4 Common Sleep Disorders. Plus, What to Do About It

Sleep is not optional, but avoiding sleep disorders is!

common sleep disorders

In this post, you’ll learn about common sleep disorders. 

You’ll also discover tips to improve your sleep if you experience these conditions.

Studies into sleep have one firm conclusion: sleep is not optional. 

When we don’t sleep enough, or have fragmented and disrupted sleep, that sleep loss accumulates. And it also compounds over time if we don’t do anything about it.

The result of that compounding effect is several health problems.

It’s important to understand if you’re experiencing any sleep disorders and what to do about it.

Let’s dive.

What are sleep disorders?

Sleep disorders are a collective term that refers to conditions that disrupts, prevent, or affect our sleep.

According to one research, about 70 million people in the U.S. experience at least one form of sleep disorder. 

Another estimate shows that nearly 80 percent of sleep disorders may go undetected or undiagnosed. 

What are the types of sleep disorders?

There are five broad categories of sleep disorders. 

Sleep-related breathing disorders

These are caused by breathing irregularities or cessation. It’s often as a result of a blocked upper airway or decreased respiratory effort due to medical conditions. 

Some of the disorders here include Obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and hypoventilation disorders 

Circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders 

Circadian rhythm is the body’s natural clocks. It tells us when to feel sleepy and when to feel awake. This disorder is when our sleep-wake cycles are out of sync.

Examples of these disorders include jet lag, shift work disorder, and delayed or advanced sleep phase.

Insomnia 

This is underlined by a difficulty to either fall asleep or stay asleep. It tends to affect our bodies during the day. We’ll talk more about insomnia in a moment.

Central disorders of hypersomnolence 

This disorder leads to irresistible daytime sleepiness. 

Some of the disorders here include insufficient sleep syndrome, narcolepsy, and idiopathic hypersomnolence.

Sleep-related movement disorders 

This is characterized by unusual and recurring body movements during sleep. The body movement could be a limb, teeth, or legs.

Examples of these disorders include Restless legs syndrome.

Parasomnias 

This group of disorders involves unusual behaviors that is due to events stemming from sleep.

Examples include sleep paralysis, sleepwalking, and other rapid-eye-movement sleep behavior disorder.

The common sleep disorders and what you can do

Now that we’ve discussed the broad categories of sleep. Let’s go ahead and take a closer look at specific common sleep disorders.

The four common types we’ll take a closer look at are:

  • Insomnia
  • Jet lag
  • Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Bruxism

Let’s dive in!

1. Insomnia

Insomnia is the persistent inability to sleep or stay asleep. 

True, most of us sometimes toss and turn in bed before we fall asleep. But insomnia is more than that. The tossing and turning may last for several hours.

The National Sleep Foundation surveyed 1,000 adults about their sleep. They found that 35 percent experienced signs of insomnia. 

People who have insomnia experience one of these conditions:

  • Difficulty falling asleep: One study found that over 40 percent of people with insomnia have trouble falling asleep. 
  • Waking up abruptly at night
  • Not getting enough restorative sleep: In one study, nearly 50 percent of over 1,000 adolescents reported nonrestorative sleep.
  • Tiredness and sleepiness during the day
  • Inability to focus and concentrate during the day: One study showed that losing one night of sleep affects cognitive ability

What to do about it

Some of the most successful ways of treating insomnia have revolved around behavior modification.

The primary goal is to present a stimulus aimed at changing or removing the activities that deepen wrong associations and cause wakefulness.

We’ve discussed these insomnia treatments in detail in a previous post. A few examples of them include:

  • Stimulus control 
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Sleep Restriction
  • Paradoxical intention

2. Jet lag

Jet lag is a type of circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorder. 

It happens when after traveling across different and several timezones, your circadian rhythm gets out of sync with your external environment. 

The more timezones you travel, the more intense jet lag symptoms you’ll experience.

But that’s not all.

Another big factor in the severity of jet lag is the flight direction. 

Researchers report that most people who travel eastward, experience protracted jet lag. Also if the flight is longer, jet lag lasts longer too.

Here are some signs that you have jet lag:

  • Poor sleep or restlessness
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Decreased alertness
  • Headaches

What to do about it

Like most sleep disorders, there are some natural ways to improve jet lag recovery.

One common way is through light exposure. This is because when we expose ourselves to sunlight, it alerts our brain and induces wakefulness.

This is especially important when you cross timezones. 

If your new location’s daylight time is different from where you traveled from, you’ll need to adjust to it. In that sense, getting more natural sunlight exposure helps.

A second way to recover from jet lag’s poor sleep is to take melatonin as a supplement. 

Melatonin is a helpful hormone in our body. It tells our circadian clock it’s time to sleep. 

If jet lag is keeping you awake, increase your melatonin intake to help induce sleepiness.

Researchers in France also found that melatonin had a positive effect on alleviation jet lag in 37 participants who travel intercontinental flights. These participants usually experience subsequent discomfort after an eastward journey. Melatonin had a huge impact. 

3. Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a movement-related sleep disorder.

Estimates from The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke show that between 7 and 10 percent of people in the US have RLS. 

When you experience RLS, you often have the forceful urge to move your legs when it’s rested.

This urge to move could be so strong that it leads to involuntary limb jerks. That either happens right before you sleep or during sleep.

It’s painful. And it creates this awful sensation especially at night that stops you from falling asleep. 

Part of the reason is that with RLS, the only way to get relief is to move your limbs. And moving your legs doesn’t help your body to wind down.

Moderate RLS symptoms occur about twice per week. But more intense cases of RLS tend to occur thrice or more in a week.

4. Bruxism

Bruxism is characterized by grinding of the teeth at night. It’s one of the common sleep disorders.

This grinding is involuntary. Even sometimes, it’s unconscious. But it happens at night when you’re sleeping. 

Because it’s benign, you might not even know you’re doing it. 

Bruxism as sleep disorder can last for years. Sometimes, it’s your dentist who brings it to your attention.

The tension of grinding of the teeth happens makes it difficult to relax your body.

When unchecked, bruxism can evolve into bigger challenges that can hurt your health. Jaw pain, broken teeth, and headaches are a few of those health risks.