Insomnia and Sleep Apnea: How to Manage Difficult Sleep Conditions
Are your sleep struggles the result of a sleeping disorder? Insomnia and sleep apnea are widespread conditions, depriving millions of people of much-needed sleep and rest. With this in mind, we dig into the tell-tale signs of these two common sleep disorders, with tips on how to manage them.
There are many things that can stop you from getting enough sleep. Staying up late to binge the next Netflix hit show, scrolling through your social media feeds…
But if you’re frequently experiencing disrupted nights and can’t pin the blame on that movie marathon, then there might be something else going on behind the scenes.
Having a sleep disorder sounds pretty serious, but conditions like insomnia and sleep apnea are very common, leaving millions of people exhausted as a result.
It’s certainly important to deal with sleep struggles. The problem is determining whether your particular sleep problems are the result of a disorder. Below, we take a look at two of the most common sleep conditions — insomnia and sleep apnea — along with some tips for managing the condition in your life.
Are You Affected by Insomnia?
Staring at the ceiling while you fail to fall asleep, watching the hours tick away to morning with a growing sense of despair... The occasional bout of insomnia is a real pain in the you-know-what.
If you're experiencing this on a regular basis, though, it may soon start to feel as if you are wading through molasses every day, with fatigue, mood issues, and even problems with memory.
According to researchers, insomnia is “characterized by prolonged periods of difficulty sleeping that negatively affects daytime functioning.” The researchers go on to say, “Patients with insomnia disorder experience difficulty sleeping, such as trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep or waking up too early. These problems affect their ability to function during the day.”
Does all this sound far too familiar? Thankfully, you are not alone: “transient insomnia symptoms occur in 30 to 35 percent of the population, the full clinical syndrome of chronic insomnia disorder occurs in about 10 percent of people” (from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine).
According to researchers, insomnia is “characterized by prolonged periods of difficulty sleeping that negatively affects daytime functioning.”
So, why does sleep escape us from time to time? There are many things that can contribute to this: stress, diet, emotional and psychological states. Sometimes, the cause may be somewhat clear (a big presentation at work). That said, if you are repeatedly suffering from bouts of insomnia, then you may need to dig a little deeper, most likely with the help of a medical professional.
How to Deal with Insomnia
Research shows that tracking your current sleep patterns is a great first step toward understanding what’s triggering your insomnia. Simply keep a sleep journal by your bedside and jot down notes about your sleep: time, sleeping position(s), duration, and quality of any sleeping/waking periods, as well as how you're feeling physically and emotionally.
Our psychological makeup can also have physiological underpinnings, so checking in on your thoughts and feelings can help give you some insight into what's going on.
Alongside journaling, try to take some time to relax. It can help tremendously to spend a few quiet moments: meditating, reading, taking a bath. Tuning out the challenges of the day and turning your brain down might just help you get back on track toward more consistent, restorative sleep.
But if documenting your sleep patterns and carving out a relaxing bedtime routine isn't helping, it’s likely time to seek out some medical support.
If you’ve been tracking your sleep, show your sleep journal to your doctor, as this will provide a clearer, more full picture of what’s going on. Your physician may recommend a number of sleep training activities, such as exercises or further relaxation techniques, or even prescribe sleep aids to help break the pattern.
Sleep aids may sound scary, but they’re relatively common. The AAMA writes, “The CDC has estimated that 4.1 percent of U.S. adults report having taken a prescription sleep aid in the past month.” That’s more than 1 in every 25 people. In other words, you are most certainly not alone.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Unlike insomnia, which can often be brutally obvious to anyone suffering from it, sleep apnea can be far stealthier, interrupting your night without you even knowing it.
Imagine this scenario…
You're in line for brunch with your friends, ready for bottomless mimosas and avocado toast when suddenly your chest seizes — you can't find air. Pretty freaky, right? Well, this is exactly what happens with sleep apnea, only you’re not awake as it’s occurring.
Sleep apnea disrupts continuous sleep as your airway temporarily closes, bringing waves of disturbed breathing that can last for ten seconds at a time. Unsurprisingly, your body reacts to this, waking up each time the disruption occurs. Although you may not even realize you’ve stirred, it stops you from entering the deeper sleep states that promote regeneration and proper rest.
Because of this, it can be a somewhat elusive sleep disorder. Even though sleep apnea affects roughly 22 million Americans, you may not even have heard of it — much less be aware that you are waking so frequently in the night. Even so, it can do more than leave you feeling groggy the next day. People suffering from sleep apnea are at greater risk for other health concerns, such as hypertension or heart disease.
If you find yourself feeling overly tired during the day (after what you thought was a full night’s rest), it may be time to look for signs of sleep apnea. Symptoms include the occasional gasping mentioned above, as well as heavy snoring.
One way to track your sleep is through an iPhone or Android app. A number of apps exist that can monitor your activity all through the night, without any other special technology. That said, you can also pair your app with a “wearable”, like a smartwatch or fitness tracker. This can enable you to get an even clearer picture of what's going on while you sleep.
How to Treat Sleep Apnea
Sleep disorders can present major obstacles to a healthy and productive life. There are some natural solutions, though. Positive, long-term ways to mitigate the effects of many sleep disorders include maintaining a healthy body weight, staying away from smoking, and keeping alcohol intake to a minimum. In other words, focusing on healthy lifestyle choices.
If your sleep or grogginess problems persist, it’s probably time to talk to your doctor. They may recommend a specialist or a sleep test.
As a result of the disorder, your physician may prescribe a CPAP mask. CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure, is a device which fits over your nose and mouth. It injects small amounts of air overnight to ensure that no obstructions or interruptions disrupt your sleep. It may feel a little strange at first, but this is a very effective long-term solution for sleep apnea patients.
Positive, long-term ways to mitigate the effects of many sleep disorders include maintaining a healthy body weight, staying away from smoking, and keeping alcohol intake to a minimum. In other words, focusing on healthy lifestyle choices.
That being said, a CPAP machine/mask isn’t the only option. There are also dental devices that put your jaw and tongue in the right position throughout the night. Another option is permanent corrective upper airway surgery. Given the number of options available, your doctor will likely offer up a range of solutions to help tackle your sleep apnea.
Getting good sleep isn't always easy. Having the right sleeping surface can be a great start, but it might not be enough for some people. If you’re regularly experiencing disrupted nights thanks to one of these common sleep disorders, get the help you need to get your sleep — and your life — back on track.