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Types of Sleep Disorders:
Insomnia, Restless Legs,
and Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Information from “Insomnia" (Ch. 5) in Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day by Dr. Robert Rosenberg
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the United States, affecting approximately one of every three people. Insomnia in younger adults typically manifests itself as a difficulty to initiate sleep, whereas in older adults, insomnia tends to cause a difficulty in maintaining sleep. You may have had temporary bouts of insomnia, called transient or acute adjustment insomnia, going through a divorce, losing a job, or losing a family member in death.
Different types of insomnia include: Primary Insomnia, Transient Insomnia, Insomnia with Multiple Causal Factors, and Chronic Insomnia.
Common symptoms of insomnia include:
- Inability to fall asleep
- Inability to stay asleep
- Early morning awakenings and not feeling renewed or refreshed
- Feeling as though your sleep is of poor quality or is nonrestorative
These sleep patterns affect your ability to function each day. You may wake up tired and be less mentally alert. However, most insomniacs are not sleepy, which is more like feeling drowsy or tired. They are more likely to complain of fatigue, which is not the same thing. They feel as if they have no energy and have to push themselves to get things accomplished. Insomniacs keep a constant, vigilant state that taxes the nervous system. Holding that tension for days, for weeks, and even months can make it extremely difficult to function normally.
The greatest news is that there are treatments for insomnia that can improve your health, function, and quality of life. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests both pharmaceuticals and behavioral approaches in order to improve sleep.
- Good Sleep Hygiene
- Stimulus Control
- Sleep Restriction
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Cognitive Restructuring
- Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Release Tension and Relax Before Going to Bed
If you suffer from chronic insomnia, do not ignore it. Do not wait until you develop a mood disorder. Seek out a sleep expert, who can offer a diagnosis based on your sleep history, medical history, and a possible sleep study if a primary sleep disorder like sleep apnea is considered.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Information from “Restless Legs Syndrome" (Ch. 4) in Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day by Dr. Robert Rosenberg
Restless Legs Syndrome affects about 10% of the population. It typically manifests itself as a strong urge to move your arms or legs when you're resting or a tingling sensation in your extremities that keeps you awake at night. There are two types of RLS: Primary RLS has no known cause, and stands alone, not being associated with any other disorder. Secondary RLS can be caused or is associated with a number of disorders including iron deficiency, renal disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease among others.
Common symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome include:
- The strong urge to move, accompanied or caused by uncomfortable or distressing skin sensations of the legs
- Unpleasant sensations in the legs, but these sensations can extend into the torso and arms
Sensations are described as:
- An itch you can’t scratch
- Aching muscles, penetrating pain
- An unpleasant tickle that won’t stop
- Phantom limb pain
- Crawling, as you brush the crawling thing off your arm, except when you look, nothing is there
RLS is one of the most prevalent neurological disorders in Europe and North America. RLS is often common in people with fibromyalgia and in women during their third trimester of pregnancy RLS is a significant contributor to both depression and anxiety disorders. About 2% of American children experience RLS. Inattention and hyperactivity among children are often seen as symptoms of ADHD, but they may actually be a manifestation of RLS. For more on ADHD and sleep disorders, see here.
Treatment of RLS takes into consideration how to relieve symptoms, but also any discovered cause or associated medical condition such as neuropathy. For relief of RLS that seems sporadic, movement, stretching, and massaging the legs does help to relieve symptoms. You can also make lifestyle changes such as eliminating caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and moderate daily exercise.
If symptoms persist, ask your health care provider to test you for low levels of iron, magnesium, and potassium. If necessary, you may need to add supplements to your diet.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Information from “Circadian Rhythm Disorders" (Ch. 6) in Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day by Dr. Robert Rosenberg
Nearly every creature on earth has an internal “clock” that works in tandem with the planet’s rotation around the sun. This biological clock is governed by the circadian rhythm, the natural oscillations that occur within the 24-hour cycle and regulates eating, sleeping, and much more. When this rhythm is disrupted, you may have difficulty with delayed sleep, hormone dysregulation, as well as changes in body temperature and moodiness. There are six circadian rhythm disorders, including jet lag and shift work disorders, which are the most common.
Common symptoms of Circadian Rhythm Disorders include:
- Disturbed sleep—such as insomnia, early waking, or excessive sleepiness
- Daytime fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating or functioning at your usual level
- Dehydration or muscle soreness
- Stomach problems, constipation or diarrhea
- Cannot go to sleep at the time you desire and/or cannot wake up when you want
- Depression and behavior problems, due to daytime drowsiness that can lead to academic problems, fatigue, or dependency on caffeine, sleep aids, or alcohol
If left untreated, the disorders cause a host of physical and psychological problems and disrupt our personal and professional lives. A lack of sleep and daytime fatigue can affect your concentration and functionality, can harm your body and wellness, and can even lead to depression and behavioral problems.
“I will be the first to tell you flatly that most people totally disregard how delicate and sensitive this circadian biology can be.”–Dr. Robert Rosenberg
Circadian Rhythms Disorders have various different treatment options, depending on individuals and specific diagnoses. But here are some suggestions to decrease your exposure to blue light (a common irritant to circadian rhythms) and get your circadian sleep-wake cycle back to normal:
- Turn off communication devices two hours before bedtime
- Using red nightlights in your bedroom for illumination instead of blue or others
- Wearing blue bocker sunglasses at night
- Try a software app called f.lux that alters the color of your computer display according to the time of day
If you are concerned that you may have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor.
To learn more about Insomnia, Restless Legs Syndrome, Circadian Rhythms Disorders, and other disorders that might be disrupting your sleep, order Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day by specialist Dr. Robert Rosenberg. The book includes thorough information on all of the most common sleep disorders, self-checks for disorder symptoms, recommendations and tools for treatments, case studies, Q&A's and more.
You can also learn more by reading Dr. Rosenberg’s articles:
Restless Legs Syndrome
Circadian Rhythm Disorders
General Sleep Hygiene
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