An adult person needs seven or more hours of sleep per night to achieve optimum physical health and mental well-being. The inability to sleep through the night on a regular basis, such that it renders you dysfunctional and drowsy during the day, is suggestive of a sleep disorder. Furthermore, this sustained lack of sleep can be both physically and mentally taxing. Sleep disorders are often associated with erratic hormone levels, mood fluctuations, and weight gain as well as memory and concentration issues.
Sleep disorders are a group of conditions that affect the ability to sleep well on a regular basis and hamper the quality of both your professional and personal lives. Collectively, this group of a condition is second only to pain-related complaints as a cause for seeking medical help.
Everyone experiences trouble sleeping at one time or another, but what’s alarming is that sleep disorders that are hard to shake off are becoming increasingly common. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a whopping 45% of Americans indicated that a lack of sleep had affected their ability to complete daily activities at least once over the period of one week.
In fact, the issue of sleep problems has become so prevalent that the National Sleep Foundation has created a Sleep Health Index. The Sleep Health Index is designed to track sleeping habits of the American adult population on the basis of three criteria: sleep duration, sleep quality, and disordered sleep. A 2017 study published in Sleep Health reported that the Sleep Health Index is a valid and reliable research tool and can give valuable information regarding the sleep health status of adults in the United States.
Causes of Sleep Disorders
You may have difficulties sleeping at times due to several reasons, such as stress, change in location, medicinal effects, nocturia, and illness or pain. But if trouble sleeping has become a regular occurrence such that they take a toll on your daily lives, you may be suffering from some kind of sleep disorder.
Types of Sleep Disorder
Sleep Apnea and Insomnia are the two most common types of sleep disorders. A 2016 study published in the journal Sleep, reports that sleep apnea presented 47 percent of the sleep disorders and insomnia accounted for 26 percent of those diagnosed with a sleep disorder.
Sleep apnea can be of three types:
- Obstructive sleep apnea – caused by the partial or complete obstruction of the airways due to the relaxation of throat muscles during sleep, causing the tongue and/or the fatty tissues to block the air passage.
- Central sleep apnea – caused by a dysfunction in the central nervous system, due to which the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that regulate breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome – is a combination of the above two forms of sleep apnea.
Insomnia can stem from a variety of factors:
- Altered sleeping routine or environment
- Personal or work-related stress
- Certain medications, such as blood pressure drugs, thyroid hormones, antidepressants, corticosteroids, ADHD stimulants, and even oral contraceptives
- An underlying pain-inducing health problem, such as arthritis, back pain, and headache
- Other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome (RLS)
- Mental health issues, such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder
- Menopause, obesity, and cardiovascular ailments
- Unhealthy habits, such as alcohol consumption and smoking as well as recreational drug use
- Exposure to LED screens, either on a phone, TV, or laptop
There are multiple other common sleep disorders, such as:
- Restless legs syndrome (RLS): Primary RLS, which is idiopathic (unknown cause), and secondary RLS, which can be traced back to some underlying conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, obesity, renal failure, thyroid disorders, diabetes, and heart disease as well as alcohol and tobacco use and certain medications.
- Narcolepsy: A neurological disorder caused by a disruption in the neurologic mechanism that is responsible for sleeping and waking.
- Parasomnias: Undesired experiences encountered while trying to fall asleep, such as nightmares and night terrors, sleepwalking and sleep talking, bed wetting, and teeth-grinding (also known as nocturnal bruxism).
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorders: Usually caused by disruptions in the biological clock that governs your sleep-wake cycle, jet lag, odd working hours, and sleeping and waking up later than usual; often associated with depression and bipolar disorder as well as seasonal affective disorder
Symptoms of Sleep Disorders
The signs and symptoms of sleep disorders can differ in severity and specific complaints, with some disorders associated with too little sleep and others associated with falling asleep at inappropriate times.
However, the general symptoms of sleep disorders include:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Daytime fatigue
- Strong urge to take naps during the day
- Excessive snoring
- Changes in breathing with sleep
- Irritability or anxiety
- Lack of concentration
Importance of Sleep
Sleep loss and sleep disorders are among the most common, yet frequently overlooked health problems. But you must not ignore the problem, as sleeping well is essential for your overall physical and mental health as well as emotional well-being. Improper and lack of sleep for even a day or two can take a toll on your mood, energy, productivity, and ability to handle stress.
A study published in the British Journal of General Practice reported that sleep disturbances, especially early morning awakening and an inability to go off to sleep, are associated with anxiety and depression. Even inadequate sleep leads to lack of concentration, daytime sleepiness, and impaired performance.
