4 Signs You Might Have a Sleep Disorder

Woman laying on pillow eyes open

Let's face it, sleep is an important part of our lives. It's not unusual to show up at work in the morning and report we've had a "great night's sleep" or a "terrible night's sleep." It's not just how much sleep you get, it's also the quality of sleep that is important.

Sleep problems are quite common. More than one-quarter of the U.S. population report occasionally not getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Healthy sleep is important for both physical and mental health, improves your memory and helps you focus while keeping you safe and alert.

Here are a few signs you might be one of the millions who have a sleep disorder. We're focusing on sleep here, but remember that feeling tired could be a symptom of another chronic problem other than a sleep disorder. That's another reason why it's important to take your sleep – or lack thereof – seriously.

It takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night.

Many people experience the occasional difficulty falling asleep, but if it keeps happening, it may be a sign of trouble. Taking a long time to fall asleep may be a sign you're getting too much sleep, or you may have sleep onset insomnia, which is trouble falling asleep.

Insomnia is both a sleep disorder in its own right and a common symptom of other sleep disorders. Be sure to discuss insomnia with your doctor. There may be some other condition contributing to your inability to sleep.

You often don't feel well rested despite spending 8 hours or more asleep at night; you are sleepy and irritable during the day.

Chronic daytime sleepiness is a sign of a number of sleep disorders including obstructive sleep apnea (see below) and narcolepsy. The struggle to stay awake can interfere with work, school, activities and relationships. People who are very drowsy may fall asleep in inappropriate situations or at inappropriate times.

Besides making you feel lousy, poor sleep can have serious long-term effects on your health. Insufficient sleep has been linked to the development of a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Excessive daytime sleepiness can raise the risk of motor vehicle or work accidents, affect job performance and cause problems at school.

You snore loudly, snort, gasp or make choking sounds while you sleep.

Your sleep partner probably has already let you know about this one. Snoring is common – and common fodder for jokes – but in some cases it's a sign of a serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. In this condition, the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. This causes shallow breathing or breathing pauses. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in people who are overweight or obese, but it can affect anyone, including children.

Untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that needs long-term management. Successful treatment of sleep apnea may include lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery and breathing devices like a CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure).

You have tingling or crawling feelings in your legs, especially the calves, that are relieved by moving or massaging them, particularly at night and when you try to fall asleep.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes that unpleasant prickling feeling in the legs. A person with RLS feels they have to stretch or move their legs, which can make it hard to fall or stay asleep. In severe cases, RLS symptoms occur more than twice a week, causing serious disruption of sleep and impairment of function during the day. The cause of RLS is not often known, however genetics, chronic diseases, medications and even alcohol consumption are thought to play a part. RLS is generally a lifelong condition for which there is no cure, but it can be treated to relieve or minimize symptoms.

Get some help

One of the best ways to tell whether you are getting enough good-quality sleep is by keeping a sleep diary for a couple weeks. Use this diary to record the quality and quantity of your sleep; your use of medications, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks; exercise; and how sleepy you feel during the day.

You should report symptoms to your doctor, who may refer you to a sleep specialist or sleep center. There are several painless, non-invasive ways to help diagnose a sleep disorder, including a sleep study. Treatment may vary based on the type of disorder and cause. But the good news is, by working with your doctor and following any medical treatments and lifestyle changes, you can manage your disorder and get a good night's sleep.

About Doylestown Health

Doylestown Health is a comprehensive healthcare system of inpatient, outpatient and wellness education services connected to meet the health needs of all members of the local and regional community. Doylestown Hospital, the flagship to Doylestown Health has 247 beds and a Medical Staff of more than 435 physicians in over 50 specialties. An independent nonprofit health system, Doylestown Health is dedicated to providing innovative, patient-centered care for all ages.

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