People ought to be able to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, Pelayo says. And if you are not getting enough sleep, it is important to have a knowledge several sleep disorders that might be interfering with your rest.
Here are definitions of some of the more common sleep disorders and how to recognize you may have one:
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) RLS is a disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. (1) Symptoms are most likely to occur when you’re sitting, resting, inactive for a while, or sleeping. The condition is categorized as a neurological sensory disorder because the symptoms come from the brain — though it is also classified as a sleep disorder. It can cause exhaustion and daytime sleepiness that affect mood, concentration, learning, and relationships.
Insomnia Insomnia is characterized by having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Cases can be short term, such as those due to a stressful event, like a job change or jet lag; or long term, meaning the sleep trouble lasts for three months or longer, which is known as chronic insomnia. (2)
Parasomnias A parasomnia is term used to refer to a number of disorders associated with abnormal behaviors that happen during sleep. Parasomnias include sleepwalking, sleep-related eating disorder, sleep terrors, bedwetting, sexsomnia, and others. In some cases, improving sleep habits can help treat parasomnias and in other cases treatment from a sleep medicine doctor may be needed. You should definitely seek treatment if abnormal behavior associated with sleep is causing harm to yourself or others, or if the behavior is frequent or escalating. (3)
None of these problems should be left unaddressed, Pelayo says. If you suspect you may have one of these conditions it’s important to get it checked out and treated.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Obstructive sleep apnea, sometimes also referred to as just “sleep apnea,” is a disorder where someone’s airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep, which repeatedly wakes that person up during sleep and stops them from getting the deep, restorative sleep they need. People who are obese, have a small jaw or a large overbite, and use alcohol before bed are all at a higher risk of having sleep apnea.
Snoring and waking up not feeling rested, particularly after spending a full night asleep, are signs you might have sleep apnea and should get checked out by your doctor. Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause big problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, memory problems, and higher accident risk.
Narcolepsy Narcolepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system that causes the brain to not be able to properly regulate cycles of sleep and being awake. (4) People with the disorder can experience the sudden, sometimes uncontrollable, need to fall asleep throughout the day, as well as trouble staying asleep at night.
How to Actually Sleep Better Tonight
There’s no one proven formula for getting a good night’s sleep, but there are several steps you can take that have been linked with better sleep overall if you’re struggling to clock the recommended number of hours of sleep you know you need — or if you wake up feeling less rested than you want to be.
It is vital to check with your doctor or a sleep medicine doctor if you think you do have a more serious problem, or of another medical condition is interfering with your sleep.
But trying these fixes first is a good place to start:
Stick to a consistent sleep-wake schedule. Aim to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time in the morning, including on the weekends — and try not to vary it more than an hour or so. The times that you regularly go to bed and wake up are the signals you give your body’s natural clock, and when they’re consistent, that clock helps you wake up and fall asleep. If those signals are out of whack, your body clock gets thrown off and you experience the same drowsiness associated with jet lag. You also may struggle to fall asleep at night or wake up when your alarm rings.[Read: Depression: How To Cope With Nighttime Depression]
Exercise regularly. Research shows that regular exercise (at least 150 minutes of activity per week) is associated with good sleep, (5) though it’s worth noting you should try to avoid intense exercise too close to bedtime, as it may make it tougher for some people to fall asleep. That’s because a workout sends signals to the body that tend to wake you up, such as your heart rate and body temperature increasing. (6)
Watch caffeine intake. Be especially careful with this later in the afternoon. Pelayo suggests avoiding caffeine within six hours of when you want to sleep.
Avoid bright lights and bright screens right before bed. Blue light — the kind that comes from fluorescent bulbs, LEDs, and computer and cellphone screens — has been shown to actually send the same signals to the brain as sunlight, and block production of the hormone melatonin that tells the brain to go to sleep. (7)
If you can’t sleep, don’t linger in bed. This means at night if you’re having trouble falling asleep for 20 minutes or longer, get out of bed and do something to make you tired, such as reading or some gentle stretching. Staying in bed makes your body associated in-bed time as awake time, and it will actually be harder to fall asleep.
Don’t linger in bed in the morning either, and don’t hit snooze. It can be tempting to wake up slowly, but that drowsy sleep (after you’ve initially woken up) is fragmented, light sleep. If you did get a poor night’s sleep, your best remedy is getting up, going about your day, and hitting your pillow at bedtime that evening, at which point your sleep drive will be strong and you’re more likely to actually reap the benefit of the deep restorative sleep you need.