Sleep disorders and how to treat them

sleep disorders

When I was 19 years old, I developed insomnia. It was the kind where I’d lie in bed, exhausted and more than ready to sleep, but it just wouldn’t happen. And it literally happened overnight. I had gone my whole life sleeping normally, albeit with a fan for white noise, then suddenly one night I just couldn’t sleep. Eventually, in the wee hours of the morning, I’d finally get some semblance of sleep. This was usually just a little before I needed to get up for work, of course. The sleeplessness quickly led to terrible headaches. About six months passed before I finally went to the doctor who put me on the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. Problem solved. Although I wasn’t even anxious…was I?

Eventually, when I got pregnant with my first child and didn’t want to risk complications from the medication, my OB-GYN suggested I switch to Benadryl as a sleep-aid. Or was it Sudafed? [Ed Note: Probably Benadryl; Sudafed keeps you awake] I can’t remember which of those allergy medications it was, but it worked. I did that for a few years until I reached a place where I wanted to go “natural” in as many ways as possible. So, I went through a lot of trial and error before settling on the two things that have worked best for me, even some 20 years later. The first was calcium with magnesium. I took it every night for several years. But then for one reason or another, I made a switch to an herbal supplement: valerian root. To this day, if I don’t take something for it, I’m awake or restless most of the night because I have a sleep disorder. I don’t know why it started randomly at 19 years of age. However, it is interesting to note that valerian root is actually used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and nervous restlessness. So, maybe was and still am a little anxious after all.

Sleep Disorder Causes

Anxiety is a common cause of sleep trouble, whether the person is aware of the anxiety or not. But there are many types of sleep disorders and many causes. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea – poor sleep due to hindered breathing
  • Central Sleep Apnea – breathing disrupted during sleep due to brain function
  • Insomnia – difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Hypersonmina – excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Parasomnias – includes night terrors, nightmares, sleep walking, etc.
  • REM Sleep Behavior Disorder – “acting” out your dreams
  • Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder – disruptions in one’s internal body clock that regulates biological processes
  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder – rhythmic movements of the limbs during sleep
  • Shift Work Sleep Disorder – trouble sleeping and/or staying awake due to night or rotating shift work
  • Narcolepsy – neurological disorder that effects the control of sleep and wakefulness

No one ever told me what kind of sleep disorder I have. I’m self-diagnosing, but it’s a fair one since multiple doctors have given me instructions on how to combat insomnia with medications. Nevertheless, not being able to sleep and developing severe headaches sounds like a dream compared to some of these alternatives, don’t you think? In fact, there have been some famous court cases involving murder during sleep, an extreme outcome of REM sleep behavior disorder. I’m counting my blessings!

Sleep Disorders Treatments

In addition to the number and variations of sleep disorders, there are also a number of varied causes. That can sometimes make it difficult to treat the problem. And each disorder usually has its own method(s) of treatment. Often times this requires trial and error. For example, the Mayo Clinic recommends stimulants and antidepressants for narcolepsy, but everyone responds to medications differently, so you’ll likely have to go through a few till you find the right one for you. They also recommend weight loss, sleeping on your side, and decreasing alcohol as a way to treat obstructive sleep apnea. That will likely take some time and may or may not work. Other sleep disorders may be treated with cognitive behavior therapy or counseling of some kind. This list goes on.

However, if you have certain conditions like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, then you’re facing additional problems. First, you are almost certain to have restless or sleepless nights, possibly including restless leg syndrome itself, which is a common source of insomnia. Second, a lack of sleep exacerbates all of your other symptoms. That’s why many healthcare practitioners have turned to treating the issue of sleep in an attempt to treat the associated symptoms that come with those conditions.

Of course, there are alternative therapies to consider as well. But it just depends on the type and cause of your sleep disorder. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your health care practitioner to figure out the source. From there you can work together to find the most effective way to get you back into the world of deep, restful, and refreshing sleep. What works for you? Have you found that special herbal cocktail or exercise that lets you sleep? Share it with us.