What is a sleep disorder or sleep problem?

A sleep disorder is a condition that frequently impacts your ability to get enough quality sleep. While it’s normal to occasionally experience difficulties sleeping, it’s not normal to regularly have problems getting to sleep at night, to wake up feeling exhausted, or to feel sleepy during the day.


Frequently having trouble sleeping can be a frustrating and debilitating experience. You sleep badly at night, which leaves you feeling dead-tired in the morning and whatever energy you have quickly drains throughout the day. But then, no matter how exhausted you feel at night, you still have trouble sleeping. And so the cycle begins again, taking a serious toll on your mood, energy, efficiency, and ability to handle stress. 


Ignoring sleep problems and disorders can damage your physical health and lead to weight gain, car accidents, impaired job performance, memory problems, and strained relationships. If you want to feel your best, stay healthy, and perform up to your potential, quality sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.


Even if you’ve struggled with sleep problems for so long that it seems normal, you can still learn to sleep better. You can start by tracking your symptoms and sleep patterns, and then making healthy changes to your daytime habits and bedtime routine. If self-help doesn’t do the trick, you can turn to sleep specialists who are trained in sleep medicine. Together, you can identify the underlying causes of your sleeping problem and find ways to improve your sleep and quality of life.


Signs and symptoms of a sleep disorder


Do you…

  • feel irritable or sleepy during the day?
  • have difficulty staying awake when sitting still, watching television or reading?
  • fall asleep or feel very tired while driving?
  • have difficulty concentrating?
  • often get told by others that you look tired?
  • react slowly?
  • have trouble controlling your emotions?
  • feel like you have to take a nap almost every day?
  • require caffeinated beverages to keep yourself going?


Types of Common Sleeping Disorders


Insomnia

Insomnia, the inability to get to sleep or sleep well at night, can be caused by stress, jet lag, a health condition, the medications you take, or even the amount of coffee you drink. Insomnia can also be caused by other sleep disorders or mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.


Whatever the cause of your insomnia, improving your sleep hygiene, revising your daytime habits, and learning to relax will help cure most cases of insomnia without relying on sleep specialists or turning to prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pills.


Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a common (and treatable) sleep disorder in which your breathing temporarily stops during sleep, awakening you frequently. If you have sleep apnea you may not remember these awakenings, but you’ll likely feel exhausted during the day, irritable and depressed, or see a decrease in your productivity. Sleep apnea is a serious and potentially life-threatening sleep disorder, so see a doctor right away and learn how to help yourself.


Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that causes an almost irresistible urge to move your legs (or arms) at night. The urge to move occurs when you’re resting or lying down and is usually due to uncomfortable, tingly, aching, or creeping sensations. Relax before you go to bed


You may find a relaxation routine can help you prepare for sleep. There are several things you can try:

  • Do something calming – such as listening to relaxing music, or having a bath.
  • Breathing exercises – in a comfortable position, try this: breathe into your belly (not your chest) then out through your nose, making your out-breath longer than your in-breath; repeat until you feel relaxed.
  • Muscle relaxation – consciously tense and relax your muscles, one after the other, starting with your toes and working up your body until you reach the top of your head; Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a technique some people find useful
  • Visualisation – picture a scene or landscape that has pleasant memories for you.
  • Meditation – you can learn meditation techniques at a class or from self-help guides; many people also find mindfulness helpful.