Sleep disorders are changes in the way that you sleep that can affect your physical, mental, and emotional health. Sleep disorders can have many causes, such as stress, lifestyle, medical conditions, or environmental factors. Sleep disorders can also have many consequences, such as reduced productivity, impaired memory, increased risk of accidents, and chronic diseases. According to various studies and surveys, today’s sleep experts estimate 10% to 30% of adults live with some form of sleep disorder.
Treating sleep disorders can improve your quality of life and prevent or reduce the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Treatment options for sleep disorders depend on the type, severity, and duration of the disorder, as well as your personal preferences and medical history. Some of the common treatment options for sleep disorders are:
Healthy Sleep Habits
Healthy sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene, are the behaviors and practices that can help you get enough good-quality sleep regularly. Healthy sleep habits can also help prevent or manage some sleep disorders, such as insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, or jet lag. Some of the healthy sleep habits that you can adopt are:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. This can help your body and mind adjust to a consistent sleep-wake cycle and make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Create a comfortable and relaxing sleep environment. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable. Avoid distractions, such as TV, computer, phone, or other devices, in your bedroom. Use curtains, blinds, earplugs, fans, or other tools to block out noise and light. You can also use aromatherapy, such as lavender, chamomile, or vanilla, to create a soothing atmosphere.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and other substances that can interfere with your sleep. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can keep you awake and alert. Alcohol is a depressant that can make you sleepy, but it can also disrupt your sleep quality and cause you to wake up during the night. These substances can also affect your sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to adjust to a new time zone or schedule. Avoid consuming these substances at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime, or limit them to moderate amounts.
- Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime. Physical activity can have many benefits for your health and sleep. It can help you reduce stress, improve your mood, and regulate your body temperature. It can also help you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper. However, exercising too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect. It can raise your body temperature, heart rate, and alertness, and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Therefore, it is recommended to exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime or choose low-impact activities, such as yoga, stretching, or meditation, in the evening.
- Avoid naps, especially in the late afternoon or evening. Napping can be a good way to recharge your energy and alertness during the day, especially if you do not get enough sleep at night. However, napping too much or too late can also interfere with your sleep quality and quantity at night. It can reduce your sleep drive, which is the natural urge to sleep, and disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, which is the internal clock that regulates your sleep and wake times. Therefore, it is advised to limit your naps to 20 to 30 minutes, and avoid napping after 3 p.m., or at least 6 hours before bedtime.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. A bedtime routine is a set of activities that you do before going to bed to help you wind down and prepare for sleep. A bedtime routine can help you reduce stress, calm your mind, and signal your body that it is time to sleep. Some of the activities that you can include in your bedtime routine are:
- Reading a book, listening to music, or doing a crossword puzzle
- Taking a warm bath, shower, or foot soak
- Drinking a cup of herbal tea, warm milk, or water
- Writing a journal, gratitude list, or to-do list for the next day
- Doing some breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery
- Saying a prayer, mantra, or affirmation
Medications are drugs that can help you fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up, depending on the type and dose of the drug. Medications can be effective for treating some sleep disorders, such as insomnia, narcolepsy, or restless legs syndrome. However, medications can also have side effects, interactions, or dependencies, and they may not address the underlying cause of the sleep disorder. Therefore, medications should be used with caution and only as prescribed by a doctor. Some of the common medications for sleep disorders are:
- Sleeping pills. These are drugs that induce or enhance sleep by affecting the brain chemicals that regulate sleep and wakefulness. Some examples are benzodiazepines, such as temazepam, lorazepam, or triazolam, non-benzodiazepines, such as zolpidem, zaleplon, or eszopiclone, or melatonin receptor agonists, such as ramelteon or tasimelteon. Sleeping pills can be helpful for short-term relief of insomnia, but they should not be used for more than a few weeks, or chronic insomnia, as they can cause tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, or rebound insomnia. Sleeping pills should also be avoided by people with certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, liver disease, or kidney disease, or by pregnant or breastfeeding women, or by children or older adults unless advised by a doctor.
- Stimulants. These are drugs that increase alertness and energy by stimulating the central nervous system. Some examples are modafinil, armodafinil, or methylphenidate. Stimulants can help treat excessive daytime sleepiness caused by narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, or shift work disorder, but they should not be used as a substitute for adequate sleep. Stimulants can also cause side effects, such as headache, nausea, anxiety, or insomnia, and they can be addictive or abused. Stimulants should be used with caution and only as prescribed by a doctor.
- Antidepressants. These are drugs that affect mood and behavior by altering the levels of brain chemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine. Some examples are trazodone, mirtazapine, doxepin, or amitriptyline. Antidepressants can help treat insomnia or other sleep disorders that are associated with depression, anxiety, or chronic pain, but they may not be effective for everyone. Antidepressants can also cause side effects, such as weight gain, sexual dysfunction, or suicidal thoughts, and they can interact with other medications or supplements. Antidepressants should be used with caution and only as prescribed by a doctor.
