Counting Sheep: An Overview of Sleep Disorders

People who get an adequate amount of healthy, restorative sleep are better able to cope with stress and physical pain during their waking hours. Unfortunately, sleep patterns and sleep quality can be disturbed, leading to an array of physical and psychological illnesses.

Changes in the quality or quantity of sleep can lead to the development of a sleep disorder. This is common for people who have high work, family, or caretaker demands. Some people develop sleep disorders during or after drug and alcohol treatment, making it an important part of their overall health as well as their sobriety.

There are multiple factors that can have a short-term impact on one’s sleep. Some of these may include:

  • Diet: The use of mild stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can interfere with sleep, especially when used frequently and for prolonged periods. Common foods or beverages containing sugar, such as dessert foods, soft drinks, chocolate, juices, milk, teas, or high-fat foods, can all cause sleeplessness or diminish sleep quality.
  • Medication: Sleep disturbances can also result from taking prescription and over-the-counter drugs such as pain relievers, cough remedies, antihistamines, appetite suppressants, and decongestants. These can also include drugs for asthma, high blood pressure, heart, and thyroid problems.
  • Schedule: Adults who work irregular shifts or caretaker schedules are likely to experience sleep difficulties for prolonged periods of time.
  • Physiological Changes: Changes in an individual’s circadian rhythm can impact sleep quality. A person who experiences this might be able to go to sleep when desired only to wake up a few hours later and not be able to get back to sleep. Changes to the circadian rhythms are caused by significant distress or impairment, resulting in excessive sleepiness, insomnia, or both.

Sleep Disorders

A person’s sleep can be greatly affected by everyday factors, but with the proper treatment and good sleep hygiene, they can reverse those factors. However, some people suffer from more serious, prolonged problems with sleep, often referred to as sleep disorders. The five major sleep disorders are:

  • Insomnia: Characterized by an inability to sleep or dissatisfaction with sleep quantity and quality. A person experiencing insomnia may have difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep due to frequent awakenings and the inability to get back to sleep.
  • Narcolepsy: Recurrent periods of an uncontrollable need to sleep, bouts of lapsing into sleep, or the need to nap throughout the day.
  • Sleep Apnea: Breathing disturbances during sleep, including snorting, gasping, snoring, or pauses in breathing. A person that suffers from Sleep Apnea often experiences daytime sleepiness or fatigue due to unrefreshing sleep.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): Causes a person to experience the urge to move their legs due to uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations in their legs. That urge typically happens during rest periods or inactivity (especially during the evening or at night) and is only relieved by movement.

Common Treatments for Sleep Disorders

Working with a healthcare professional is the first line of defense for combating sleep disturbances. Every person will need specialized treatments. However, there are treatment methods that are commonly used and have been proven to be highly effective when distributed and monitored by a medical professional.

Individuals that suffer from sleep apnea are often recommended to use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. This consists of a mask and a tube that releases a stream of steady air pressure into their airways. Some over-the-counter and prescription medications are formulated to help induce sleep, including sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines. However, these drugs can cause more sleeplessness after discontinuation and cause dependency themselves after prolonged intake or misuse.

Because most of these medications are depressants, they are likely to affect a person’s alertness, cause memory loss, and cause physical instability. This can increase the likelihood of falls or more severe injuries. RLS can be overcome by a combination of medications that correct abnormalities in the body that cause the physical symptoms of RLS. Narcolepsy is most often commonly treated with a combination of behavioral treatment therapy, schedule modifications, and, if necessary, stimulant medicines.

Seeking Help

Sleep disorders and treatment for them vary from person to person. Nevertheless, people who have a sleep disorder, or suspect one, should consult their primary care physician, a specialist at a sleep clinic, or their local hospital or clinic for treatment. As with any illness or disorder, the earlier that treatment is sought and found, the faster relief will be on its way, and the quality of one’s life can improve.

Sleep disturbances can cause significant distress and impairment in occupational, social, educational, academic, behavioral, and other principal areas of functioning. If you are battling a mental health or substance use disorder, you may be especially vulnerable to sleep disturbances. This is especially true if you are prone to routinely sleeping under the influence of alcohol and other substances. In fact, insomnia is exceptionally prevalent during the recovery process, which in all probability may increase your desire to return to old habits, including substance use. Therefore, it is imperative to address sleep disturbances as soon as possible, and with the help of medical professionals. Valiant Living is an all-male outpatient treatment facility located in scenic Centennial, CO, specializing in treating individuals with co-disorders. If you or someone you love needs help overcoming a mental health or substance use disorder, contact us at (303) 952-5035 and learn more about our programs today.