Good sleep is super important to good health. You can get by with the occasional late night, sleep-deprived binge, but most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
Too many nights of not enough sleep or sleep that isn’t restful can affect you in several ways:
The occasional rough night of sleep is normal. And if you’re the parent of a baby or young child, there’s a good chance that a good night’s sleep will be hard to come by for a while, and you’ll rely on all the naps you can get.
But if you regularly experience too little sleep or sleep that doesn’t leave you feeling rested, there are three conditions that may be causing it. The good news is there is help for all three.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that leaves you having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. You may be suffering from insomnia if you persistently:
You can develop insomnia when your natural sleep cycle gets disrupted. This cycle, which is called a circadian rhythm, helps you fall asleep in the evening when it’s dark and wake up in the morning when it gets light. Disruptions to this cycle can be caused by:
Insomnia that doesn’t improve using self-help options for getting better sleep may get better with medication or with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help you change your sleep habits, change how you think about sleeping (and not sleeping), and identify and treat underlying stress or anxiety that’s keeping you awake.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition caused by the muscles in your throat being unable to keep your airway open, which results in snoring or gasping, to the dismay of your sleep partner, or brief pauses in breathing while you are asleep.
When your airway closes, the level of oxygen in your blood drops. Your body wakes up briefly to open your airway, even if you aren’t aware of it. This continually interrupted sleep can leave you feeling drowsy during the day.
Factors that can lead to sleep apnea include:
Treatments for sleep apnea involve devices that gently help to keep your airway open while you sleep. These include:
Losing weight may also improve your sleep apnea as well.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is a nervous system disorder that causes an uncomfortable crawling or twitching sensation that gives you an overwhelming urge to move your legs. This sensation tends to:
The exact cause of restless leg syndrome isn’t known, but your risk factors for developing it may include:
If restless legs are making it difficult for you to sleep, there is medication available that may help.
Self-Help Options for Getting Better Sleep
If you are having trouble sleeping or getting to sleep, there are ways to improve your sleep habits that may help you fall asleep and stay that way, including:
If you are still having trouble sleeping, make an appointment to talk with your doctor. He or she may be able to diagnose your sleep difficulties based on your answers to some questions and your medical history, or he or she may refer you to a sleep specialist.
Good sleep is important to good health, so if you’re not getting it, your doctor may be able to help.