Another study published in Nature and Science of Sleep in 2017 highlights the short-term and long-term consequences of sleep disturbances. According to this study, short-term consequences include increased stress, somatic pain, reduced quality of life, emotional distress, and mood disorders, as well as cognitive, memory, and performance deficits.
On the other hand, long-term consequences include hypertension, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, weight-related issues, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and colorectal cancer.
Prevention of Sleep Disorder
- Maintain a regular sleeping schedule with going to bed and arising at around the same time every day.
- Take the necessary steps to manage and decrease your stress and anxiety levels.
- Avoid drinking too much water in the evening.
- Decrease or limit caffeine intake.
- Preferably quit smoking at the soonest, and especially avoid tobacco use (of any source) before going to bed, as nicotine is a stimulant.
- Do not eat heavy and/or spicy food for dinner, as they can give rise to digestive unrest that keeps you up at night. Opt for a light dinner instead, and wrap it up at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Refrain from having too much sugar or caffeinated beverages too close to bedtime.
- Light exercise between dinner and bedtime, like a stroll in the park, can aid digestion, relieve stress, and promote better sleep. But too much exertion too close to bedtime can possibly end up sending your body into overdrive and keep you up. So, be mindful.
- Try not to engage in volatile or stressful discussions and other stimulating activities like social media surfing when you are about to go to sleep.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re experiencing persistent difficulty in sleeping, see a doctor to find out the exact problem. There are treatments available for most sleep disorders.
You can also make healthy changes to your daytime habits and bedtime routine to enjoy better sleep at night. Also, some natural sleep disorder remedies can help you fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
Treating Sleep Disorders Naturally
Here are the top 10 natural ways to promote sound sleep.
1. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy works as a natural sleep disorder remedy. Massage has a generalized effect on the autonomic nervous system, which results in mood upliftment and relaxation response.
It also improves blood circulation and relaxes the nerves to help you sleep soundly.
In a 2014 study published in the journal Sleep Science, researchers explored the hypothesis that massage therapy would produce beneficial effects in postmenopausal women through inflammatory and immunological changes and ultimately came to the conclusion that massage therapy is, in fact, therapeutic.
Another 2017 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggested that aromatherapy massage could improve the sleep quality of nurses with monthly rotating night shifts.
- Slightly warm some coconut oil or mustard oil.
- Rub the warm oil on your neck, shoulders, back, and the bottom of your feet.
- Massage the body parts in circular motions for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Do this remedy daily before going to bed.
2. Exercise Daily
Being physically active is very important for your overall health. It can even help you sleep soundly at night.
It has been found that physical activity can improve sleep, but improving sleep has not been linked to increased levels of physical activity.
In a 2015 study, participants exercised for at least 150 minutes per week for six months. It was found that the participants experienced significantly fewer symptoms of insomnia as well as reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. The study was published in the Journal of Sleep Research.
To reap the benefits of exercise to fight sleep problems, even light exercise will do and is better than no activity at all. However, the time of the exercise matters a lot.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, vigorous late-night exercise does not disturb sleep quality. However, it may have effects on the heart rate during the initial sleeping hours.
3. Regular Yoga will Help You Sleep Better
Just like exercise, yoga is also beneficial when suffering from sleep-related problems. Yoga helps mitigate stress by taking your mind off the daily tensions, improves physical functioning, and boosts mental health. All these factors are conducive to a night of better sleep.
A study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine found that inclusion of regular yoga exercises in the daily routine improves sleep quality and thereby the quality of life. In this study, a total of 65 elderly men and women participated.
In another 2014 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, researchers found regular yoga to be a safe and effective method in improving overall sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep latency, and sleep duration in insomnia-afflicted adults.
When it comes to yoga, choose a style that focuses more on meditation or breathing as opposed to difficult physical maneuvers. Some of the ideal poses include Child’s Pose, Standing Forward Fold Pose, Sitting Forward Fold Pose, and Cat and Cow Stretching Pose.
4. Try Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is helpful in promoting good sleep. It consists of slow, steady breathing while sitting quietly. It allows you to zone out of the hustle-bustle of daily life and turn inwards by turning your focus on observing your breath, body, thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise and pass.
It does not just calm your mind and body but also helps in fighting stress and anxiety that often contribute to sleep-related problems.
In a study published in the journal Explore, researchers found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) significantly improved insomnia and overall sleep patterns. In this study, participants attended a weekly meditation class and a daylong retreat and practiced at home for a few months.
In another 2015 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed 49 men and women around the age of 66 who were experiencing poor sleep but didn’t have a diagnosed sleep disorder. Participants were divided into two groups – one group was enrolled in a standard sleep hygiene education program, and the other group learned mindful awareness practices. After six weeks, it was found that people doing mindful awareness practices showed enhanced sleep patterns than the other group.
