What are sleep disorders?
Sleep disorders are conditions that impair someone’s ability to get normal restorative sleep. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in which you have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Other sleep disorders include sleep apnea, narcolepsy, sleepwalking and hypersomnia. Sleep disorders can cause extreme tiredness and make normal manageable tasks seem harder. They can have a serious effect on a person’s overall health and quality of life.
There is a close relationship between sleep and mental health, poor sleep can harm your mental health and certain mental health conditions can cause poor sleep.
Sleep problems are common. If you have had trouble sleeping for months and it is affecting your daily life and ability to cope, you could benefit from further support.
What are the symptoms of sleep disorders and insomnia?
The symptoms of sleep disorders depend on the specific disorder. Common symptoms of insomnia include:
- finding it hard to fall asleep
- lying awake for long periods at night
- waking up several times during the night
- waking up early and finding it hard to get back to sleep
- feeling down or having a lower mood
- finding it difficult to concentrate during the day
- being more irritable than usual
- still feeling tired after waking up
Long-term sleep problems can lead to the following symptoms:
- feeling that your relationships are suffering
- struggling to maintain a social life
- finding it hard to do everyday tasks
- feeling hungrier and snacking more often
- feeling tired during the day
What are the causes of insomnia and other sleep disorders?
There are different causes for different sleep disorders, sometimes the cause is unknown. Sometimes there is a neurological cause for the sleep disorder, as is the case for narcolepsy and sometimes hypersomnia. However, for insomnia, the causes are varied and can lead to intermittent insomnia (cycles where it improves or get worse).
Some common causes include:
- Feelings of worry and/or stress
- Anxiety can make it difficult to switch off and fall asleep
- Caffeine and alcohol
- An irregular schedule, such as shift work
- Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can lead to oversleeping and having difficult or troubling thoughts
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can cause disturbances with your sleep
- Paranoia and psychosis can lead to disturbing thoughts, making it difficult to sleep
- Mania can cause racing thoughts and feelings of energy which can make it difficult to fall asleep
- Psychiatric medication can cause side effects such as insomnia or oversleeping
How to get better sleep
1) Keep a regular sleep routine
It is important to establish a routine to help maintain a regular sleeping pattern. Start by going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day. Going to bed when you feel tired and getting up roughly the same time each day will teach your body to sleep better. Try to avoid napping where possible.
2) Relax before bedtime
These relaxation methods can help you prepare for sleep:
- Calming activities such as listening to relaxing music, having a bath or reading a book
- Breathing exercises – there are different ones to choose from, an example would be to breathe in through your nose expanding your belly and breathing out slowly through your nose. Repeat this exercise until you feel calm and relaxed
- Muscle relaxation techniques can help to release tension. Starting from your toes and slowly working up your body, tense and relax each muscle group.
- Visualisation can be a powerful technique to help you unwind and relieve stress. Try to focus on calming, restful images.
- Meditation can calm the mind and relax the body in preparation for sleep. Try downloading the Headspace or Calm app for meditation and mindfulness techniques.
3) Create a restful environment
Experiment with the temperature, light and noise levels of your sleeping environment to see what works best for you. Usually, a dark, quiet and cool environment will help you to fall asleep and stay asleep, but this might not be the case for everyone.
4) Exercise regularly
Being active can help you sleep better as it makes you more physically tired. Try to avoid vigorous activity near bedtime if it affects your sleep.
5) Food and drink
Smoking, caffeine, alcohol and sugary foods can all disturb your sleep patterns. Try to cut down on alcohol and avoid caffeine close to bedtime.
6) Keep a sleep diary
It can be difficult to pinpoint what is affecting your sleep. By keeping a sleep diary, you can better understand your sleep habits and possible causes of your sleep problems. Our Sleep Screens can help you track this automatically.
Valuable information to track includes what time you go to bed and what time you wake up, the number of hours of sleep, quality of sleep, how many times you wake up during the night if you have had any caffeine, alcohol or nicotine during the day, what physical activity you do and how you are feeling.
7) Tech-free time
Avoid watching television or using technology right before bed as the light makes you more awake and can negatively impact your sleep.
8) Treatment and support options
If changing your sleeping habits has not helped, or if you have had trouble sleeping for several months, or your sleep disorder is affecting your daily life making it hard to cope; you should speak to a GP.
Treatment for insomnia and sleep disorders
GP support for insomnia and sleep disorders
If your insomnia is not improving after following the self-help techniques, then it could be time to talk to a GP.
A GP will rule out any medical reasons for insomnia or other sleep disorders. In some situations, they may refer to a sleep clinic or for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
CBT can help change your thoughts and behaviours that could be affecting your sleep.
Sleeping pills will only be prescribed if you have severe insomnia and other treatments haven’t worked. This is not a long term solution due to the side effects of sleeping pills.
We offer a sleep screening which can provide in-depth insight into your sleep quantity, quality and efficiency of your sleep, as well as important sleep contributors such as resting heart rate.
The sleep screen is measured via a state-of-the-art biometric tracking ring and then analysed by our experts. They will provide a report and recommendations on how to improve your sleep. Find out more here.
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Reviewed by Dr Daniel Fenton, Medical Director at The Doctors Clinic Group
Published: May 2020 | Review date: May 2023