Tossing & Turning

Other than insomnia, there are some sleep disorders that are relatively common and can be potentially life-threatening.
Other than insomnia, there are some sleep disorders that are relatively common and can be potentially life-threatening. Do you feel sleepy during the day or wake up exhausted? While it’s quite normal to have a night of broken sleep every so often, especially if you’ve experienced some type of trauma, if your sleep is regularly disrupted, it’s important to take action.

SNORING
If you wake up battered and bruised, it may not be down to sleepwalking – you partner may just be spending their sleepless nights boxing you and plotting your demise. But, aside from a potential rift in your relationship and possible black eyes, snoring can be damaging to your health – from the development of sleep apnoea to interrupted sleep. Snoring can sometimes be due to an allergy or overindulgence, or it can be from being overweight, specifically around your neck area. It also increases with age, as the muscles in your throat and tongue become weakened. Here are some tips to overcoming the snore trap:

Sleep on your side: sleeping on your back naturally puts pressure on your throat muscles, so they’re more likely to close slightly, blocking your airways.

Lose weight: being overweight is an almost sure-fire way to begin snoring. Fat tends to accumulate in your neck area during the day, making your ability to breathe clearly at night all the more difficult.

Alcohol: alcohol consumption causes your muscles to relax even further, as do sleeping pills.

Allergies: having a stuffy nose or being blocked up will also induce snoring, so an antihistamine before bedtime can help in clearing those airways.

Bite down: a mouth guard can assist in keeping your jaw in line (which tends to fall back when muscles are too relaxed) and this can help in keeping snoring at bay – be sure to use a well-known brand that fits well to avoid accidental choking, though.

Elevate: don’t just use pillows to elevate your head, try to slightly elevate your entire bed to keep your neck straight and opened.

SLEEP APNOEA
Characterised by loud, continuous snoring, sleep apnoea is far more serious than just a loud noise. You also stop breathing temporarily throughout the night – from a blockage in your upper airways. This stops vital oxygen getting to your brain and body and is known to radically up your risk of acid reflux, high blood pressure and heart disease. The interrupted breathing also leads to night-time awakenings, even if you don’t remember in the morning. Once again, sleep apnoea can be caused by being overweight, so the first step in reducing your risk is to lose that excess weight. Other than loud and frequent snoring, the following are signs you may be experiencing sleep apnoea:

  • Frequent pauses in breathing during sleep.
  • Gasping, snorting, or choking during sleep.
  • Feeling exhausted after waking and sleepy during the day, no matter how much time you spent in bed.
  • Waking up with shortness of breath, chest pains, headaches, nasal congestion, or a dry throat.

The same advice for snoring also applies to sleep apnoea, although for chronic cases, you may need to use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), which is a mask-like device that delivers a stream of air while you sleep. It may be difficult to get used to the noise initially, but as it’s quieter than your snoring, it may also assist your partner in getting better quality sleep and could also save your life.

RESTLESS LEGS SYNDROME
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) comes with an almost irresistible urge to move your legs, usually due to uncomfortable, tingly, aching, or creeping sensations. There’s some evidence that a deficiency in magnesium, iron or folate may be one of the causes of RLS, so make sure you eat a varied diet to include these in your daily intake. Stress is also an exacerbating factor, so take some tips out of the Insomniac’s Tool Box in this issue, and mild daily exercise can also help (a 20-minute brisk walk daily).

NARCOLEPSY
This is caused by a biological disruption in your brain’s networking system, causing excessive daytime sleepiness, and even attacks of sleep that can occur at any time, even when you’re driving. Narcolepsy is definitively genetic and has been linked to a deficiency in the neurotransmitter hypocretin, and has also been viewed as an autoimmune disease. Treatment generally involves setting up scheduled naps throughout the day, or in more severe cases, prescription medication to combat daytime sleepiness. Common signs of narcolepsy are:

  • Seeing or hearing things when you’re drowsy or starting to dream before you’re fully asleep
  • Suddenly feeling weak or losing control of your muscles when you’re laughing, angry, or experiencing other strong emotions
  • Dreaming right away after going to sleep or having intense dreams
  • Feeling paralysed and unable to move when you’re waking up or dozing off

JET LAG
If you’re travelling over time zones, your circadian rhythms can get disrupted. Symptoms of jet lag are usually worse when you’re flying east. It takes around one day per time zone crossed to adjust, so if you don’t want to miss out on enjoying a dream holiday, get yourself ready for the different time zone before you leave by slowly changing your sleep patterns to match your destination (for example, if there’s an 8-hour difference, try going to sleep and waking four hours earlier). Get a prescription for melatonin and get professional advice as to when to take it to induce sleepiness at the right time.

DELAYED SLEEP PHASE DISORDER
When your circadian rhythm isn’t set to a 24-hour schedule, it’s delayed. This means you will generally feel sleepy much later than other people, as late even as 4am, at which time you’ll fall and stay asleep for your usual amount of hours. People with this disorder struggle to fall asleep much before 2am, no matter what methods they try. This obviously makes keeping regular hours for a 9-5 job or going to school difficult. It’s a common disorder in teenagers, but something they usually grow out of. If it’s chronic, light therapy is something that can assist your body getting back into a more regular sleep-wake cycle. Planning a physically active day and getting to sleep an hour earlier every day for a week can also help reset your rhythm.

did you know?
If you take less than five minutes to fall asleep, it’s a sign you’re sleep deprived. The ideal is 10-15 minutes, which means you’re tired enough to sleep deeply, but not so exhausted you’ll feel sleepy during the day.

SLEEPWALKING
Most common in children, and mostly occurring during the first three hours of sleep, sleepwalking is caused by a partial awakening during deep sleep. Episodes usually last around 10 minutes and the primary concern is physical safety while the sleepwalker is wandering around. Its best not to wake a sleepwalker, but rather to guide them gently back to bed. Children generally grow out of it, and it’s not considered a dangerous disorder (but keep danger to a minimum by keeping windows and doors locked and other obstacles safely out of the way). Hypnotherapy has been known to help, and although some anti-depressant medications can stop sleepwalking, symptoms tend to recur after medication is stopped.

NIGHTMARES
Scary dreams aren’t just for children, adults also have them and they can severely affect your ability to get a good nights’ rest. While nightmares occur most often as a result of post traumatic stress syndrome or anxiety, a heavy meal before bedtime (boosting metabolism and brain activity) can also cause your dreams to resemble a bleak horror movie. Some antidepressants can also up your chance of having a bad dream, as can drugs or alcohol. What to do? Well, practicing healthy bedtime habits will go a long way to sweetening your dreams. If your nightmares are a result of post traumatic stress syndrome, a common methodology is ‘imagery rehearsal therapy’, which entails rehearsing a changed ending of your remembered nightmare with a better, less threatening outcome.

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