Life is busy; it’s bound to happen. Your job, relationships, education, self-care routine, interminable lists of tasks, and social life to entertain… time doesn’t seem to be enough for everything.
But what about your rest? “Sleep is for the weak” may be the popular adage that has got you struggling with a sleep disorder and forgetting to take care of yourself in this forever-rushing society.
To help integrate sleep into your overall health routine, who better to turn to than the Sleep Doctor himself, Dr. Michael Breus?
So if you’ve been dealing with a sleep disorder, this might be a moment of breakthrough for you. Here’s your guide to everything you need to know when struggling with sleep problems.
What Is a Sleep Disorder?
A sleep disorder is a formal clinical diagnosis that tackles issues regarding sleep quality, quantity, and inappropriate timing. It often results in daytime distress and the inability to function normally in your daily life.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, sleep disturbances are often linked to other mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety. They are very likely to be caused by either emotional or physical problems and could manifest themselves in different types of sleep disorders.
Sleep disorder vs. disordered sleep
You might ask yourself, “Do I have a sleep disorder?” and not know what the answer is. Dr. Breus, who’s also the trainer of Mindvalley’s The Mastery of Sleep Quest, explains there’s a difference between having a formally diagnosed sleep disorder and struggling with disordered sleep.
While sleep disorder is a clinical condition that affects your sleep quality, timing, or duration that more than likely requires professional treatment, disordered sleep is less extreme. Dr. Breus defines disordered sleep as: “You go to bed, you wake up six, seven, eight hours later, and you just don’t feel good.”
If you don’t feel refreshed first thing in the morning or struggle to pump up your energy during the day, you may just deal with the latter.
4 Different Types of Sleep Disorders
There are many types of sleep disorders with different causes, symptoms, and treatment plans. Here are four common ones to be aware of:
Insomnia is the condition where you have trouble staying asleep or falling asleep. It can happen for short periods of time (acute insomnia) or extended weeks or months (chronic insomnia).
- Troubles falling asleep
- Sleepiness and lack of energy during the day
- Extreme fatigue
- Lack of concentration and memory loss
- Mood swings and grumpiness
- Severe stress caused by major life events, work problems, relationship difficulties, etc.
- Inappropriate environment for sleep (too much light, distracting noise)
- Jet lag
- Dealing with mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety
- Certain medications can include insomnia as a side effect
- PMS or menopause
Treatment: When dealing with acute insomnia, your general practitioner can prescribe medication to alleviate the symptoms and improve the quality of your sleep. However, studies show that they shouldn’t be an ongoing, long-term treatment, as they may start losing their effectiveness and show up with some side effects.
However, experts recommend tackling chronic insomnia with a different approach. Good sleep hygiene and healthy sleeping patterns are shown to be a tremendous help in calming down the symptoms of insomnia. They include:
- Psychotherapy: It can be a great way of reducing stress caused by major life events or day-to-day worries.
- Meditation for sleep: You can learn how to calm down the mind and drop into your body to relax your nervous system.
- Regular exercise: It’s better not to work out right before bed, but at least three to four hours prior.
- Eat only a light snack before bedtime: Heavy meals right before bed will require more of your energy to digest, so your body won’t be relaxed enough to fall asleep.
- Care for your sleeping environment: Your bedroom should be dark and comfortable, with a lower room temperature.
- Focus on treating the health conditions linked to insomnia: In many cases, insomnia is caused by other health issues, such as asthma, heart problems, endocrine dysfunctions, etc.
Dr. Michael Breus also recommends having a ‘power down hour’ before we go to bed. This is a three-step process, which goes as follows:
- Twenty minutes of getting down everything that makes you feel anxious for the next morning: preparing your to-do list, ironing your clothes, deciding what you are going to wear.
- Twenty minutes of everything you need for hygiene: take a shower, wash your face, brush your teeth.
- Twenty minutes of only relaxing: spend time relaxing the best you can; it’s important to have a transition between your waking hours and falling asleep.
If you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, that’s actually a sign of sleep deprivation.— Dr. Michael Breus, trainer of Mindvalley’s The Mastery of Sleep Quest
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where your throat closes during the night and you stop breathing. It’s a serious sleep disturbance and it should be carefully treated.
