Sleep is important for optimal health. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep each day. A lot of us experience trouble sleeping at one time or another due to stress, busy schedules, travel or other temporary factors. However, when these sleep disturbances occur regularly affecting our daily life and ability to get a good sleep, they may suggest a sleep disorder and a diagnosis of insomnia. Sleep disturbances in children especially during the growing phase may have significant consequences on their health affecting proper growth, mental and physical disorders. Parents should be aware of the sleep pattern of their children and seek professional help if they discover abnormality in the sleep of their children.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether our sleeping difficulty is due to minor disruptions, or a sign of a more serious medical condition. Check out the types of common sleep disorders below or talk to our GSG specialist to find out more.
Autonomic Nervous system Dysfunction
Our human body nervous system is categorized into central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system is made up of the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system consists of nerves arising from the brain and spinal cord. It connects and transmit signals from the central nervous system to different parts of the body. The peripheral nervous system is further divided into somatic nervous system which controls body voluntary movements and the autonomic nervous systems which regulates involuntary movements in our body.
The autonomic nervous system is made up of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and they often work in opposition to maintain balance, or homeostasis, within our body. Sympathetic nervous system is responsible for “fight or flight” responses and to prepare the body for perceived threat. Parasympathetic nervous system controls “rest and digest” functions of the body and maintain body functions when it is at rest. Both the nervous systems regulate various body processes, such as sleep, blood flow, blood pressure, body temperature, digestion, heart and breathing rate. Hence, if imbalances occur between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, our health suffers, including disruption of sleep. And without adequate consistent sleep, other bodily processes, such as body metabolism, energy use, and body healing capability can be affected.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder characterized by difficulty to fall asleep and staying asleep, despite adequate chance to sleep. Insomnia can be a concern for older people as well as children and teenagers. Insomnia can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Acute insomnia usually lasts for days to weeks and can be a result of stress or environmental factors such as noise, light or extreme temperatures. It is common and tends to resolve without any treatments. Chronic insomnia occurs at least three times per week for at least three months. Common causes include depression, sleep disorders, chronic stress, medications and certain chronic diseases. People with insomnia often has poor quality or quantity of sleep resulting in daytime fatigue, low energy, mood changes, anxiety, lack of focus and slower reaction time which may lead to decreased work or school performance, higher risk of accidents, mental health disorders and chronic diseases.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a condition of the nervous system that causes unpleasant sensations in the legs and uncontrollable urge to move them. They usually occur on both legs or feet, and less commonly, in the arms. The symptoms are often described as crawling, creeping, pulling, itching, or throbbing. They often worse in the evening or at night when a person is at rest, such as sitting or lying in bed. The sensation of RLS reduces with movement, like stretching and walking. Since the symptoms happen mainly at night, people who are affected can have difficulty falling asleep or returning to sleep after waking up.
In majority of RLS cases, the cause is unknown or idiopathic. This type of condition has been associated with specific gene variants and it runs in families, especially if it begins before age 40. Some evidence also suggests that RLS is related to basal ganglia dysfunction, which is a part of our brain that uses dopamine to control movement. Dopamine is a brain chemical that is involved in controlling muscle movement, hence an imbalance of this chemical can result in involuntary movements. Other factors associated with RLS include pregnancy, iron deficiency, peripheral neuropathy, use of alcohol, caffeine and certain medications.
Many of us think that snoring is funny or something to feel ashamed about. However, loud snoring can indicate a presence of sleep apnea, which is a potentially serious sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is characterized by breathing that repeatedly stop and starts throughout the sleep cycle. People with sleep apnea mostly not aware of these short breathing pauses on their own, since the symptoms only present when they’re asleep. Hence, the signs of sleep apnea are usually reported by another person or a bed partner. Other signs or symptoms of sleep apnea include gasping for air during sleep, insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headache, awakening with a dry mouth, and lack of focus.
There are a few types of sleep apnea, known as obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. It is mainly caused by blockage of airway when the muscles in the back of the throat relax. In cases of central sleep apnea, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the breathing muscles due to spinal or brainstem injury, stroke, or heart disease. Sleep apnea can affect anyone, including kids. The factors that can increase the risk include excess weight, thicker necks, smoking, nasal congestion, use of alcohol, being male or being older.
Most people experience anxiety now and then and it is a normal reaction to stressful situations. For example, you might feel anxious when taking an exam, preparing for an interview or giving a speech in public. However, if you frequently have sudden intense, excessive and constant fear or worry which does not go away, you might be having an anxiety disorder. There are a few types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and various phobia-related disorders. Some people have more than one type of anxiety disorder. The common signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders include sleep difficulties, feeling restless, tense, nervous, weak or tired, breathing rapidly, difficulty concentrating, trembling, heart palpitations, difficulty controlling worry or fear, and having the urge to avoid object or situation that trigger anxiety. There is no clear cause of anxiety disorder, however both genetic and environmental factors can contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. These factors include traumatic events, stress buildup, medical illnesses, family members with an anxiety disorder, and temperamental traits of shyness or behavioral inhibition in childhood.
Everyone feels sad or depressed at times, but these feelings are usually temporary and are normal response to loss and life’s struggles. However, if the symptoms present nearly every day for at least two weeks, the person may have depression. Depression or major depressive disorder is a common but serious mood disorder which can affect the way you think, feel and behave leading to various emotional and physical problems. The cause of depression is mostly unclear, but several factors may be involved, such as physical changes in the brains, hormonal changes, or inherited traits. Depression can happen at any age, and often starts in the teens, 20s or 30s. Many factors can increase the risk of triggering depression, including traumatic or stressful events, family history of depression, history of mental health disorders, serious or chronic illness, unsupportive environment, certain medications and certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem or self-critical.
Not everyone with depression will experience the same symptoms, they vary in terms of severity, frequency and duration of the symptoms. Common signs and symptoms of depression include persistent sadness, emptiness or hopelessness, irritability, anxious, loss of interest or pleasure in most normal activities or hobbies, feeling of worthlessness or guilt, thoughts of death or suicide, unexplained aches and pains, and sleep disturbance, such as insomnia or oversleeping. Depression is a serious disorder and can affect a person’s normal daily activities, work, school and their family. Several complications associated with depression can occur if no appropriate treatment is given. These complications include suicidal feelings or attempts, family or relationship conflicts, reduced school or work performance, alcohol or drug abuse, self-mutilation, social isolation and pain or physical illness. However, depression is not weakness, and with proper diagnosis and treatment, majority of people with depression will overcome it.
Not all sleeping problems are due to stress, but people who are under considerable stress can have trouble sleeping. Stress is the body’s reaction to any demand or stressor, such as work, school, traumatic events, or major life changes. It affects everyone and in fact some stress is beneficial, and we called it as the stress response, or “fight-or-flight” response, which prepares us to face a threat and to prevent an injury. However, long-term stress can harm our health. Chronic stress can suppress our immune system, reproductive system and affects our sleep and digestion. Symptoms of stress can vary and often vague because everybody handle stress differently, but some of the common effects of stress include insomnia, headache, fatigue, stomach upset, muscle tension or pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, obesity, change in sex drive or more prone to flu or common cold.
There are ways to manage stress, such as getting regular physical exercises, spending time with friends and family, setting goals and new tasks, setting aside time for hobbies, and practicing relaxation techniques, like meditation, tai chi, massage or deep breathing. It is more effective to manage stress using active ways instead of inactive ways such as playing video games, watching television or surfing the internet. Talk to a health professional if you are overwhelmed by stress or your symptoms are not improving even after you’ve taken steps to manage your stress.