Sleep problems often aren’t that hard to self-diagnose. Probably the number-one indicator is being tired in the daytime, or suffering from one of fatigue’s many other symptoms, including under-performance, lack of motivation and grouchiness.
Some people — to their own health’s detriment — just choose to “macho” it and burn their candles at both ends, shortchanging themselves on needed rejuvenation and then trying to compensate for it with high caffeine and energy drink consumption. While we don’t have time to go into that here (we will soon), it’s pretty obvious that this is a life-style that can lead to unwanted consequences.
Now back to poor sleep in general: If you are fatigued in the daytime despite your best efforts at developing good sleep hygiene habits and routines, then there’s probably an underlying cause, and your condition then falls into the category of “sleep disorder.”
Sometimes to realize we have a sleep disorder requires a nighttime partner who can point out our tossing and turning, snoring and even gasping for breath. For those who live alone, a professional sleep evaluation might be called for. Eventually, however, all people with sleep disorders are going to have to get medical and professional help if the cure is not as simple as sleeping in a different position or getting a new mattress or pillow.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. You just find it hard to fall asleep and hard to stay asleep once you count enough sheep. While insomnia can often be cured through life-style changes, sometimes professional evaluation and help is called for. At any rate, if you try your best to change your sleep habits and nothing seems to work, it’s time to cry uncle and see a professional.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is another sleep disruptor characterized by pain in your legs that causes you to keep shifting leg positions to ameliorate the discomfort, only to disrupt the entire night’s rejuvenation effort. If you experience RLS or suspect you have the condition, seek help immediately.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a serious condition characterized by cessation of breathing while sleeping, occurring many times throughout the night and generally destroying any chance of a good night’s sleep. There are different causes of sleep apnea, so professional evaluation and treatment is the first line of defense against OSA. Untreated, sleep apnea can lead to hypertension, heart trouble and even stroke.
Obsessive snoring is fairly common, and many sufferers will just shrug it off. While obsessive snoring is certainly not as serious as sleep apnea (generally speaking), it too can lead to health problems. Often, snoring can be ameliorated, if not prevented, by simply sleeping on your side. People have even attached tennis balls to the backs of their nighties to prevent lying on their backs, which only makes snoring worse. If you can’t “cure” snoring yourself, you may want to seek help.
Narcolepsy causes excessive drowsiness and falling asleep in the daytime, and the condition definitely demands medical intervention. Circadian rhythm disorders — confusing your internal clock — can occur because of changes in work schedules and even by the arrival of daylight savings time. Often circadian troubles can be circumvented by wise sleep hygiene choices.
Bottom line: There’s never anything wrong with at least mentioning your sleep problems to your doctor and then following his or her advice, and if you suspect sleep apnea, RLS or narcolepsy, then for sure you need to clamor of professional help.