Types of Sleep Disorders
There are many different types of sleep disorders. Below is a list of some of the more common or well researched types. Some sleep disorders are purely physical conditions. Other sleep disorders may have their roots in either mental or physical causes.
- Insomnia is a difficulty of going to sleep, or a difficulty of staying asleep. There are two types of insomnia: short-term (acute) insomnia and long-term (chronic) insomnia. Acute insomnia is typically the result of a particular circumstance, such as high stress at work or a worrying event at home. Chronic insomnia can be its own issue or linked to another problem but it is characterised by it lasting for a long period of time.
- Snoring is a very common physical condition that may lead to sleep disruptions in some cases.
- Sleep apnea is a physical condition where your breathing stops and starts repeatedly in your sleep.
- Shift work disorder is insomnia or tiredness resulting from a shift pattern outside normal hours.
- Narcolepsy is a condition where you persistently feel tired throughout normal waking hours which may result in you unintentionally falling asleep during the day.
- Restless legs syndrome results in an overwhelming urge to move your legs which can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is the repetitive movement of legs periodically during sleep.
- Non 24 hour sleep wake syndrome is where a person’s body clock isn't able to adjust a 24 hour cycle so that their sleep time shifts each day moving from normal waking hours to irregular waking hours and back periodically.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Disorders
Signs and symptoms vary depending on the type of sleep disorder but some common symptoms include
- Difficulties getting enough sleep
- Persistent difficulties getting to sleep
- Difficulties staying asleep
- Never feeling tired or ready for sleep at scheduled bed times
- Ongoing problems with mood
- Restlessness in bed
- Intense snoring
- Waking up feeling unrefreshed
- Difficulties concentrating
Mental Health Disorders are Commonly Linked to Sleep Disorders
Sleep disorders and other mental health disorders have a complex relationship with it being common for both to be experienced simultaneously. Poor sleep from any of the disorders listed above increases a person’s risk of developing a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. Vice versa, however, some mental health disorders can be one of the causes of sleep disorders:
- ADHD in children can result in an unwillingness to go to bed, having anxiety about bedtime or needing a certain routine at bedtime, insomnia or not being able to go to bed until much later in the night (delayed sleep phase syndrome).
- Anxiety can be linked to a higher risk of developing insomnia. Constant worrying can make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Depression is often linked to sleep orders with insomnia being a common symptom of depression. People with depression may also feel sleepy during the day or oversleep.
- PTSD can cause insomnia, lead to disruptive nightmares, sleep terrors, or night sweats, result in sleepwalking or talking and cause night sweats. PTSD may also result in Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome where a person sleeps late and wakes up late or REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder where dreams get acted out.
- Schizophrenia can cause psychotic symptoms resulting in fear and anxiety that make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep (insomnia). People with insomnia are also more likely to have irregular sleep hours or sleep for too little or too long due to symptoms of the disorder.
Diagnosis of Sleep Disorders
If you are concerned that your sleeping is impacting you or your sleep partner's ability to function normally in everyday life then you should contact your doctor to discuss. Your doctor will typically ask about your sleeping habits, any medications you are taking, how much caffeine, alcohol or other stimulants you consume, if you or your family have any history of mental health disorders and if you are experiencing any other symptoms such as pain. It is also common for a doctor to complete a physical examination to determine if there are any other underlying conditions that may be impacting your sleep. Sometimes a referral to a sleep specialist for further diagnosis using methods such as a sleep study may be recommended.
The type of treatment recommended for reducing the effects of sleep disorders varies depending on the cause and severity of the disorder. In some cases such as with snoring, no treatment may be necessary. If you are experiencing a different physical or mental health disorder alongside a sleep disorder, treatment for these disorders may also improve your sleeping. Sometimes this works in reverse and improving your sleeping will reduce the severity of some mental health problems.
For milder cases of sleeping disorders some strategies to try are:
- Maximising your sleep drive by working with your body to match your sleepiness to your desired bedtime. Do this by limiting the number of hours you sleep to 7-8 hours, avoiding naps and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This makes it more likely that you will be sleepy at the time you should be going to bed.
- Looking after your body rhythm to set clear boundaries on awake time and sleep time. Do this by exposing yourself to natural light, especially morning light, participating in activity and exercise during the day and then relaxing before bed.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine all together but especially in the afternoon and before bed
- Practice mindfulness - there are many online tools and phone applications to teach you how to calm your thinking and remove mental disruptions as you fall asleep
- Focus on thinking relaxing thoughts once in bed such as creating a calm imaginary place or listen to relaxing audio files
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation to relax your body and mind
- If you are a light sleeper, remove or reduce things that disrupt your sleep using tools such as ear plugs, eye covers, having your own bedroom or properly conditioning your room to a consistent temperature.
- Build a positive attitude towards sleep using affirming statements such as ‘rest is good’ and getting out of bed and doing something relaxing until you are sleepy again if you are getting frustrated by not falling asleep.
In the case of more persistent sleeping problems you may need to work with your doctor, a sleep specialist, a sleep disorder psychologist or other medical professional. Some clinical treatments include:
- Working with a sleep disorder psychologist or other mental health professionals to create some of the routines listed above
- Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or CBT for Insomnia (CBT-i) to train different ways of thinking about sleep and sleep habits
- Medication may be used in some cases to treat symptoms in the short term
- Melatonin supplements are taken an hour before bed to encourage sleepiness
- Bright light therapy where a person is exposed to lights at certain times of the day to train the body clock to follow the desired sleep pattern
- Treatment of any other disorders such as depression or anxiety that might be impacting on sleep