- Stopping breathing for a few seconds
- Waking up with a headache
- Day time irritability
- Day time sleepiness
- Muscles in the back of your throat relax and therefore, not enough oxygen gets into your system
- Your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles
- Excessive consumption of alcohol and nicotine
- Health problems, such as Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure
Treatment: A lot of times, patients who struggle with sleep apnea are recommended to undergo a sleep study, where their sleep is monitored in order to see how intense the disorder appears during one’s sleep.
For milder forms of sleep apnea, lifestyle changes are recommended by doctors, such as a healthier diet, losing weight, quitting smoking, and focusing on sleep optimization.
In cases of severe forms of this sleep disorder, doctors typically prescribe continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is a machine that sends more air pressure into your lungs as you’re sleeping.
When extreme situations occur and previous treatment hasn’t been effective, surgery is another possible solution for tissue removal, jaw repositioning, or nerve stimulation.
Narcolepsy is a brain disorder where you get really bad sleep at night, which makes you incredibly sleepy during the day.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Cataplexy (when something surprises you or you get really angry, you lose control of your musculature)
- Hypnagogic hallucinations (right as you’re falling asleep or waking up, you see something in the room, blink your eyes, and then it’s gone)
- Sleep paralysis
- Naps (when you feel the need to take naps all the time during the day)
- Lack of hypocretin (a brain chemical that regulates sleep)
- Immune system problems
- Hormonal changes
- Strong psychological distress
- Infections in the body
Treatment: Medication that stimulates the central nervous system is the most common form of treatment for people dealing with narcolepsy. This treatment helps them stay awake during the day and alleviates symptoms of cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hypnagogic hallucinations.
Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is a sleep disorder where you get a creepy-crawly feeling over your legs when you’re going to sleep.
- Uncomfortable sensations in the legs
- Muscle twitching throughout the night
- Age (it seems to be more prevalent for people over the age of 40)
- Dysfunction in the part of the brain that controls movement
- Linked to Parkinson’s disease
- Iron deficiency
- Excessive use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine
- Late stage of pregnancy
- Certain medications can cause restless legs syndrome as a side effect
Treatment: The most common treatment for this sleep disorder is focusing on lifestyle changes. Reducing the number of stimulants consumed during the day can decrease the symptoms of the issue, and taking high iron supplementations is one of the first steps doctors recommend.
Anti-seizure drugs are also prescribed for patients affected by this sleep disturbance, only to diminish the signs of it.
Restless legs syndrome is a condition that currently has no cure in the medical field. Some forms of treatment are more effective for some people than for others, depending on their general health condition and previous affections.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sleep Disorders
Here are the answers to some common questions people ask about sleep disorders:
What is the most common sleep disorder?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), insomnia is the most common sleep disorder and it affects about one-third of adults.
What percentage of the population has a sleep disorder?
- 10%-30% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia
- 30-40% of the elderly suffer from insomnia
- 15-30% of men and 10-30% of women struggle with sleep apnea
- 135,000-200,000 people in the U.S have narcolepsy
- 5-10% of adults and 2-4% of children have restless legs syndrome
What are the most common causes of sleep disorders?
- Health conditions (asthma, heart diseases, breathing problems, hormonal changes)
- Mental issues (depression, anxiety, severe psychological distress)
- Lifestyle choices (alcohol, nicotine, poor diet, lack of exercise)
- Inconsistent sleep schedule
Can sleep disorders be cured?
The answer to this question depends on the type of sleep disorder, how severe it is, and what other physical or psychiatric conditions are linked to it. In many cases, a holistic approach to treating sleep disorders has been effective, but every patient’s case can be very particular.
How can I fix my sleep disorder?
If you want to learn more about the first steps to take when dealing with a sleep disorder, dr. Michael Breus recommends focusing on your sleep optimization.
Sleep Is NOT for the Weak
Forget about the “sleep is for the weak” saying. Your sleep is a priority in order to show up in the world as your most energetic self.
Everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep.— Dr. Michael Breus, trainer of Mindvalley’s The Mastery of Sleep Quest
When dealing with a sleep disorder, it’s essential to consult your doctor and get professional help. But understanding the basic principles of healthy sleep patterns, highly functioning sleep hygiene, and the importance of lifestyle choices will only support you in alleviating your symptoms.
And here’s where Mindvalley can help you. There are experts, like Dr. Michael Breus, who goes through the fundamentals for the best sleep routine in The Mastery of Sleep Quest. Additionally, The Mindvalley Podcast often hosts trailblazers and biohackers who have great advice on how to improve the quality of your slumber.
After all, sleep is self-love, too. And your greatness always starts with love.