night. The sensation is difficult for some people to describe. You may lie down and begin to feel burning or itching inside your legs. If you move your legs or get up and walk around, these symptoms may go away. The discomfort may return when you try again to go to sleep.
In some restless legs syndrome cases, you may have trouble sitting still for long periods of time. Long car rides or airplane travel may be difficult.
Many people wait years to seek treatment because they do not view it as a serious concern. If left untreated, you may notice that your symptoms become more frequent and severe.
Restless legs syndrome may cause you to get fewer hours of sleep each night. Many people with severe cases get less than five hours of sleep per night. Milder cases do not disturb your sleep as much, though the sleep may be of poorer quality.
The accumulated sleep loss from restless legs syndrome can make you excessively sleepy during the daytime, cause you to be irritable and make concentration difficult. This may have a major impact on your professional and personal life. People with restless legs syndrome are more likely to have depression or anxiety.
Restless legs syndrome is almost always manageable through medication and a number of lifestyle changes.
Most people develop restless legs syndrome after age 45. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to develop the disorder. If you have a family member with restless legs syndrome, you are more likely to develop the symptoms before you are 45 years old. More than half of people with restless legs syndrome have a pattern of it in their family, as the risk is about three to six times greater
Shift work disorder occurs when you have difficulties adjusting to a work schedule that takes place during a time which most people sleep. When you have shift work disorder, there is a conflict between your body’s circadian rhythms and your work schedule. You may have to be at work when your body wants to sleep. Then when you have to sleep, you body expects to be awake.
People with shift work disorder may sleep up to four hours less than the average worker. Shift work disorder causes you to have trouble sleeping or be severely tired. The quality of sleep may be poor, and you may wake up feeling unrefreshed. You may feel fatigued or exhausted. This can hurt your performance at work, and can put you at risk for making a costly mistake or getting injured on the job.
Not everyone who does shift work has shift work disorder. Many people have difficulty initially adjusting to a new shift. If after several weeks you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep or you feel tired even after sleeping 7-8 hours, you may have shift work disorder.
The symptoms of shift work disorder usually last as long as you keep the shift work schedule. The sleep problems tend to go away once you begin sleeping at a normal time again. Some people may have sleep problems even after the shift work schedule ends.
Shift work disorder is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Your circadian rhythms are your body’s internal clock that signals when you are supposed to feel sleepy or alert. Your circadian rhythms operate on a roughly 24-hour schedule. Your body uses sunlight to determine how much of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin it produces. In shift work disorder, melatonin production may occur when you need to be awake and alert for your job. Exposure to sunlight may prevent you from producing melatonin when you are supposed to sleep.
There are several variations of shift work schedules that can cause difficulties. This includes:
- Early-morning shifts
- Night shifts
- Overnight shifts
- Rotating shifts
Some people have a more difficult time with certain shift work schedules. Night owls may adjust more easily to working an evening shift than morning-types. Likewise, morning larks may have an easier time with early morning shifts. Many people have difficulty adjusting to overnight or rotating shifts