Try to aim for 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation in the morning or evening. For beginners, one may consider joining a meditation group. You may also avail of online-guided meditation.
5. Soak in Warm Water
A relaxing warm water bath before going to bed can help you sleep like a baby (not a fussy baby!).
In a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science, researchers made one group of participants take a warm water bath before bed, another group was made to soak their feet in warm footbaths, and a third control group did neither. After the analysis, it was found that those who took the baths slept faster and better.
For better results, you can add Epsom salt to your bath water. The magnesium sulfate in Epsom salt helps soothe sore muscles and calm the nerves, thereby easing you into better sleep.
A study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that magnesium supplementation appears to improve insomnia-related symptoms.
- Add 1/2 cup of Epsom salt to warm bath water.
- Stir for a few minutes so that the salt dissolves properly in the water.
- Soak in this bath for about 20 minutes.
- Follow this remedy a few times a week 1hour before going to bed.
6. Drink Chamomile Tea
For years, chamomile has been widely regarded as a mild tranquilizer and sleep inducer. These properties of chamomile help one sleep better at night.
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing involving postpartum women having poor sleep quality, researchers found that those who drank chamomile tea for a two-week period reported overall better sleep quality than those who did not drink chamomile tea. The study recommended chamomile tea as a supplementary approach to alleviating depression and sleep quality problems.
In another 2017 study involving 60 nursing-home residents, it was found that those who received 400 mg of chamomile extract daily had significantly better sleep quality than those who did not receive any. The study was published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
- Mix 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried chamomile in a cup of hot water.
- Steep for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Strain it and add 1 teaspoon of honey. You can also add a pinch of cinnamon powder.
- Drink this tea while it is still warm 1 hour before going to bed.
- Do this remedy daily.
7. Lavender Oil will Help You Relax
The aromatic scent of lavender oil has a calming effect on your body, which helps you sleep better. In fact, the pleasant scent of lavender oil is good for the nervous system. It even reduces tension and anxiety and helps create an aura of relaxation to promote sound sleep.
To corroborate this claim, a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Critical Care found that lavender aromatherapy helps improve sleep quality. This randomized controlled pilot study was conducted on a total of 50 patients.
- Put 1 or 2 drops of lavender essential oil in a handkerchief and place it near your pillow while you sleep.
- Alternatively, add several drops of lavender oil to a bathtub filled with warm water. Soak in this water for 20 minutes. Do this at least one hour before going to bed.
- You can also mix a few drops of this essential oil in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and rub it on the bottom of each foot before going to bed.
8. Evaluate Your Room
The National Sleep Foundation recommends designing your sleep environment to establish suitable conditions that facilitate quality sleep.
This draws legitimacy from the fact that our sleep can be significantly influenced, both adversely and positively, by our bedroom settings. Be it the temperature of the bedroom, its design, or the amount of noise exposure, all these factors play a key role in determining your sleep quality.
- Keep the temperature of the bedroom cool – between 60 F and 67 F.
- Keep your sleeping space free from any noise or glaring light that can disturb your sleep.
- Keep it clean and tidy and avoid having a pile of clothes on your bed, stacks of the bill on the nightstand, or other random clutter in the room.
- To keep the room dark, consider installing room-darkening shades. You can also wear eye covers to block the unwanted light out.
- A white noise machine is a nifty tool to ensure that your sleep remains shielded from undue noise disturbances.
9. Choose the Right Mattress
Buy a good mattress to help you sleep better. You spend several hours of the day in your bed, so it’s worth the investment.
Sleeping on a comfortable mattress with extra pillows to boot can make a huge difference to your sleep quality. In fact, average skin temperature, deep sleep, and sleep efficiency are significantly affected by the comfort level of the mattress.
A medium-firm mattress is an ideal choice as a 2015 study published in Sleep Health shows that a medium-firm mattress that is custom inflated can aid in promoting sleep comfort, quality, and spinal alignment.
Also, bear in mind that your mattress comes with an expiry date. So, try to swap it with a new one every 9 to 10 years.
Along with a good supportive mattress, use a pillow that supports your head and neck.
10. Avoid Using Cell Phones in Bed
Most of us have the habit of looking at our cell phones just before calling it a day and going to bed. This is something that you need to avoid if you want to sleep soundly.
The light emanating from mobile phones affect your body’s circadian rhythm, and it also stimulates the production of hormones that promote alertness.
In a study published in BMC Public, researchers found that sleep disorders, as well as the stress and symptoms of depression, were associated with excessive mobile phone usage. In this study, young adults (20 to 24 years old) were put under the lens and observed over the course of 1 year.
