The inability to fall asleep at night can be a frustrating problem for many people. Everyone has experienced problems of sleeping at some time in their life; you lie awake at night, toss and turn and by morning, you feel exhausted.
Acute episodes of insomnia are common, but when it becomes chronic, it can have a negative impact on your quality of life.
The National Commission on Sleep Disordersadvises that over 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems and 20 to 30 million people experience occasional insomnia.
Chronic problems associated with falling asleep are often caused due to sleep disorders and can result in the following health issues:
- Lack of energy
- Mood problems
- Poor health
- Impaired job performance
- Relationship problems
Signs and Symptoms
It’s evident that your body needs sleep to function properly. If you are routinely experiencing the following symptoms, you may have an underlying sleep condition:
- Fatigued/tired throughout the day
- Slow to react
- Fall asleep quickly throughout the day
- Problems with concentrating
- Require caffeine throughout the day to stay awake
- Take sleeping pills frequently to fall asleep
- Waking up throughout the night
Doctors will inquire about the aforementioned issues prior to making any potential sleep disorder diagnosis. An accurate diagnosis will help the physician better treat your insomnia problem.
Along with the relevant questions regarding your sleep habits and potential symptoms, doctors will frequently perform the following diagnostic tests:
During this exam, you will be evaluated overnight; measurements will be studied from your eye movements, brainwave activity, oxygen levels, muscle activity and heart rate.
Sleep Latency Exam
This test focuses on the amount of time it takes you to fall into deep sleep. The exam is usually given after a polysomnogram.
This exam utilizes a device that is strapped to your wrist. The goal of the test is to monitor your sleep-wake cycles.
Common Sleep Disorders
After all required evaluations and tests are complete, the medical staff can make a proper evaluation of your underlying problem. Before an effective treatment plan can be administered, the cause of the insomnia must be understood.
What are some of the potential problems?
Many occupations require employees to work rotating night, morning and afternoon shifts. This schedule can cause issues with your body’s circadian rhythm.
Your body is trying to tell you to get to sleep when you’re at work and conversely telling you to stay awake when you’re trying to sleep. This unfortunate circumstance can result in sleep deprivation.
Some occupations may require employees to travel frequently. Jet lag can occur when you travel through time zones and after long flights. The symptoms generally occur within a day or two after the trip.
Similar to shift work, jet lag is also a circadian rhythm disorder. Symptoms of jet lag include: fatigue, insomnia, headache and stomach problems.
This disorder is caused by temporary breathing problems during sleep. People who suffer from this issue have momentary pauses in breathing throughout the night, which cause them to wake up.
This can be a serious disorder and needs to be monitored by a doctor. This health problem is usually treated with a mask like device, known as a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP). This piece of equipment provides oxygen to you as you sleep.
Typical symptoms of sleep apnea include: heavy snoring, choking during sleep and gasping for air.
This disorder is caused by a malfunction of the part of the brain that regulates sleep- wake patterns. It often results in excessive sleepiness during the day that is difficult to control.
In severe cases, people with narcolepsy fall asleep during work, driving, or even in the middle of a conversation.
Common symptoms of narcolepsy include: suddenly feeling weak, loss of muscle control, and feeling unable to move upon waking, and frequently dozing off.
Delayed Sleep Disorder
This is most frequently seen in teens. This disorder causes sufferers difficulty sleeping during standard hours. It is caused when your normal 24-hour cycle of sleep is delayed. For example, you may not feel tired until early morning; you fall asleep at three AM and don’t wake up until noon.
People who suffer from this disorder have constant problems with their biological clocks being off. It frequently results in abnormal sleep hours.
Treatment Options for Sleep Disorders
According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment options for insomnia will depend on the underlying disorder. Treatment typically includes lifestyle changes, medications, and patient education. It may also include the following options:
Special Sleep Equipment
Airway devices that provide oxygen are often prescribed for people with sleep apnea.
Counseling can assist people who suffer from insomnia due to stress or other emotional conditions.
Sometimes patients are encouraged to adopt healthy lifestyle patterns such as diet, exercise, meditation, and reducing the amount of caffeine they consume.
There are natural alternatives to sedatives and sleeping pills for curing sleep disorders. Melatonin is one such example. This naturally occurring compound does not cause sleepiness, but can sometimes assist with circadian rhythm disorders.