by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 7th August, 2019
As the name might suggest, a sleep disorder is any problem that affects your sleep, meaning you sleep abnormally in some way.
This could be anything from not being able to get enough sleep, to never getting the quality of sleep you need, feeling tired all the time, sleeping to much or waking up a lot in your sleep.
Sleep disorders can range from being very minor, such as finding a little difficult to drop off, to almost unbearable, such as not sleeping for days on end.
The human body needs sleep to survive, it's one of the most overlooked but key components of our health and wellbeing. Unfortunately though, for many people, our society doesn't create a good environment for healthy sleep. This has resulted in many people finding themselves with sleep disorders, or on the verge of having one.
Not everyone realises straight away that they have a sleep disorder, sometimes the symptoms can pass you by, especially if you lead a busy or particularly stressful lifestyle. For many people, waking up feeling tired in the morning is normal, and simply requires a cup of coffee to fix.
Some of the most common signs of a sleep disorder are:
Insomnia is one of the most common and well-known sleep disorders. Insomnia can come in a variety of forms but it will always mean that the sufferer finds it difficult to fall or stay asleep.
People with insomnia often find that no matter how tired they are, trying to fall asleep feels impossible, and even when they can, they end up waking up feeling refreshed and exhausted after only a few hours. You may fall asleep, only to wake up two hours later and not be able to sleep for another four hours.
This makes insomnia a very destructive and sometimes quite dangerous disorder. Going without sleep not only drastically effects out mental and physical well-being, but can affect our performance at work and throughout the day, making driving or other high-pressure tasks much more dangerous.
Sleep apnea is another more common sleep disorder, characterised by periods of difficulty breathing during sleep. This could come as breathlessness, pauses in breathing, gasping or choking and if left untreated, can be fatal.
Many people go undiagnosed for years, since the main warning signs are snoring and gagging or gasping during sleep, which are usually noticed by a partner. It can be caused by high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, but can be treated.
Restless leg syndrome is a common problem that many people don't even realise is a problem. As the name suggests, RLS is the powerful urge to shake or fidget one or more of your legs, that often is uncontrollable during sleep.
It can be a sign of diabetes, low iron levels, arthritis or even kidney failure.
Sugar is a natural excitant, whilst also being slightly addictive, which makes it a nightmare for anyone struggling to sleep. Consuming high amounts of sugar in the afternoon and evenings, particularly processed sugar, can lead to difficulty falling / staying asleep.
If you find that you consume a lot of cereal, desserts, fruit juices or fizzy drinks in the evenings, try cutting them out and seeing the effect it has on your sleep.
For many suffering from insomnia, anxiety or other sleep disorders a "nightcap" has traditionally been recommended to aid the process of falling asleep. Alcohol has traditionally been a sleeplessness remedy for hundreds of years.
However, recent scientific developments have found that although alcohol might make you drowsy, it does very little to help you sleep.
Studies have shown that alcohol insomnia reduces the amount of REM sleep you get, meaning that you'll likely wake up feeling less rested and your brain won't have had the time it needs to do it's work.
Over time this can have a significant knock on effect on your life and make any sleep disorders you have worse.
There are many different supplements that have been touted to help improve sleep. Most well known of these is Melatonin (not to be confused with melanin).
Melatonin is actually not a herb, but a hormone produced naturally by our bodies that helps to tell the brain when we should be awake and when we should be asleep.
A lack of melatonin can therefore lead to dysregulated sleep and insomnia. Luckily you can buy over the counter melatonin pills to take before bed that can help get your brain back into it's usual sleep cycle.
Creating an environment you want to sleep should be a key part of your pre-sleep routine. Although it may not be obvious at first, a messy environment can actually put a lot of unconscious stress on your brain, leading to anxiety and restlessness.
Many people find is harder to sleep in messy rooms, with lights on, or with lots of noises / distractions. Creating a nice, relaxing environment to sleep in is key, with no reminders of work that needs to be done or chores to do.
Clear up your sleeping area, remove all distractions (this includes electronic devices) and create some ambient lighting. Put away clothes, light some candles and make the bed (even if you're just going to jump into it 5 minutes later... it all counts).
Ideally, you want to be in an environment that's as relaxing and comfortable as possible. This could mean investing in some ambient lighting, getting a diffuser, playing relaxing music or lighting a few candles. Whatever floats your boat and relaxes you.
Meditation can be an incredibly useful tool for anyone suffering from a sleep disorder. Studies have shown that it can help to reduce anxiety and even promote a better quality of sleep, meaning that you'll likely find it easier to fall asleep and sleep better when you do.