A Guide to the Most Common Sleep Disorders
Trouble sleeping? This guide could help you identify the problem.
Sleep plays a huge role in how we feel—both physically and mentally—on a day-to-day basis. A good night's sleep does more than simply prepare us for the following day: Getting those eight hours consistently bolsters our immune systems, helps stabilize the number on the scale, and keeps our minds alert and ready to retain information. Unfortunately, many of us are not logging enough hours of shut eye each night. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three adults are not sleeping enough. To understand why, we spoke with Dr. Damiana Corca, an acupuncture sleep specialist at Corca Center for Sleep & Radiant Health, for her insight. Ahead, she explains a few of the most common sleep disorders and outlines the treatments that can help.
Insomnia is the single most common sleep disorder, causing restless nights and yawn-filled days. It can take many forms: Some insomnia patients have trouble falling asleep while others find it difficult to stay asleep throughout the night. Most of us have experienced acute insomnia during a stressful time in our lives, but about 10 percent of adults in the United States experience this consistently, something known as chronic insomnia. "Insomnia is usually developed due to chronic stress that affects cortisol levels and other stress neurotransmitters, explains Dr. Corca. "Hormonal imbalances, especially in women, and gastro-intestinal disturbances that affect the production of neurotransmitters necessary for sleep [are also root causes]."
As for treatment? A sleep therapist may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques such as relaxation training (think meditation and muscle relaxation) or sleep restriction (reducing the time you spend in bed). "A combination of herbal medicine, supplements, acupuncture, and lifestyle changes can address and heal the root cause of insomnia," adds Dr. Corca. And, of course, there are always sleep medications—talk to your doctor about the right combination of treatments for you.
People who suffer from sleep apnea experience exhaustion during the day, loud snoring at night, and restless sleep. This condition can be dangerous: If the throat closes too much, is inflamed, or becomes obstructed, a person's breathing can be cut off for ten seconds or more. When that happens, the oxygen levels in the blood drop and the body jolts awake. When treating sleep apnea, doctors look to normalize the patient's breathing while they sleep. They may start by recommending you stop drinking alcohol, quit smoking, or lose weight; these lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is another course of treatment in which the airway is kept open by a constant stream of air pressure through a mask, or a mandibular advancement device to reposition the jaw, which can look like a mouth guard.
One of the most common causes of sleep apnea, says Dr. Corca, is inflammation. "The inflammation may be addressed with lifestyle changes, along with diet changes and proper supplementation to support the anti-inflammatory processes," she says. "Acupuncture can also help reduce inflammation and strengthen the tongue muscle so it doesn't collapse and block the airways and prevent normal breathing."
Parasomnias are disorders that involve abnormal behaviors, emotions, and dreams that happen while falling asleep, while the person is sleeping, or while they're waking up. Sleepwalking, nightmares, bedwetting, sleep paralysis, sleep talking, and sleep terrors are common types of this disorder. There are a lot of potential causes—including stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, sleep deprivation, or PTSD. It can also be a side effect to a medication or caused by an irregular sleep schedule. Parasomnias can be dangerous—sleepwalking, in particular, puts you at risk for accidents—so doctors will often recommend medications like antidepressants or melatonin to treat them, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat underlying anxiety and stress. Doctors may also use psychotherapy or hypnosis to mitigate the problem.
At home, patients can create a safer sleep environment by sleeping alone, locking doors and windows, and potentially having a mattress on the floor. See a doctor if you have unusual sleep behaviors so they can offer the best treatment to treat the underlying causes of your symptoms.