In my past set of articles, we've talked about all the different ways you can go about improving your sleep and insomnia on your own and by using evidence-based techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. These are simple, cost-free, and practical approaches to getting deeper, more solid sleep. Who doesn't want that?!
However, there are times when you shouldn't take matters into your own hands. Sleep is a fundamental part of our health, and disruption in our sleep can signify that something more problematic than insomnia is going on for us. Here are some of the more common signs that you should see your doctor about your sleep:
1. Snoring isn't just an annoyance
I'm not talking about the occasional deep snoring. I'm talking about the snoring that can be heard throughout the house, sometimes coming alongside a sensation of choking or waking suddenly in the night. Your partner might see you stop breathing, rouse, and then fall back to sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnoea is a serious health problem and is linked with significant increases in risk for cardiovascular disease. When we enter deep sleep, and our muscles become slack, the throat relaxes as well. If these soft tissues collapse together, they can cause snoring and stop breathing. The body will then come into lighter sleep so that our muscles tense and clear the airway, and then we will fall back to sleep.
Sufferers may not even notice this happening - and for some, it can happen more than 30 times an hour, all night long. This causes excessive daytime sleepiness to the point where it can be dangerous. If you snore loudly or are falling asleep in odd places throughout the day, you should get seen by a doctor. People who are more at risk include those who are overweight and women in menopause. Treatment reduces the associated health risks and will dramatically improve sleep and daytime functioning.
2. Too much isn't a good thing
After a hard week, when on holiday or when we're unwell, we all can be prone to having a big long sleep. Occasionally having a long night of sleep is common and not something to worry about.
If someone regularly needs more than ten hours of sleep, they should see a doctor. Many sleep disorders leave people feeling sleepy during the day, including some hypersomnias (conditions of sleeping too much) and narcolepsy (where people can fall asleep in the daytime in unusual places). These conditions can be treated effectively and allow sufferers to live a more energetic, vibrant day (and improve the quality of nighttime sleep).
3. Excessive restlessness
You should also speak to your GP if you feel uncomfortable, restless feelings in your legs which are alleviated only by getting up and moving your legs. People will often feel these feelings more at night, because moving around in the daytime can obscure them before they feel problematic. Restless Leg Syndrome can make it very difficult to fall asleep because people feel like they need to move around to get rid of the discomfort. Luckily, it is another disorder that a sleep specialist physician can treat.
It is worth speaking to your GP if you have tried on your own to improve your sleep but haven't gotten to where you want to be. There are over 85 sleep disorders, and self-diagnosis using the interwebs could be delaying the treatment that you need. You may simply need a referral to a cognitive behavioural therapist for insomnia - or it may be something that requires specialist assessment and treatment. Your sleep matters because your health matters - so don't put off getting help.
Words by Tracy Hannigan, who is one of the UK's leading sleep coaches and insomnia experts, running a sleep therapy practice for individuals with insomnia (www.tracythesleepcoach.co.uk). Tracy uses her background in psychology and her experience as a healthcare professional alongside her CBTI training to help people reclaim their sleep so they can live the active and vibrant lives they want and deserve.
Tagged in Sleep