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Do you often wake up after a full night’s sleep, and still feel tired? Do you lie awake in bed, for a long time, before you fall asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath, feeling disoriented? Does your spouse grumble about your snoring? If you said “Yes” to any of the questions above, then you are probably suffering from a sleep disorder. But how much sleep do we really need?

Typically, an adult needs anywhere between 6 to 10 hours of sleep a day, while children need 10 to 15 hours, depending on their age. Our body repairs itself during sleep. This repair process gets disrupted due to lack of adequate sleep, leading to health problems. Identifying a sleep disorder and making necessary amendments in lifestyle or treating them is often underestimated, but absolutely imperative.

 

What are sleep disorders?

Sleep disorders are conditions that affect the duration and/or the quality of sleep. A person having a sleep disorder, either takes a long time to fall asleep, or keeps waking up through the night, resulting in poor quality of sleep. This interferes with the normal functioning of his body.

Types of sleep disorders:

1) Insomnia

One of the commonest sleep disorders, insomnia makes it difficult to fall asleep or makes you wake up too early or too often. This can be acute, lasting for a short period, or chronic, and may go on for years.

Insomnia can be of two types:

Primary: The lack of sleep has no direct relation to any other health problems.

Secondary: in this case, the sleep problems are caused by either a health condition that the patient is suffering from, such as pain, depression, heartburn or reflux, asthma, arthritis, cancer. Substance abuse, especially alcohol and medicines that hamper sleep can also cause secondary insomnia.

Treatment of insomnia:

The underlying health condition that interferes with sleep must be treated. Speak to your doctor to find out if your medication is causing insomnia. Learn to deal with stressful situations through counselling and therapy.  Consult your physician to find out if you need medicines to help you sleep.

Lifestyle changes to fight insomnia:

Sleep in a quiet, dark room. Try eye masks, white noise and earplugs to block out light and sounds. Try and sleep at a fixed time. Avoid using devices and gadgets before bedtime. The light from screens prevents sleep. Avoid heavy exercise about 3 to 4 hours before bedtime. But, regular exercise helps sleep better. Don’t eat a heavy meal at least 1 hour before lying down. Avoid stimulants like nicotine and caffeine 2-4 hours prior to your sleep time. Don’t get your work to bed. Follow a soothing bed-time routine like a warm bath, a glass of warm milk and some soothing music, to help you sleep better.

 

2) Sleep apnea

Another sleep disorder is sleep apnea, in which the patient suddenly stops breathing for 2-3 seconds and starts again, with a jerk or a snort, which may bring him out of deep sleep. It can lead to life threatening conditions like stroke, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Due to poor quality of sleep, one may even fall asleep while driving, leading to accidents.

Causes of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea –The airway gets partially or completely blocked during sleep, due to which the person stops breathing and restarts with a jerk. It usually occurs in obese people, or people with a thick neck. Those with enlarged tonsils, or a large tongue, are also at risk. Sleep apnea is also associated with snoring, smoking, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.
  • Central sleep apnea – A part of the brain that controls breathing, fails to tell the respiratory muscles to move. This may happen due to injury to the brainstem, or a stroke, or a neurological condition like Parkinson’s disease, or due to thyroid and renal conditions.

 

Treatment of sleep apnea:

You will have to undergo a sleep study, at a sleep lab to monitor vital statistics like air flow, blood oxygen levels, etc. Thereafter, weight loss is advised where needed. Treatment of the underlying health problem is the most important step. Nasal sprays and medication for sinusitis, and tonsillitis, might be used.

In case of obstructive sleep apnea, the CPAP machine is used. It pushes air into your airway, and maintains a positive air pressure to prevent the airway from collapsing.

  • Lying on the side helps to keep the airway free.
  • Avoid sleeping pills and alcohol.
  • Parasomnias: These are disruptive conditions that occur during partial arousal from sleep. For example, nightmares, night terrors, sleep walking.

 

3) Narcolepsy

This is a neurological sleeping disorder, where a person suffers from uncontrolled episodes of falling asleep suddenly in the day, and excessive sleepiness during daytime (EDS). The patient instantly goes into a state of deep sleep, called Rapid eye movement sleep (REM), characterized by muscle paralysis and dreams. The cause of narcolepsy has still not been confirmed.

 

Treatment of Narcolepsy:

There is no cure for narcolepsy, although some of the symptoms can be managed. EDS is treated with stimulant drugs. Symptoms of REM sleep are treated with antidepressant drugs. There is a new drug called Xyrem that helps patients sleep better at night, thereby reducing sleepiness during the day. Avoid heavy meals and stimulants in the later part of the day. Cultivate a fixed bedtime routine, to promote better sleep.

Have you tried any of the above treatments and tips for your sleep disorder? Do share your experience with us, and help our readers deal with sleep disorders.

 

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

About the Author

Dr. Rachita Narsaria

Dr. Rachita Narsaria

Poet, bookworm, tech-worm, nature lover, entrepreneur