Sleep disorders not only affect the quality of your life, health and relationships, but can actually be dangerous to yourself and others. Chronic sleep deprivation from sleep disorders can lead to changes in motor skills, coordination and concentration. Falling asleep while driving, or having slower reaction times in an accident are just a few of the many serious repercussions of sleep disorders.
Having a sleep disorder goes beyond experiencing the occasional sleepless or restless night. Quality of sleep may be affected by a change in weather, time zone or career, the needs of young children, and even by environmental noises. All the various stressful life circumstances can lead to a sleepless night now and then.
Sleep disorders, however, are chronic physical conditions that seriously affect the ability to sleep well on a regular basis. These conditions may range from insomnia to sleep apnea to restless leg syndrome and others. Those who suffer from a sleep disorder may experience chronic sleepiness during the day, irritability or shortened temper, difficulty concentrating, clumsiness or a tired appearance.
If you feel you might have a sleep disorder such as insomnia, keep track of your sleep patterns over a period of time with a sleep diary, noting the times you sleep, the quality of your sleep, the number of sleep hours, foods, drinks and medications you consume, and daytime activities such as exercise. A doctor may be able to pinpoint the cause of your sleep disorder from this information and make suggestions to help you sleep better, if other sleep tips and lifestyle changes have not worked for you.
Insomnia is unfortunately a common sleep disorder where the sleeper is unable to maintain high quality, natural sleep over a period of time. They may have difficulty falling asleep, sleep restlessly, or find that they frequently wake up and are unable to fall back asleep quickly. They awaken feeling groggy rather than refreshed and ready to start the day. This inability to sleep may be due to a lifestyle habit or environmental issue, or it may be related to a deeper physical condition. Fortunately, there are many solutions available to help those who suffer from insomnia, from relaxation techniques to lifestyle or dietary changes to sleep aids such as earplugs.
Another troublesome and serious sleep disorder is sleep apnea, where breathing may stop for 10 or 20 seconds often multiple times per hour. The sleeper wakens slightly to breathe, which disrupts sleep. They may also gasp for air or snore loudly. Often those with sleep apnea are unaware they have the problem, unless another person notices it. Those with sleep apnea also typically awaken feeling unrefreshed after a night's sleep and are sleepy throughout the day. Sleep apnea may be relieved by weight loss, a side-sleeping position, raising the head of the bed, or appliances that keep the airway open.
Restless legs syndrome is another common type of sleep disorder, where upon lying down, a person feels discomfort in the legs or arms leading to an irresistible and often uncontrollable desire to move them, which inhibits sleep (especially vital REM sleep). The movement relieves the discomfort momentarily, only for the feelings to return again. Restless leg syndrome may be related to other physical issues and may even be genetic. Many lifestyle suggestions and alternative therapies have been successful for those with this condition.
Quality sleep is vital not only to our health, according to sleep science, but to so many facets of our lives. Having a sleepless night every once in a while is uncomfortable, but when that continues on for days or weeks or longer, sleep disorders may be behind it. Pay attention to your sleep patterns, and if a sleep disorder is suspected, look into professional help. Fortunately, help is available, and many of those with sleep disorders have found relief and feel they have a new lease on life.