Sleep Health Articles

Naturally Coping With A Sleep Disorder

The average person will spend nearly 26 years of his or her life sleeping.

Humans spend a lot of time sleeping, and getting the correct amount of sleep is key to living a healthy, happy life. While most individuals understand that sleep is an important keystone of health, many struggle to regularly get the proper amount of sleep. Adults are recommended to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, while children and infants are recommended to get anywhere between eight and 18 hours of sleep. [1] However, millions of adults suffer from sleep difficulties and disorders, and these individuals are more likely to be susceptible to chronic diseases, exhaustion and depression.

Sleep disorders can be detrimental to your mental and physical well-being. Understanding sleep disorders and the things you can do to combat sleep disorders are the first steps to begin coping with a sleep disorder.

Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when sleep is desired. Insomnia is categorized by the length of the disorder, and most individuals have experienced acute insomnia, which is temporary difficulty falling or remaining asleep. Acute insomnia usually occurs when a stressful or anxiety-provoking life event occurs, for example, the night before the first day of a new job or after being informed of bad news.

Chronic insomnia occurs for at least three nights a week and continues being an issue for at least three months. Chronic insomnia can be caused by unhealthy sleep habits, medication, environment changes or other clinical disorders. [2]

A poll found that nearly half of all adults experienced symptoms of insomnia at least several nights weekly. According to the National Sleep Foundation: “Thirty-three percent said they had at least one of [the insomnia] symptoms every night or almost every night in the past year. The two most common symptoms, experienced at least a few nights a week in the past year, included waking up feeling un-refreshed and waking up a lot during the night.”

What Can You Do?

  • Wake up and go to bed at the same time every night. This may seem simple, but many insomnia sufferers have irregular sleep schedules that make it more difficult to get the proper amount of rest. Sticking to a strict sleep schedule may help the body get into a sleep routine and ultimately result in a longer, deeper, more satisfying night sleep.
  • Avoid beverages with caffeine within seven hours of bedtime. A study found that caffeine taken up to six hours before bed resulted in a more disruptive sleep. [3]
  • Take melatonin capsules. Melatonin is a hormone naturally made by the body and released into the blood when it begins to get dark outside. Melatonin supplements signal the brain that it’s time for sleep, making it easier to fall and remain asleep. Some individuals with insomnia have unstable melatonin hormones, and may benefit from melatonin supplements.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. An effective bedtime ritual will differ from individual to individual, but routines like taking a bath or drinking a warm beverage before bed may help the body begin to recognize when it’s time to sleep.

Nightmares & Night Terrors
While nightmares and night terrors are most common during childhood, 85 percent of adults reported having experienced disruptive nightmares within the last year. [4] Nightmares occur during the REM cycle of sleep, and typically individuals experiencing the nightmare will wake up, recall the frightening dream and have difficulty falling back asleep.

Night terrors tend to occur during the deepest level of non-REM sleep. Sleep terrors can provoke sweating, increased blood pressure, enlarged pupils and agitation. These terrors can be caused by many factors, including PTSD, stress, changes in environment, sleep deprivation and medications.

Both night terrors and nightmares are common sleep disorders that can interrupt and lessen the quality of sleep.

What Can You Do?

  • Go to bed in a positive mood. Nightmares and terrors are often caused by stress or anxiety that occurred during the day. Participating in an activity or conversation that puts you in a good mood before bed may be the key to avoiding negative dreams and sleep terrors. Utilizing melatonin drops or capsules may also help you fall asleep during a more positive mood naturally.
  • Avoid drugs, alcohol and caffeine. Stimulants and depressants may provoke nightmares and terrors, while also making sleep patterns more likely to be irregular.
  • Evaluate your medications. Certain medications have a reputation for causing bad dreams and sleep terrors. Speak with your doctor to see if any of your medications have sleep disorders as a side effect.
  • Do not participate in scary or over-stimulating media before bed. Frightening media may cause the unconscious mind to hold on to scary or negative visuals or emotions that may emerge during sleep.

Circadian Rhythm Disorder
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders involve issues with the body’s Master Circadian Clock, more commonly referred to as the internal clock. Individuals who struggle with this disorder commonly find themselves not feeling tired at appropriate sleep times, waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, or having trouble getting deep, satisfying sleep.

This disorder can provoke depression, cause impaired work and school performance, place stress on relationships, and cause major sleep deprivation and mood fluctuations.

What Can You Do?

  • Since Circadian Rhythm Disorder is largely to do with internal factors, such as hormones that alert the brain that it’s time for bed, melatonin benefits many people with this disorder. Melatonin tablets may be the best non-prescription sleeping pills because the melatonin hormone is a natural chemical that signals the brain that it is time to sleep. Using time-released melatonin benefits your sleep cycle and may help you have a more restful sleep throughout the entire night.
  • Spend time outdoors during daylight hours. Being exposed to daylight may help regulate the body’s internal clock. Turning down the lights during and before nighttime may also help normalize the body’s internal clock.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. Having an effective bedtime ritual helps people with Circadian Rhythm Disorder and insomnia alike. Routines and rituals such as taking a bath or drinking a warm beverage right before bed may help the body recognize when it’s time to sleep.

Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is caused by blockages in the airways, which causes breathing to temporarily stop during sleep. These temporary breathing interruptions often awake sufferers nearly every hour. While individuals with sleep apnea may not remember waking up during the night, many experience exhaustion during the day as a result.

Other than exhaustion, sleep apnea can cause chronic snoring, choking during sleep, shortness of breath, sore throat and headaches. [5]

What Can You Do?

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight individuals are more susceptible to having excess tissue in the throat that may obstruct airways during sleep. Having a healthy weight may help prevent or stop sleep apnea symptoms.
  • Refrain from smoking. Smoking may increase fluid retention and inflammation in the upper airways and throat. Individuals with sleep apnea may experience harsher symptoms if they smoke. (5)
  • Do not sleep on your back. Sleeping on your back makes tissues more likely to fall and block airways. Sleeping on your side or with head and back propped may prevent airway blockages.

1. Communication, O. o. (2014, January 13). Date & Statistics. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

2. Foundation, N. S. (2015, January 1). Insomnia. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from National Sleep Foundation

3. Drake C; Roehrs T; Shambroom J; Roth T. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med 2013;9(11):1195-1200.

4. Belicki D, Belicki K. Nightmares in a university population. Sleep Research. 1982;11:116.

5. Melina Smith, L. R. (2015, February 1). Sleep Disorders and Sleeping Problems. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from Help Guide