Unless you’re a robot, you are aware that sleep is a vital human function. Your body needs sleep for optimal brain function, memory and concentration, muscle recovery, immune function, hormone regulation, metabolism, and so much more.
Think about what happens to you when you’re low on sleep or spent a restless night tossing and turning. Do you have trouble concentrating the next day? Do you feel under the weather? Are you in a bad mood?
Turns out, this important bodily function doesn’t come easily to everyone. In fact, about 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders at some point in their lives. And while insomnia is most common, that’s not the only culprit — there are about 80 known sleep disorders! (source)
Types of Sleep Disorders
The four most common sleep disorders are:
- Sleep Apnea
- Restless Leg Syndrome
Insomnia is characterized as having poor sleep quality: either difficulty falling asleep at night or difficulty staying asleep (i.e., waking up and not being able to fall back asleep). Insomnia affects about 50% of adults at some point, either acutely (occasionally), or chronically. Acute insomnia can last anywhere from one night to a few weeks, whereas chronic insomnia affects a person at least three nights a week for over a month. (source)
Women and older adults are more likely to suffer from insomnia. (source)
2. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea causes a person to stop breathing during sleep. There are two types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea and affects about 20 million Americans. It is caused by a blockage in the airway, usually a collapse of the soft tissue at the back of the throat. A partial blockage results in snoring, while a full blockage will cause the person to stop breathing. The person usually gasps or chokes as they begin breathing again, but only remembers waking up several times during the night.
Central sleep apnea (CSA) is far less common and is a result of the brain failing to tell the body to breathe during sleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that afflicts about 10% of adults and 2% of children to some degree. It’s characterized by an intense, irresistible urge to move the legs, especially at nighttime. A person with RLS reports feeling sensations of “creeping, pulling, aching, itching, burning, and throbbing and the only relief is temporary movement or massaging of the legs”. (source)
RLS is considered a sleep disorder because it often prevents people from falling or staying asleep.
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder where the brain cannot properly regulate its sleep-wake cycle, causing a person to fall asleep spontaneously and uncontrollably throughout the day. It can also cause hallucinations, a condition called “sleep paralysis” and, ironically, insomnia.
What causes sleep disorders?
It really depends on the individual*, but contributing factors for sleep disorders may include genetics, chemical imbalance, depression, anxiety, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), stress/worry, excitement, new baby, pain, unsupportive bed, temperature, noise, light, being overweight, caffeine, drugs/alcohol, poor diet, menopause, dental issues, and sinus issues. And some sleep disorders are idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown.
*If you think you may have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Regardless of the cause, sleep disorders result in sleep deprivation, which can have very unpleasant effects in one’s daily life.
- poor concentration
- poor memory
- mood changes
- slower reaction time (just like being legally intoxicated)
- a compromised immune system
Treatment Options for Sleep Disorders
Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer the consequences of sleep deprivation forever. With the proper diagnosis and treatment, you can once again enjoy a restful night’s sleep. See your doctor if you think you have a sleep disorder. It is important that your problem is properly diagnosed so that your treatment plan can be customized to meet your needs.
Here are some effective ways to treat sleep disorders:
CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia)
“Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is a structured program that helps you identify and replace thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen sleep problems with habits that promote sound sleep. Unlike sleeping pills, CBT-I helps you overcome the underlying causes of your sleep problems.” (source)
Your sleep therapist will conduct an evaluation of your lifestyle and habits that may be affecting your ability to fall or stay asleep, and create a therapy plan that includes relapse prevention and may incorporate some of these techniques:
Stimulus control therapy. This method helps remove factors that condition the mind to resist sleep. For example, you might be coached to set a consistent bedtime and wake time and avoid naps, use the bed only for sleep and sex, and leave the bedroom if you can’t go to sleep within 20 minutes, only returning when you’re sleepy.
Sleep restriction. Lying in bed when you’re awake can become a habit that leads to poor sleep. This treatment decreases the time you spend in bed, causing partial sleep deprivation, which makes you more tired the next night. Once your sleep has improved, your time in bed is gradually increased.
Sleep hygiene. This method of therapy involves changing basic lifestyle habits that influence sleep, such as smoking or drinking too much caffeine late in the day, drinking too much alcohol, or not getting regular exercise. It also includes tips to help you sleep better, such as ways to wind down an hour or two before bedtime.
Sleep environment improvement. This offers ways that you can create a comfortable sleep environment, such as keeping your bedroom quiet, dark and cool, not having a TV in the bedroom, and hiding the clock from view.
Relaxation training. This method helps you calm your mind and body. Approaches include meditation, imagery, muscle relaxation and others.
Remaining passively awake. Also called paradoxical intention, this involves avoiding any effort to fall asleep. Paradoxically, worrying that you can’t sleep can actually keep you awake. Letting go of this worry can help you relax and make it easier to fall asleep.
Biofeedback. This method allows you to observe biological signs such as heart rate and muscle tension and shows you how to adjust them.
(source: Mayo Clinic)
Homeopathy is based on the healing principle that “like cures like”. Diseases and conditions are treated with minute doses of natural substances that in a healthy person, would produce symptoms of the disease. With homeopathy, you select remedies based upon the individual’s symptoms. For that reason, some research is necessary.
To learn about some of the homeopathic remedies used to treat sleep disorders, click here and here. Be sure to consult with a professional homeopath or research the symptoms addressed by each homeopathic remedy before selecting what’s right for you.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of medicine originating in China that uses needles to prick the skin or tissues of the body. It is used to alleviate pain and to treat nearly any physical, mental, or emotional condition under the sun.
Some studies have shown that acupuncture increases nighttime melatonin production and total sleep time, as well as improves sleep quality. It is also known to relieve pain, which can be a cause of sleeplessness. (source)
It might surprise you, but your dentist may be able to help you with some of your sleep issues. Snorers, sufferers of TMJ, clenchers, and sleep apnea patients, among others, have been helped by oral appliances and other innovative dental techniques. (source)
According to the Gelb Center, anatomical structures that can contribute to sleep disorders include:
- Soft palate
- Upper jaw
- Lower jaw
- Deviated septum
- Nasal polyps
- Clenching muscles
According to Merriam-Webster, Chiropractic care is:
“a system of complementary medicine based on the diagnosis and manipulative treatment of misalignments of the joints, especially those of the spinal column, which are held to cause other disorders by affecting the nerves, muscles, and organs.”
According to The Joint Chiropractic, when your body’s circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces more cortisol (the stress hormone). When cortisol levels are high for a period of time, bone density and muscle mass are reduced, resulting in weakness, poor health, and back pain.
“Chiropractic care and wellness adjustments will help you to relax. It also improves the blood flow in the nervous system and corrects any misalignments, or subluxations, in the spine. These subluxations compress the nerves and cause lack of communication between the spine and the brain. These subluxations lead to a process called stress response which puts the body out of balance and does not let the body rest. A well-trained chiropractor will adjust these subluxations with safe and careful techniques to get your body to function normally.”
Be sure to seek out experienced professionals who specialize in sleep disorders, and be aware that a holistic approach is best. You may need to incorporate several of these therapies, as well as lifestyle changes, in order to secure lasting results.