Suspect you’re not getting good sleep? You’re probably right. Many signs and symptoms of poor sleep – and even serious sleep disorders – are often brushed off with excuses: I’m stressed, I had too much coffee, my pets wake me up, I ate something spicy…. Sound familiar? We all have bad nights, but frequent or consistent “bad nights” mean something more is in play, and it’s time to get it checked out!
Not all sleep disorders are created equal, though many share some of the same symptoms. They do not, however, share the same treatments. But treatment can vastly improve your sleep and your quality of life. That’s why it’s very important to get diagnosed – with the right diagnosis – if you notice sleep disturbances. Wondering where to start? You’ve come to the right place.
What does well-rested really look like?
What is good sleep? It seems to be a societal mystery. Less than half of Americans wake up feeling extremely or very well-rested.1 But many people don’t know what proper sleep really means. How can you tell if you’re getting good sleep? What does sleep deprivation do to your health and general well-being?
Good sleep means:2
- Little to no waking during the night
- Sleeping for 85%+ of the total time spent in bed
- Falling asleep in under 30 minutes
- Being awake in the night for no more than 20 minutes
Though “good” sleep can be subjective, a person experiencing consistent quality sleep likely:
- Does not regularly wake more than once per night
- Feels alert and present throughout the day
- Has an easier time maintaining their weight
- Craves fewer quick “perk-me-up” foods like carbs and sugars
- Does not “need” multiple caffeinated beverages per day
- Can remember the last time they had a dream
To sum it up, good sleep ties directly to good health. If you have a sleep disorder and find the right treatment, you’ll likely see improvements in your mood, diet, weight, skin, and cognitive function. Also, if you share a bed with a partner, having fewer sleep disruptions improves their sleep, too. How do you know if you have disordered sleep? Glad you asked.
“I’m irritable and I’m constantly tired… I couldn’t remember the last time I had a dream.”
What are the different types of sleep disorders? What are the symptoms of sleep disorders?
Though over 70 exist,3 here are some of the top sleep disorders and their symptoms.
1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Your body is pretty good at making sure you make it through the night – that you’re breathing and breathing right. That’s why when you have sleep apnea, your body is constantly waking you up due to the disrupted breathing events that happen with this disorder.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which the muscles in the throat relax to the point of collapse, restricting airflow. This causes breathing to become shallow and even stop for seconds or minutes at a time, depriving the body and brain of oxygen. The lack of deep sleep can cause significant fatigue and elevate the risk for serious health problems. Most people with sleep apnea are unaware they have it. The most common treatment to regulate breathing is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device.
There are several types of sleep apnea, though obstructive is most common:
- Obstructive: collapse of the soft tissue at the back of the throat
- Central: the brain fails to send a signal to the muscles to breathe
- Complex: a combination of these two types of apneas
Some symptoms of sleep apnea:
- Gasping for air or choking
- Waking frequently
- Waking with dry mouth or headaches
- Daytime tiredness
- Weight gain
- Loss of focus
Dangers of sleep apnea:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk for stroke, diabetes and obesity
- Decreased quality of life
- Memory problems
- Increased risk of car accidents
What to do if you think you have sleep apnea? Find out if this is what’s keeping you up at night with a sleep test. We have helpful resources about what is a sleep test, how to set up a sleep test, and what to expect. It’s also important that you find a sleep medicine specialist to talk through treatment and options.
Related Article: How do I find out if I have sleep apnea?
2. Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)
Similar to sleep apnea, UARS can often be mistaken for it. Sometimes CPAP is even prescribed. If harmless (only noisemaking) snoring is on one end of the sleep disordered breathing spectrum, and sleep apnea on the other, UARS is somewhere in the middle. The main difference between the two is that while breathing quality is diminished, UARS does not (or rarely does) cause apneas, or, pauses in breathing. It can, however, lead to sleep apnea.
Some symptoms of UARS:
- Waking frequently
- Difficulty going to sleep/staying asleep
- Chronic insomnia
- Excessive daytime tiredness
A sleep study may be necessary for diagnosis and to find the right level of treatment, which could include CPAP therapy.
3. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
PLMD is when the limbs involuntarily move repeatedly throughout the night, which can lead to frequent awakenings, non-restorative sleep, and daytime fatigue. It’s often associated with restless leg syndrome, which occurs during waking hours.
This disorder often runs in families, though it’s relatively rare. It presents as a serious urge to sleep, often without warning or ability to resist. Diagnosis and treatment involve working closely with a sleep medicine professional.
5. Other sleep disorders
REM sleep behavior disorder, insomnia, and circadian rhythm disorder are other examples of sleep disturbances that have medical symptoms and treatments. These disorders include symptoms like abnormal activity during sleep, inability to initiate sleep, and sleep phase delays similar to jet lag.
With all sleep disorders, correct diagnosis is key to getting the right treatment. The best thing to do if you exhibit symptoms and suspect you’re not sleeping properly is to schedule a sleep test and work with a sleep medicine specialist. The positive impact treatment has on sleep can make all the difference in your life.
“Insist on success and don’t live with a sleep disorder for 30 years… There’s lots of hope. You just have to ask the right person and be persistent.”
How do the side effects impact your life?
It’s not just your physical health that suffers the consequences of a disorder like sleep apnea. Yes, increased chance of heart disease and diabetes is serious, but so are the less obvious impacts. Lack of quality sleep can creep into every corner – from your emotional state to the health of your relationships. Here are just a few of the ways:4
- Lower alertness and ability to think complexly
- Impaired judgment
- Impaired memory
- Higher irritability and stress
- Depression and anxiety
These things affect the quality of your work and ability to succeed at your job, how well you drive your car, your day-to-day emotions, and, inevitably, the quality of your relationships. When it comes to a happy life, sleep matters.
How to combat stigma, stop ignoring symptoms, and get honest about your health
Does any of this sound familiar? There’s no shame in the disordered sleep game. And, if you have a sleep disorder, you’re definitely not alone. Current estimates suggest 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, and many more are undiagnosed.5
Though lifestyle changes like diet and exercise can help with an array of health issues, they’re not a cure to serious sleep issues. You should never feel like a health condition is your fault or that you don’t deserve the best possible treatment. It’s not helpful to ignore the symptoms and possibly get worse, and facing the issue head-on is the best gift you can give. yourself.
Some helpful things to consider when confronting the possibility that you may have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea:
- Trust your body and your symptoms – if you don’t feel well rested, you aren’t
- Not all people with sleep apnea snore, but cut your partner a break if you do and get treated!
- Tell yourself how good it will feel to get real quality sleep
- Find a sleep specialist you like and trust
- Learn the right questions to ask and how to be your own best advocate. We can help.
Like many people, you may not realize just how little sleep you’re really getting. Or that the sleep you do get is poor quality. People who sleep well don’t feel tired throughout the day and are generally healthier than those who do not. You will be amazed what good sleep through proper treatment will do. Give it a try!
This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.