While some sleep issues are acute and last just a few nights or weeks, others are chronic, which can have long-term effects on your health, according to Dr. Mohan Dutt, a clinical assistant professor of sleep medicine at the University of Michigan and co-host of the White Noise Podcast.
Sleep disorders are associated with health risks ranging from an increased risk of accidents and injuries to obesity, diabetes, depression and heart attacks, so getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment is essential.
Here are four signs you might have a sleep disorder:
You’re bound to feel exhausted after a night on the town or late-night TV marathon but experiencing excessive sleepiness after spending eight hours between the sheets could be a sign of a sleep disorder, Dutt says.
“Poor sleep increases feelings of fatigue and no one wants to feel tired all the time,” he says.
Insomnia, which can make it difficult to fall asleep or sleep through the night, can leave you struggling to make it through the day without a nap. Acute insomnia affects up to 25% of adults; stress, illness and medication side effects are common triggers.
Insomnia is considered chronic when it occurs at least three nights per week for more than three months. Research shows treatments ranging from improved sleep habits to cognitive behavioral therapy were effective for addressing insomnia.
TOSSING AND TURNING
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) triggers an irresistible urge to move your legs and the symptoms are most severe at night, which can cause you to spend the night tossing and turning.
Up to 10% of the population has RLS and 80% of those with the condition also experience periodic limb movement during sleep, twitching or jerking movements occurring as often as every 15 minutes throughout the night, making it difficult to slip into a restful slumber. In fact, insomnia is the most common reason those with RLS make appointments to see their doctor, according to one study.
Your partner could be the first to notice the symptoms of a sleep disorder.
“We often see patients who say, ‘My spouse complains about my snoring,’” says Dr. Dan Root, a board-certified sleep specialist and founder of Oregon Sleep Associates. “Snoring might wake you up — or wake your partner, who nudges you to turn over — and that can make it harder to get back to sleep.”
Occasional bouts of snoring might not be a big deal (a head cold or allergies are common snoring triggers) but chronic snoring is a warning sign for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder in which blockages of the airways cause repeated nighttime awakenings.
The prevalence of sleep apnea is on the rise, according to 2018 research, and is often undiagnosed and untreated. Although the condition can cause repeated pauses in breathing that cause you to wake up, 25% of those with OSA do not experience daytime sleepiness; snoring might be the main cue something is amiss.
Seeking treatment for OSA is important because the condition is linked to health risks, including cardiovascular disease and depression; sleep apnea is also associated with a higher prevalence of colorectal cancer, according to a 2019 study.
Too little sleep or tossing and turning all night can make it harder to focus on expense reports or remember the grocery list. Difficulty concentrating is a symptom of several sleep disorders, including insomnia and sleep apnea.
Part of the issue is, of course, lack of sleep (research shows the neurons in your brain work more slowly when you’re fatigued) but bigger things might be happening, too.
Sleep apnea appears to cause changes in the brain. A study published in Journal of Sleep Research found levels of three neurotransmitters are affected by sleep apnea, leading to increased irritability and stress, which can make it more difficult to focus; additional research found those with OSA showed deficits in multiple areas of the brain.
There is no need to panic if you snore, toss and turn, wake up exhausted or struggle to concentrate on occasion; if the symptoms persist nightly or affect your daytime functioning, Dutt suggests making an appointment with your doctor.