Everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. This does not necessarily have to lead to serious health issues, as long as it does not develop into a chronic problem. If sleep loss is a frequent issue, it is important to find the cause of your sleep trouble. A distinction should be made between mild sleep disorders and more severe forms. In general, chronic insomnia is defined as three or more nights of disrupted sleep a week over the course of three or more weeks, leading to significant reductions in performance during the day. If sleep is disrupted occasionally within a period of less than three weeks, and if it does not make it difficult for you to function during the day, then this is classed as mild sleep problems. These sleep problems usually resolve themselves.
Most healthy adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Our sleep is composed of four stages, through which we cycle every 90 to 120 minutes. Stage 1 is a short stage in which you are not really asleep, but in which the body prepares for sleep. During this stage your muscles begin to relax, your body temperature drops, your heart rate slows down and your eyes slowly roll back. After several minutes, you fall into light sleep. This is stage 2. During this stage, you are asleep but can be easily awoken. Like the first stage, this stage is relatively short. Now here’s where it gets interesting. In the third stage of sleep, also known as deep sleep, your heart rate slows down even further and your muscles relax even more. During deep sleep, you become less responsive to outside stimuli and have difficulty waking up. This is the most rejuvenating and restorative sleep stage. This is when organ and muscle growth happens and when your brain consolidates and processes information from the day. Deep sleep is essential for re-energising your body and mind. The final stage of sleep is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM is when the brain is more active and your eyes move rapidly in different directions (hence the name). This stage requires a lot of energy and is when most dreaming occurs. During REM sleep, your brain is almost as active as it is when you are awake. Your body cycles through these four stages several times each night. It’s not important how often you go through the stages, what matters is that the episodes are evenly distributed.
Sleeping less than seven hours per night could have a negative impact on your health and lead to sleep deprivation. People who don’t get enough sleep have a harder time waking up in the morning, feel tired or fall asleep during the day, and have difficulty concentrating. Sleep deprivation can be caused by a number of things, such as jet lag, stress or anxiety. Rest should help to reduce these symptoms.
Sleep problems can range from snoring, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, lack of deep sleep and restless legs to delayed sleep phase syndrome and sleep-related disorders such as narcolepsy and sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea is a disorder in which breathing stops for 10 seconds or longer during sleep. Apnoea episodes may occur repeatedly, more than five times per hour. This can profoundly affect the quality of sleep. Since people with sleep apnoea tend to be sleep deprived, they usually suffer from a wide range of other symptoms, such as lack of concentration, fatigue and irritability. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep during the day, at inappropriate times. People with restless legs syndrome have unusual, often unpleasant feelings in their legs and experience an overwhelming need to move their legs, particularly at night or as they fall asleep. Finally, delayed sleep phase syndrome is a circadian rhythm disorder in which sleep is postponed by more than two hours or more beyond the customary bedtime. The delay can cause a person to wake up late or tired in the morning. Patients with this disorder have chronic difficulty in adjusting their sleep onset.
If sleep is disrupted occasionally within a period of less than three weeks, and if it does not make it difficult for you to function during the day, then this is classed as mild sleep problems, or simply, difficulty sleeping. There can be several reasons for this, including allergy, asthma, COPD, restless legs, bowel disease or itching. You can find more information on sleep problems here.
Chronic insomnia is defined as three or more nights of disrupted sleep a week over the course of three or more weeks, leading to significant reductions in performance during the day. The symptoms of insomnia can range from difficulty falling asleep despite being tired, waking up frequently during the night, waking up too early in the morning, agitation and excessive dreaming, and light sleep. These problems can greatly affect how people feel and function during the day. People who suffer from insomnia tend to complain of fatigue, sleepiness, irritability and lack of concentration. Bad sleeping habits, such as oversleeping, or a disturbed circadian rhythm and use of alcohol and soporifics are likely to worsen the problem. Unfortunately, for some people, mild or short-term sleep problems develop into a chronic sleep disorder. This is mainly due to psychological factors. People can become convinced they cannot sleep which in turn can trigger negative thoughts.