- Antihistamines. These are drugs that block the action of histamine, which is a chemical that causes allergic reactions, such as sneezing, itching, or swelling. Some examples are diphenhydramine, doxylamine, or hydroxyzine. Antihistamines can have a sedating effect and help with insomnia or other sleep disorders that are caused by allergies, colds, or flu, but they may not be effective for long-term use. Antihistamines can also cause side effects, such as dry mouth, drowsiness, or dizziness, and they can interact with other medications or supplements. Antihistamines should be used with caution and only as directed by a doctor or a pharmacist.
Therapies are non-medical interventions that can help you improve your sleep quality and quantity by changing your thoughts, behaviors, or habits related to sleep. Therapies can be effective for treating some sleep disorders, such as insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, or parasomnias. Therapies can also help you cope with the emotional and psychological effects of sleep disorders, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Therapies can be delivered by a qualified professional, such as a psychologist, a counselor, or a therapist, or by yourself, with the help of books, apps, or online programs. Some of the common therapies for sleep disorders are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). This is a type of psychotherapy that helps you identify and modify the negative thoughts and beliefs that interfere with your sleep. CBT-I also helps you adopt positive and realistic expectations and attitudes about sleep. CBT-I can also include other components, such as stimulus control, sleep restriction, relaxation training, or sleep hygiene education, to help you improve your sleep habits and environment. CBT-I can be delivered in individual or group sessions, or through self-help materials or online programs. CBT-I is considered the first-line treatment for chronic insomnia, as it has been proven to be effective, safe, and durable. CBT-I can also help with other sleep disorders, such as circadian rhythm disorders, or comorbid conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or chronic pain.
- Light therapy. This is a type of therapy that involves exposure to artificial light that mimics natural sunlight. Light therapy can help adjust the amount of melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, and reset your biological clock. To move your sleep and wake times earlier, use the lightbox in the morning, and to move them later, use it in the evening. Light therapy can be effective for treating circadian rhythm disorders, such as delayed sleep phase disorder, advanced sleep phase disorder, or jet lag. Light therapy can also help with other sleep disorders, such as insomnia, or mood disorders, such as seasonal affective disorder. Light therapy can be delivered by a device that emits bright white, blue, or green light, and it should be used for 15 to 60 minutes per day, depending on the intensity and timing of the light. Light therapy should be done under the guidance of a doctor or a sleep specialist, as it may have side effects, such as headache, eye strain, or nausea, and it may interact with some medications or supplements.
- Biofeedback. This is a type of therapy that involves monitoring and controlling the physiological responses of the body, such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, or brain waves. Biofeedback can help you learn how to relax your body and mind and reduce the stress and anxiety that can interfere with your sleep. Biofeedback can also help you improve your sleep quality and quantity by regulating your breathing, temperature, or brain activity. Biofeedback can be delivered by a device that measures and displays the signals from your body and provides feedback through sounds, lights, or vibrations. Biofeedback can also be combined with other techniques, such as relaxation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, or hypnosis, to enhance the effects. Biofeedback can help treat some sleep disorders, such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome, or bruxism. Biofeedback can also help with other conditions, such as chronic pain, migraine, or hypertension. Biofeedback should be done under the supervision of a trained and certified professional, who can teach you how to use the device and interpret the results.
- Hypnosis. This is a type of therapy that involves inducing a state of deep relaxation and focused attention, in which you are more open to suggestions and instructions. Hypnosis can help you change your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that affect your sleep, such as negative beliefs, fears, or habits. Hypnosis can also help you create positive associations and expectations about sleep, and enhance your sleep quality and quantity. Hypnosis can be delivered by a hypnotist, who uses verbal cues, imagery, or music to guide you into a trance-like state, or by yourself, with the help of audio recordings or online programs. Hypnosis can be effective for treating some sleep disorders, such as insomnia, parasomnias, or nightmares. Hypnosis can also help with other issues, such as smoking cessation, weight loss, or phobias. Hypnosis is generally safe and well-tolerated, but it may not work for everyone, and it may cause some side effects, such as drowsiness, headache, or confusion.
Effective treatment for sleep disorders can improve your health and well-being, and prevent or reduce the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Treatment options for sleep disorders depend on the type, severity, and duration of the disorder, as well as your personal preferences and medical history. Some of the common treatment options for sleep disorders are healthy sleep habits, medications, therapies, or a combination of these. By following the advice and recommendations of your doctor or a sleep specialist, you can find the best treatment option for your sleep disorder, and enjoy a better and more restful sleep.