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How to Overcome 5 Common Sleep Disorders

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    Insomnia

    What is it?

    Anyone who's stared at the ceiling for hours knows the ails of insomnia. The disorder causes wakefulness when we're trying to sleep, Towfigh says. It's the most common sleep disorder, affecting up to 50 percent of adults at least occasionally, says Teofilo L. Lee-Chiong Jr., MD, professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver and at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and chief medical liaison, Philips Respironics. But don't be quick to blame insomnia if you're having trouble sleeping after a fight with your boyfriend or if you're cutting quantity in favor of nights on the town. "It's important to realize that this sleep disturbance occurs despite having adequate opportunity, condition, and time to do so," Lee-Chiong says.

    What causes it?

    Alcohol and drug use are responsible for about 10 percent of the cases of insomnia, Lee-Chiong says. Other factors like hyper arousal, sleep instability, abnormal circadian rhythms, or simply being prone to worry can also contribute, he says. Some antidepressants, decongestants, steroids, and stimulants also play a role, as does poor sleep hygiene (see below).

    How to stop it

    Improve your sleep hygiene, starting by shutting down your electronics at least an hour before bed, Towfigh suggests. "The bright light from those monitors can suppress melatonin release, which normally signals our brains to slow down and prepare for sleep," he says. When it's time for bed, create the ultimate sleep zone, complete with darkness, comfortable temps, and clocks that face away from the bed to keep you from watching the clock all night.

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    Problematic Snoring

    What is it?

    "A snore is the sound produced during sleep due to vibration of the structures in the upper airway," Lee-Chiong says. Though it's easy to brush it off as an annoyance, snoring becomes a problem when it significantly diminishes sleep quality and next-day functioning for both the snorer and their bed partner, Towfigh says. Snoring can also be an indication of sleep apnea if it's accompanied by pauses in breathing or waking up gasping for breath, Towfigh says.

    What causes it?

    Excessive body weight, nasal obstruction, and sleeping on your back can increase snoring, Lee-Chiong says. Alcohol, cigarettes, and some sedatives and muscle-relaxing medications can make it worse, he says.

    How to stop it?

    Keep a healthy weight and stay away from alcohol, cigarettes, and sedatives, Lee-Chiong says. If your boyfriend is the culprit—which is likely since snoring is more common in men—try earplugs to get more rest, he suggests. If it's you, force yourself to sleep on your side by sewing a pocket into the back of your pajamas to house a tennis ball, he says.

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    Sleep Apnea

    What is it?

    Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when there's a blockage of the airway during sleep, usually as a result of soft tissues collapsing and obstructing the flow of air, Towfigh says. "When the airflow to the lungs is compromised, oxygen levels in the blood can drop," he says. "This can lead to serious consequences including a higher risk of stroke, heart attack, and many other diseases." You'll know it's a problem when snoring and daytime sleepiness lead to changes in your mood or a decline in your work performance, Lee-Chiong says.

    What causes it?

    Again, weight plays a role. About 70 percent of those with sleep apnea are obese, Lee-Chiong says. Even a 10 percent weight gain can increase your chances of suffering from sleep apnea by six times, he says.

    How to stop it

    Keep your body weight in check. "Losing weight can often improve or sometimes resolve the issue," Towfigh says. After you've been diagnosed with the disorder, which requires a sleep study rather than a simple examination, your doctor might suggest continuous positive airway pressure therapy or upper airway surgery, both of which help solve the issue by keeping the airway open.

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    Narcolepsy

    What is it?

    "Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness and abnormal rapid eye movement sleep," Lee-Chiong says. The tip-off that it's a problem? When you're unable to stay awake and alert enough to get through the day, he says.

    What causes it?

    A loss of neurons that produce a wake-promoting chemical called hypocretin leads to narcolepsy, Lee-Chiong says. There could sometimes be a genetic link, and environmental elements like the winter season or battling strep throat can also contribute, Towfigh says.

    How to stop it

    There's no true cure. Narcolepsy is often underdiagnosed, but medicines designed to improve sleep and stimulants like Adderall can at least help make you more alert during the day, Towfigh says. Or try natural strategies like scheduling naps when you need them and taking frequent caffeine breaks, Lee-Chiong says.

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    Sleepwalking

    What is it?

    Simply put: It's walking in your sleep, and it commonly occurs during the first half of the night during the slow wave of sleep, Lee-Chiong says. Sleepwalkers will often return to bed after a few minutes without any memory of it the next day, he says. Sleepwalkers are not awake or alert, but their actions, like running or even leaving the house, might make it seem like they are, Towfigh says.

    What causes it?

    Researchers don't really know, Towfigh says. What they do know is it's much more common in early childhood and affects about 14 percent of kids, Lee-Chiong says. By adulthood, that percentage drops to 4. Genetics might be to blame: Only one in five kids sleepwalks if neither parent does while up to 60 percent of kids sleepwalk when one or both parents do, he says. Sleep deprivation, fevers, stress, alcohol, and sleep apnea can also play a role, he says.

    How to stop it

    It's less about stopping it and more about making the conditions around you as safe as possible. Set up a bedroom environment clear of breakable and sharp objects, Lee-Chiong suggests. When there's a risk of sleepwalking right out of the house, safety becomes a top concern, Towfigh says. "If there is a tendency for injurious or violent behavior, individuals should seek attention more urgently to avoid serious injury to themselves or their bed partner," he says.