10 Disorders That Disturb Sleep

By Adline A. Ghani

Insomnia can be defined as “trouble falling or staying sleep,” which may be an episodic, short-term condition, or a chronic, long-term one. While you’ve probably suffered from some form of sleeplessness in your life, more research is still needed to fully understand the effects of both episodic and chronic sleep deprivation. This is because, while one sleepless night may cause you to have a rough morning the next day, 60 sleep-deprived nights in a row may actually put your life at risk! Case in point – Michael Jackson’s untimely and shocking death back in 2009.

At his wrongful-death trial, details emerged that the King of Pop had suffered from acute sleep difficulty and that he had been using a powerful anesthetic called propofol to help him rest at night. The drug, however, disrupts normal sleep cycles, causing Jackson to go an estimated 60 days without “real sleep,” as Dr Charles Czeisler from the Division Of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School testified during the trial.

While we may never know why Jackson suffered from sleeplessness, it is known that there are many causes behind sleep-related problems. While it can be as simple as  jet lag and working late,  sleeplessness can also be caused by more serious medical and mental health disorders. The following are 10 common conditions associated with difficulty falling or staying asleep:

#1 Breathing Problems

Shortness of breath, coughing and changes in the airways often cause breathing difficulties that can prevent sufferes from falling asleep or rouse them several times during the night. Airway constriction, for example, leads to sleep apnoea or asthma attacks, while emphysema or bronchitis sufferers encounter sleep problems due to the excessive production of sputum or phlegm.

#2 Diabetes

Characterised by high levels of glucose in the blood, this chronic disorder can lead to many a sleepness nights. The sleeplessness is caused mainly by uncontrolled blood sugar levels, symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), night sweats, a need to urinate frequently, as well as pain in the legs due to nerve damage.

#3 Heart Disease

Those suffering from heart disease often awaken from sleep due to breathlessness. This is caused by the accumulation of liquid in the lungs and surrounding tissues, especially when the sufferer lies down. Sleep may also be disturbed by angina (chest pain) and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), in those with coronary artery disease.

#4 Thyroid Disease

An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can lead to various sleep loss issues. This includes overstimulation of the nervous system, which leads to night sweats and waking up in the middle of the night, as well as experiencing severe coldness that can also lead to frequent awakenings or trouble falling asleep.

#5 Nocturia

Frequent urination during the night, also known as nocturia, is another common cause of sleep problems. While this is a disorder that is often most prevalent among the elderly, nocturia may also be caused by  heart or liver failure, diabetes, urinary tract infection, multiple sclerosis, sleep apnoea and certain types of medication.

#6 Anxiety

Individuals with an anxiety disorder are frequently robbed of sleep, due to constant and intense worry, phobias and uneasiness. Besides difficulty in falling and staying asleep, sufferers are also plagued by nightmares and nocturnal panic attacks. The underlying cause of anxiety tends to vary on a case by case basis but it often includes post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. 

#7 Musculoskeletal Problems

Pain in the joints, ligaments and tendons often cause sufferers to lose precious sleep as they find it hard to cope with the aches and pains and to find a comfortable sleeping position. Medication for arthritis and fibromyalgia may also keep sufferers awake due to stimulating side effects.

#8 Dementia 

Disorientation and agitation caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia often disrupt brain function. This consequently affects the quality of sleep as well as disrupts sleep regulation.

#9 Kidney Failure

People with Chronic Kidney Disease often have sleep-related problems. This is caused by the build up of waste products in the blood, which can lead to restless leg syndrome. This condition affects people differently but can be characterised by itching, tingling, cramping and involuntary jerking of the leg that keep sufferers awake long into the night.

#10 Psychiatric Issues

Individuals who suffer from mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder or psychotic disorders like schizophrenia and other mental health problems are usually insomniacs as well. Some may sleep very little or rarely get a normal amount of deep sleep, while others may not sleep at all for a few days and then spend the next few days unable to leave the bed.

Sleep deprivation, even in its episodic form, is not to be taken lightly, as it can lead to considerable mental and emotional strain, as well as adversely effect one’s physical wellbeing and relationships. Therefore, if you experience persistent sleeplessness, take a proactive role in regaining your rest.

Don’t hesitate to seek professional help to identify the possible underlying causes. If you suspect that a specific medication you’re taking is interrupting your sleep, for example, seek your doctor’s advice on alternatives that don’t cause disruptions. If you’re constantly stressed and anxious, reach out to family and friends or meet with a counsellor or psychologist to address your fears and apprehensions.

Adopting a healthier lifestyle, consisting of regular exercise, a nutritious diet, a positive approach to life, as well as learning and practicing relaxation techniques, can also help alleviate your sleep problems. The important thing is to recognise the condition and take steps to improve your sleep and your overall quality of life.

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