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Sleep Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Remedies

Sleep Problems and Sleep Disorders

There's nothing quite like waking up after a great night of sleep, ready to face the challenges and pleasures of a brand new day. Unfortunately, sleep is often disturbed by one of several common sleep disorders.

Sleep Hygiene & Natural Sleep Remedies

Sleep disorders fall into several categories. Sometimes insomnia involves not being able to get to sleep, and sometimes it means you can't stay asleep. Sometimes you can sleep like a log, but are risking other health problems, as in teeth grinding, sleep walking, or sleep apnea, in which you stop breathing while you are asleep.

Causes of Sleep Disorders

The causes of the various sleep disorders vary from psychological causes, like stress and anxiety or depression, to physical problems like obesity.

Medications can cause you to sleep too shallowly or to deeply, or can cause restless legs.

Women are more likely to suffer sleep disorders, with the hormonal cycle sometimes causing sleep problems.

Alcohol or drug abuse can cause sleep disorders.

Older people are much more likely to have sleep disturbances for several reasons. For one thing, they are more likely to be on medications that cause restlessness. Also, they are more likely to have other ailments, such as an overactive bladder or pain from arthritis.

Sleep Disorders Symptoms & Effects

A person who is suffering with a sleep disorder is obviously going to feel tired and run down. There are some other general symptoms, like a impairment in one's productivity.

Unfortunately, accidents, including car wrecks, are often the result of someone missing sleep. People who don't sleep well at night often fall asleep in front of the TV or at school.

They might have trouble concentrating, and find it hard to keep from over-reacting to emotional upsets. It might be hard to remember things, and it might be impossible to keep going without a steady supply of coffee.

Sleep Disorders Diagnosis

Sleep disorders can be difficult to diagnose. A person may be receiving treatment for another problem, such as depression, when in reality, a sleep disorder is causing their symptoms. Sometimes doctors don't think to consider a person's sleep habits when they are deciding on treatment for a patient.

If you are seeing a doctor about a sleep problem, a good idea would be to keep a record of your sleep patterns for a week or two first, and take it to show the doctor.

You will likely have a blood test to check for possible disorders, and the doctor will probably have you fill out a questionnaire, such as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. If warranted, you might be requested to spend a night in a sleep laboratory, where the electrical activity of your brain, heart, muscles, and eyes will be monitored throughout the night.

Sleep Disorders Treatment

Treatment for sleep disorders depends on the type of disorder. In some cases, an external aid, such as a new mattress, white noise machine, or even just a pillow between the knees can make the difference between sleeping like a baby and being up and down all night.

Medications are often prescribed for sleep disorders, but implementing good sleep hygiene is perhaps the most important treatment of all.

Sleep Hygiene

Practicing good sleep hygiene is a good first course of action in treating sleep disorders. Sleep hygiene refers to going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, relaxing before bedtime, and similar healthful habits.

Get adequate aerobic exercise each day, such as a 30 minute walk (Don't do it within the three hours before bedtime, though, or it might stimulate you so you can't sleep).

Don't eat a large heavy meal late in the day, but do have a bedtime snack if you are hungry. Avoid caffeine after noon.

Stop using electronic devices, like your mobile phone, at least 30 minutes before going to bed.

Establish a schedule for going to bed and getting up, then stick to it.

Avoid drinking too much liquid in the evening. Alcohol can backfire as a sleep promoter, but there are several herb teas, such as hops or chamomile, that can induce restful slumber.

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Sleep Aids and Remedies

Sleeping pills, or sleep aids as they are often called, are a mixed blessing. If you are having trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep, and you go to see a doctor about it, there is a good chance of coming home with a prescription for a sleep aid. Sleeping pills are one of the most frequently prescribed of all types of medications.

In some situations, sleep aids can be a real blessing. They work best in temporary cases of insomnia, such as jet lag or stress over losing a loved one. Over a long haul, however, sleep aids can backfire by causing a physical or psychological dependence.

Sleep aids can be divided into prescription sleeping pills, over the counter pills, and natural sleep aids. Prescription sleeping pills fall into the categories of benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines. The non-benzodiazepines are newer medicines that work like the older benzodiazepines except they tend to have fewer side effects.

Over the counter sleep aids generally are made up of an antihistamine, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Combination products, like Tylenol PM, are basically just a pain killer (acetaminophen) with an antihistamine like diphenhydramine added.

Natural Sleep Aids and Remedies

Traditionally, herb teas like chamomile and catnip have been used to promote relaxation in the evening so people can get to sleep. A newcomer in the natural arsenal of sleep aids is Melatonin. This is a hormone that the body makes itself which promotes sleep, among other things. It has been found to be somewhat safe and effective when used by some people, but there are some other people who should not use it. These include pregnant or nursing women, people with cancer, and people with autoimmune diseases. In addition, if you are on other medications, chances are your doctor will discourage its use.

Natural sleep aids might seem safer at first glance than either OTC or prescription sleep aids, but there are cautions for the use of any type of sleep aid. Researchers are beginning to urge government officials to put stronger warnings on prescription sleeping pills. This is because these pills sometimes promote dangerous "parasomnias," like sleep-walking and driving. Over the counter pills, like prescription sleep aids, can cause some unpleasant side effects, too, such as daytime sleepiness and a reduction of mental clarity.

Natural remedies, such as herbs teas, are usually pretty safe, but some can cause allergic reactions. Probably the safest insomnia remedy is warm milk, which actually contains substances like the amino acid, l-tryptophan, which helps people get to sleep.

Sleep aids, whether prescription, over the counter, or natural, can help a person get some sleep from time to time, but they should not be used night after night for a long time. The body will grow accustomed to them so that they cease to do much good, but the patient still feels a psychological need for them. In some cases, an actual physical addiction develops. It is better to try to treat the reason for the insomnia than to plan on treating insomnia with sleep aids for weeks on end.


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