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Understanding sleep disorders

Understanding sleep disorders

If you find it difficult to concentrate, usually fall asleep while watching television or sitting still, or have trouble controlling your emotions, you could have a sleep disorder. We give you the low down on various sleep disorders.

1.    Insomnia

The inability to get the amount of sleep you need to wake up feeling rested and refreshed is the most common sleep complaint. Insomnia is often a symptom of another problem, i.e. stress, anxiety, depression, or an underlying health condition. It can also be caused by lifestyle choices, including the medications you take, lack of exercise, jet lag, or even the amount of coffee you drink. Whatever the cause of your insomnia, being mindful of your sleep habits and learning to relax will help you sleep better and feel better.

2.    Circadian Rhythm

We all have an internal biological clock that regulates our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, also known as our circadian rhythms. Light is the primary influence of circadian rhythms – when the sun comes up in the morning, the brain tells the body that it’s time to wake up. At night, when there is less light, your brain triggers the release of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. When your circadian rhythms are disrupted or thrown out later, you may feel groggy, disoriented, or sleepy at inconvenient times. Circadian rhythms have been linked to a variety of causes, which include jet lag and shift work.

3.    Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a brain disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness. There is sometimes a genetic component, but most patients have no family history of the problem. Though dramatic and uncontrolled “sleep attacks” are the best-known characteristic of narcolepsy, many experience constant sleepiness throughout the day.

4.    Restless Legs Syndrome

People who have restless legs syndrome experience discomfort in the legs and feet during the night. They feel an urge to move their legs and feet to get temporary relief, often with excessive, rhythmic, or cyclic leg movements during sleep. This can delay sleep onset and cause brief awakening during sleep. Restless legs syndrome is a common problem among middle-aged and older adults.

5.    Snoring & Sleep Apnea

When you fall asleep the muscles in your body relax. If muscles in the throat relax too much, your breathing may be blocked, which causes you to snore. Sometimes, snoring is caused by allergies, asthma or nasal deformities that make it difficult to breathe.

Apnea means ‘no airflow’. Disruptive sleep apnea can affect people of any age, weight or gender. Most people with sleep apnea have a smaller than normal inner throat or other subtle bone and soft tissue differences. Drinking alcohol can make disruptive sleep apnea worse because it relaxes muscles that maintain an open airway.

A rare form of sleep apnea called central sleep apnea occurs when signals from the brain to your muscles decrease or stop for a short time, which does not cause snoring.

6.    Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is a disorder that causes people to get up and walk while they’re asleep. It usually happens when a person is going from the deep stage to a lighter stage or into the ‘awake’ state. The sleepwalker can’t respond during this time and usually doesn’t remember it. In some cases, he/she may talk and not make sense. This usually occurs when you are over tired, have been drinking, when you are stressed out or when you have a chaotic sleep schedule. Avoid trying to wake someone when they are sleepwalking, as this may just cause them to ‘freak out’.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are available to help you sleep better. Practise responsible self-medication by consulting your pharmacist before purchasing medicines to aid your sleep disorder. For more information on OTC medicines, read the SMASA fact sheet Drowsiness and OTC Medicines.

FOOTNOTE: Natural Solutions To Sleep Disorders

Try these natural sleep disorder remedies:

– Wild lettuce is a natural muscle relaxer – perfect for restless legs syndrome. Try taking a supplement (30-120mg) before bed for a deeper sleep.

– Lavender has been proven to aid sleep – put some lavender sprigs in your pillowcase or add a few drops of oil to your bath and you’ll have the peaceful sleep you need.

– Green tea not only maintains a calm alertness during the day, but also a deeper sleep at night.

– Sipping on warm milk or almond milk before bed will easily calm your body. Milk is a great source of calcium, which helps the brain to make melatonin.

– Limit your screen time (use of your cellphone or watching television) at least a hour before going to bed. This will give your brain time to unwind, allowing your body to fully relax.