What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Sleep Disorders?
The average koala bear sleeps for 22 hours per day. For human infants—those greedy but precious gluttons for sleep—the typical time expended sleeping is 16 hours, or 2/3 the day’s length, giving true meaning to the phrase, “sleeping like a baby”.
If you’ve had the misfortune of being victimized by a sleep-awake crisis, chances are that these statistics sound one of two VERY different ways to you:
- Deliciously enviable, as slumber has become your longtime arch-nemesis, OR…
- Disconcerting, because… since when did your restful hours start to compete with those of the sleepiest animals on earth?
If you can’t sleep… find yourself sleeping more than animals who hibernate during the wintertime… or when you do actually sleep, you find yourself engaging in bizarre behaviors—like that time you made an entire platter of French toast and woke up with maple syrup dreadlocks… you might be suffering from a sleep disorder.
But don’t worry: spoiler alert ahead—We can help!
Generalized signs & symptoms of a sleep disorder may include:
- Difficulty falling—and staying—asleep: watching those digital numbers on your alarm clock flicker from 1 am to 2 am to 3am—and beyond; or falling asleep at a reasonable hour and then finding yourself wideawake at 2 am for the painful (and seemingly endless) remainder of the night…
- Difficulty staying awake: the flip side of the insomnia coin, known as hypersomnia
- Chronic drowsiness or a pattern of falling asleep at inopportune times: like in the middle of a sentence, during an exam, or while barreling 90mph down interstate 6…
- Being awake all night and unarousable during the day: especially when you don’t work third shift, and your daytime responsibilities and sanity are starting to splinter
- Fitful sleep: you toss, you turn, or your sleep feels non-restorative (when you sleep for 8+ hrs. every night, yet mysteriously manage to feel even less rested in the AM)
- Difficulty concentrating: absent-minded behavior, a sluggish memory, or increased frequency of silly mistakes
- Irritability: your sleep-deprived and MUCH crankier evil-twin makes another untimely appearance
- Nightmares: disturbing dreams that interrupt your sleep or reduce you to thrashing, hyperventilating, or inadvertently punching—sorry! I promise it was self-defense! —your sleeping partner
- Unusual behaviors that are enacted while you’re still asleep: sleepwalking, giving your dog a haircut, online shopping, sleep-texting your ex-romantic partner… and more+
- Impaired functioning during in your “awake” life: when academics, employment, or interpersonal relationships suffer as a direct result of your sleep problem
A Quick Breakdown Of The 10 Most Common Sleep Disorders
The average human will spend 33% of his or her life sleeping. When you put it that way, it’s easy to comprehend how so many different types of sleep disorders could exist, as well as how each condition could stem from so many different medical or psychological causes.
Briefly detailed below are 10 of the most common diagnoses for sleep disorders:
- Insomnia: characterized by a failure to obtain or sustain sleep; or frequent and premature (middle-of-the-night) reawakenings followed by hours and hours of sleeplessness
- Hypersomnia: sleeping, sleeping, and more sleeping, for 12+ hours per day, paired with symptoms of chronic fatigue during wakeful hours
- Narcolepsy: sudden activity-independent (meaning, not just the boring stuff!) episodes of falling aslee—-zzzzzzzzz…
- Circadian Rhythm Disorder: for the extreme Night Owl, who resides in a day-bird world: occurs when you are wide-eyed and awake at nighttime, only to sleep through all of your morning, lunch… and um, afternoon… obligations… with disastrous life complications at that
- Nightmares & Night Terrors: when your sleep is plagued by unpleasant dreams; or you have episodes of inconsolable panic during the middle of the night that you can’t seem to remember in the light of day
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: occurs when you enact violent or vivid dreams while remaining asleep—perhaps by punching your partner or vintage lamp while your dream-self simultaneously fends off a home intruder
- NREM Sleep Arousal Disorder: encompasses sleepwalking, night terrors, and the complex set of behaviors that people can engage in while still asleep. No activity is off limits: from building a snowman to baking a delicious tray of nacho’s or to even engaging sleep sex (i.e. “sexsomnia”)
- Bruxism: nighttime teeth-grinding, usually in conjunction with daytime anxiety
- Sleep Apnea: when a soft tissue obstruction or nervous system malfunction interrupts your breathing while you are sleeping, with dangerous long-term health consequences
- Restless Leg Syndrome: when uncomfortable sensations in your legs cause you to fidget your limbs at nighttime, interfering with your sleep
How Can Counseling & Therapy For Sleep Disorders Help Me?
Sleep disorders are the common byproducts of physical ailments (e.g. diabetes, hypothyroidism, or heart disease), psychological concerns (e.g. depression, anxiety, PTSD, or major life transitions), or medications and habit-forming substances. Given the diversity of potential causes that can contribute to sleep-wake difficulties, your therapist may recommend:
- Medical evaluation by a qualified healthcare provider or sleep clinic specialist who can assess your condition for possible medical causes
- Therapeutic interventions (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to treat underlying psychological conditions (such as anxiety or depression) that may be triggering or exacerbating your sleep condition
- Recording your pre- and post-sleeping routines into a sleep journal that can help you pinpoint personally effective or inhibitory sleep habits
- Sleep restriction therapy: following a strict sleeping schedule (no napping allowed!) to enable your body to adapt to a more constructive sleeping routine
- Putting healthy sleep habits into motion: eliminating caffeine or alcohol intake after certain hours, exercising regularly, avoiding artificial light before bedtime, etc.
- Phototherapy (planned exposure to UV light) coupled with Dark Therapy (eliminating before bedtime light exposure, particularly from electronics) to reset your circadian, or natural sleep-awake, biorhythm
- Mindfulness, meditation, or psychotherapeutic yoga to help you develop innovative tactics for stress management