In another review of several studies published in 2017, researchers found that interventions to limit the use of mobile phone can help address sleep disorders and improve sleep quality.
Therefore, it’s best that an LED screen, be it your mobile phones, your TV, or laptop, should not be the last thing you see before turning in for bed. Switching off these gadgets at least a couple of hours before your bedtime is recommended if you wish to doze off quickly.
- A magnesium supplement may also help. Consult your doctor for the correct dosage.
- A melatonin supplement can enhance the quality of your sleep. Consult your doctor for the correct dosage.
- Drinking a glass of warm milk before bedtime will definitely help you enjoy sound sleep as it has a relaxing effect on your body and mind.
- Tart cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Drink a 1/2 to 1 cup of tart cherry juice twice daily.
- Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html. Published May 2, 2017.
- Lack of Sleep is Affecting Americans, Finds the National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/media-center/press-release/lack-sleep-affecting-americans-finds-the-national-sleep-foundation. Published December 2014.
- How America Sleeps. National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-america-sleeps.
- Knutson KL, Phelan J, Paskow MJ, et al. The National Sleep Foundations Sleep Health Index. Sleep Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28709508. Published August 2017.
- Alexander M, Ray MA, Hébert JR, et al. Sleep. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4909622/. Published July 1, 2016.
- What are some common sleep disorders? Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/sleep/conditioninfo/sleep-disorders. Published January 12, 2016.
- Hungin APS, Close H. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2858527/. Published May 1, 2010.
- Medic G, Wille M, Hemels MEH. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130/. Published 2017.
- Hachul H, Oliveira DS, Bittencourt LRA, Andersen ML, Tufik S. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4521661/. Published June 2014.
- Chang YY, Lin CL, Chang LY. The Effects of Aromatherapy Massage on Sleep Quality of Nurses on Monthly Rotating Night Shifts. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2017/3861273/. Published July 6, 2017.
- Kline CE. American journal of lifestyle medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341978/. Published 2014.
- Hartescu I, Morgan K, Stevinson CD. Increased physical activity improves sleep and mood outcomes in inactive people with insomnia: a randomized controlled trial. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25903450. Published October 2015.
- Myllymäki T, Kyröläinen H, Savolainen K, et al. Effects of vigorous late-night exercise on sleep quality and cardiac autonomic activity. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20673290. Published March 2011.
- Bankar MA, Chaudhari SK, Chaudhari KD. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667430/. Published 2013.
- Halpern J, Cohen M, Kennedy G, Reece J, Cahan C, Baharav A. Yoga for improving sleep quality and quality of life for older adults. Alternative therapies in health and medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24755569. Published May 2014.
- Gross CR, Kreitzer MJ, Reilly-Spong M, et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction versus pharmacotherapy for chronic primary insomnia: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Explore. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21397868. Published 2011.
- Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R. Mindfulness Meditation in Sleep-Disturbed Adults. JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998. Published April 1, 2015.
- Sung E-J, Tochihara Y. Effects of Bathing and Hot Footbath on Sleep in Winter. Retrieved from journal of PHYSIOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY and Applied Human Science. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jpa/19/1/19_1_21/_article. Published April 12, 2000.
- Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Retrieved from current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23853635. Published December 2012.
- Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S. Retrieved from current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/. Published November 1, 2010.
- Chang SM, Chen CH. Effects of intervention with drinking chamomile tea on sleep quality and depression in sleep-disturbed postnatal women: a randomized controlled trial. Retrieved from Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26483209. Published February 2016.
- Adib-Hajbaghery M, Mousavi SN. The effects of chamomile extract on sleep quality among elderly people: A clinical trial. Retrieved from current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29154054. Published December 2017.
- Lytle J, Mwatha C, Davis KK. Effect of Lavender Aromatherapy on Vital Signs and Perceived Quality of Sleep in the Intermediate Care Unit: A Pilot Study. American Journal of Critical Care. Retrieved from http://ajcc.aacnjournals.org/content/23/1/24. Published January 1, 2014.
- Healthy Sleep Tips. National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips.
- Park SJ, Lee HJ. The Relationship between Sleep Quality and Mattress Types. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/154193120204600613. Published September 1, 2002.
- Radwan A, Fess P, James D. Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; systematic review of controlled trials. Sleep Health. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352721815001400. Published October 19, 2015.
- Thomée S, Härenstam A, Hagberg M. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042390/. Published 2011.
- Shin JC, Kim J, Grigsby-Toussaint D. Mobile Phone Interventions for Sleep Disorders and Sleep Quality: Systematic Review. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28882808. Published September 7, 2017.