by Dr. Frank Shallenberger
Almost everyone has experienced trouble sleeping at some time or another. Difficulty sleeping is normal and is typically only a temporary problem, which is often due to stress or another outside factor. If you have problems sleeping on a regular basis and the lack of sleep is interfering with your daily activities, you may have a more serious sleeping problem or a sleeping disorder. Sleeping disorders have other symptoms outside of simply sleepiness and they can have a negative impact on your overall well-being, emotional balance and energy. The following are a few of the most common sleeping disorders and how they can be resolved.
Insomnia is the most common type of sleep disorder. Insomnia prohibits you from getting the amount of sleep that your body needs to wake up feeling refreshed and rested. In most situations, insomnia is a symptom of one or more other problems such as depression, stress, anxiety or a health condition. Insomnia can also be the result of your lifestyle choices such as a lack of exercise, jet lag, excessive consumption of caffeine and/or certain medications. Some common symptoms of insomnia may include:
- Frequently waking up during the night
- Trouble falling asleep and/or difficulty getting back to sleep when you wake during the night
- You have to take something that allows you to get to sleep (sleeping pills)
- Low energy levels and sleepiness during the day
- When you do sleep it feels fragmented, light and/or exhausting
Insomnia can take a toll on your mood, the ability to function in daily activities and energy. Fortunately, there are changes you can make that will help you get a good night’s sleep. For most people, simple changes in lifestyle are the most effective. Taking a natural supplement that works with your body’s own natural rhythm is enough to avoid having to take over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills.
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
Everyone has an internal biological clock to regulate the 24-hour sleep and wake cycle, which is known as the circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are primarily cued by light, so in the morning when the sun rises, your brain tells your body it is time to wake-up; when there is less light at night, the brain begins to trigger the release of melatonin, a hormone in your body that makes you sleepy. When the circadian rhythms get thrown off or disrupted, you may begin to feel sleepy, disoriented or groggy at inappropriate times. Many sleeping disorders and sleeping problems are associated with disrupted circadian rhythms such as seasonal affective disorder, jet lag, insomnia and shift work. If you have a circadian rhythm disorder, there are several beneficial treatments you can try such as keeping the room dark and quiet while you are sleeping and well-lit when you are awake. It is also best to avoid exposure to bright light during the evening and to maintain a routine for eating and activity hours. You should make all attempts to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, avoid napping and try to avoid sleep deprivation, stress and fatigue.
Shift Work Sleeping Disorder
Shift work sleeping disorder may occur if your biological clock and work schedule are disrupted or are out of sync. It is common for workers to have a midnight shift, early morning shift or a rotating shift, but these schedules may be forcing your body to work when your brain is signaling sleep time, and vice versa. Many people rapidly adjust to the demands of shift work, while others get significantly less quality sleep. When workers are struggling with shift work sleeping problems, it causes sleepiness and mental lethargy while at work, which can put you at the risk of injury and decrease your productivity. To reduce the impact of shift work on your sleeping patterns, regulate your wake and sleep cycle by limiting your exposure to light when it is time to sleep and increasing exposure to light while at work, use blackout curtains during the daytime when you sleep to block out the sun, and consider taking a natural supplement such as melatonin when it is time to go to sleep.
The first step to finding a solution for your sleeping problems is identifying what the problem is. While many sleep disorders may require a visit to your physician or CBT sessions with a psychologist, you can address many sleeping problems on your own. A consistent sleep routine, changes in lifestyle, natural sleep supplements and keeping a sleep diary are all beneficial for monitoring your sleeping patterns. For example, keep a sleep journal to record when you went to bed, when you woke up, how many hours of quality sleep you had, the food and beverages you consumed before bedtime and when you exercised. The journal will help you identify what may be preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.
When it comes to supplements that aid in sleep disorders, many believe in melatonin or valerian as natural ways to get a good night’s sleep. But the latest research casts doubts on the ability of these nutrients alone to do the job. Reading Beyond Melatonin and Valarian here sheds new perspective on this wide spread problem, and what to do to get that restful, deep sleep we all need.
Image Credit: Jöshua Barnett