6 Unexpected Signs You Might Have A Sleep Disorder & What To Do Next
Nothing could be easier, some would assume, than going to bed at night and waking up the next day. But for an increasing number of people, it's an awful lot more complicated — and distressing — than that. Insufficient or interrupted sleep can deeply impact upon your physical and mental health, and it's an affliction that appears to be on the rise. Though conditions like insomnia and sleep apnoea receive the most attention, they're far from the only sleep disorders wreaking havoc on our nightly slumber. So what are some more unexpected signs you have a sleep disorder?
According to the BBC, the amount of tests carried out to diagnose sleep disorders has doubled from 2007-2008 to 2016-2017, from 69,919 in the former to 147,610 in the latter. And a recent study conducted by University of Oxford researchers, as reported by the Guardian, revealed that insufficient sleep can contribute significantly to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. All of which is to say: it's more than worth taking your sleep seriously, and seeking medical attention if you're consistently experiencing poor or disturbed sleep. And if you don't recognise yourself in some of the more commonly reported symptoms, read on to discover more.
1. You're Moving Or Talking In Your Sleep
Are you flailing wildly in your sleep? Ever flung yourself out of the bed? Have you terrified your significant other with your blood-curdling nocturnal screams? And do you vividly remember the dream (or nightmare) if you wake yourself up? According to the Mayo Clinic, you could be experiencing REM sleep behaviour disorder; they explain, "With REM sleep behaviour disorder, instead of experiencing the normal temporary paralysis of your arms and legs (atonia) during REM sleep, you physically act out your dreams." It's worth speaking to your doctor, who might recommend altering your bedroom to prevent injury, or could prescribe you medication.
2. You Can't Stop Jiggling Your Legs
If you can't lie in bed without needing to move your legs, you feel a creeping sensation in your legs and feet, or your legs and arms twitch involuntarily, you could be suffering from restless legs syndrome, the NHS says. It's not clear what causes it: it's been hypothesised that it's related to dopamine and sometimes occurs alongside health conditions like anaemia and kidney failure; what's more, the NHS says, "1 in 5 pregnant women will experience symptoms in the last three months of their pregnancy". For mild cases, lifestyle modifications like exercising during the day, following good sleep habits, and quitting smoking can resolve the issue; otherwise, your doctor might prescribe medication.
3. You Hear Explosions And/Or See Bright Lights Before You Fall Asleep
I'm going to stress that this condition is believed to be benign before I tell you the somewhat alarming name: it's called exploding head syndrome, or EHS, and according to the Guardian it's "received very little systematic research attention", despite initially being identified as early as 1876. It's not just explosions you might hear. "Other types of loud noise perceived during episodes of EHS include gunshots, fireworks, thunder, doors slamming, clapping, shouting, and the clash of cymbals," reports the Guardian. "There can also be beeps, buzzing and video static. This may be accompanied by 'electrical' sensations, palpitations, breathing difficulties, sweating, seeing a flash of light, and twitching."
The disorder often occurs alongside other sleep issues like insomnia, the BBC reports; psychology professor Brian Sharpless told them, "Stress and emotional tension are also associated with an increased occurrence." For some, it's enough just to hear from a doctor that it's a harmless condition; alternatively, you might find relief in relaxation techniques or an antidepressant prescription, the BBC says.
4. You Eat In Your Sleep
If you've ever woken up to find yourself midway through a snack — or discovered the remnants in your bed the next morning — you might be suffering from sleep related eating disorder, a type of parasomnia. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, "SRED consists of repeated episodes of compulsive binge eating and drinking after waking up in the night." The episodes are quick and out of control, and you might find yourself eating things you'd never usually eat — or injuring yourself by trying to prepare food or consuming toxic substances. What's more, the AASM says, your flatmates might struggle to fully wake you up or stop you eating, as "trying to stop a person during an episode tends to provoke anger and resistance." Your doctor might conduct a sleep study, or ask you to complete a sleep diary, before treating your SRED with improved sleep patterns or medication.
5. You Can't Stay Awake During The Day
Insomnia is possibly the most common sleep complaint, but its inverse — hypersomnia — gets a little less attention. The NHS lists three diagnostic criteria for the condition: if you're napping constantly but still feel tired, fall asleep during the day even in the middle of doing things, and still sleep for long or excessive periods at night, you're probably dealing with hypersomnia. There's several factors that might be causing it — it's associated with depression, but it's also connected with sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, and the aforementioned restless leg syndrome. If excessive sleeping is negatively impacting your life, make an appointment with your GP.
6. Your Body Clock's Out Of Sync
There's a reason we tend to sleep and wake at similar times each day, and it's deeper than your work rota. It's down to the circadian rhythm, or body clock, and any disruptions to it are known as circadian rhythm disorders. The Cleveland Clinic lists several types of disorder: there's delayed sleep phase disorder, where you sleep and wake unusually late, or its inverse, advanced sleep phase disorder, where you regularly go to bed and wake up exceptionally early. Shift workers, especially those who work at night, might suffer from shift work disorder, which the Cleveland Clinic describes as "a constant or recurrent pattern of sleep interruption that results in insomnia or excessive sleepiness". If you're struggling with a circadian rhythm disorder, a doctor might ask you to keep a sleep log in order to figure out exactly what's going on.
You're far from alone if you're dealing with inadequate sleep: 77% of people in the UK don't wake up refreshed, the Huffington Post reports. But that's not to say you should grin and bear it. Seeing your GP to get to the root of your issues can radically transform your sleep — and, in turn, your life. Make an appointment today, and start sleeping better.