7 Sleep Habits That Could Be A Sign Of An Underlying Health Condition
Everybody wants a perfect night's sleep. But if you haven't had one in a while, or you're experiencing strange issues in the course of your ZZZZs, it could be a signal of something more significant than just not wearing earplugs while the next door neighbor plays techno at 2 a.m.. Your sleep can tell your doctor a lot about your state of health, and certain sleep habits could be signs of an underlying medical condition. From night sweats to insomnia and snoring, many relatively common sleep conditions (and some rarer ones) might actually be subtle signs of a health issue, and it's worth paying attention to them.
Disordered sleep is considered normal when your body's circadian rhythm — the natural sequence of hormonal cycling that tells you when to be sleepy and when to wake up — gets disrupted. That tends to happen most radically with jet lag, but can also occur when your schedule changes rapidly or you start having sleep issues. Sleep is also revealing more about human health every year; sleep studies can be an insight into sides of your body and behavior you didn't even realize could be assessed. We can't read dreams just yet, but we can use certain sleep conditions to identify health problems — and that's definitely worth paying attention to your nightly rest.
If you wake up in the night soaking wet and don't know why, it can be a signal of various conditions that you might want to get checked out. Hormonal fluctuations are a common cause, particularly if you've just started taking new contraception. Infections and fevers can also set off night sweating, as can certain medications, such as antidepressants, or chronic low blood sugar.
The occasional nightmare isn't a cause for concern — in fact, it's extremely common — but having them regularly, in ways that cause serious distress and disrupt your daily life, is possibly a signal that you have nightmare disorder. And it often has deeper roots; it's caused by things like stress, trauma, medication side effects, or potentially substance withdrawal.
Snoring can be a signal of a cold or a blocked nose (pretty normal), but it can also be a symptom of a condition called sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea experience blockage of their airways while they sleep, meaning that they can stop breathing for 10 seconds or more. Sleep apnea is relatively common, but it can also be a symptom of diabetes or other underlying health conditions.
Can't sleep? Find it seriously difficult to get enough rest? Insomnia comes in two forms: primary, where it's not apparently caused by anything else, and secondary, where it's linked to other health conditions. Insomnia can be triggered by medications, chronic pain, conditions like Parkinson's, depression, heartburn and a host of other illnesses, so if you can't get to sleep no matter what you try, it's worth going to the GP for a full work-up.
Nocturia is the technical term for needing to pee a lot at night — to the point where it's disrupting your sleep and you might lose control of your bladder. This is occasionally a signal that the body isn't managing its fluids normally, which occurs during diabetes, pregnancy, in response to certain medications, or when you have a urinary tract infection.
Sleepwalking is common, particularly among children. But if you start doing it as an adult, your brain may be responding to an infection, a fever, sedatives, stress or anxiety. Sleepwalking isn't very well understood even now, but it can be pretty dangerous, so if it's happened more than once it's a good idea to see a doctor.
If you sleep all the time during the day for no apparent reason — not, for instance, because you've pulled an all-nighter or just switched onto different shifts at work — then you're experiencing hypersomnia. Excessive tiredness and fatigue in waking hours can be a symptom of depression and chronic illnesses, but it can also be genetic or a product of an incident like drug withdrawal or a head injury. If all the coffee in the world doesn't seem to help, avoid driving and get yourself to a doctor to diagnose the underlying cause.
Not all sleep issues will be a sign of something more serious — sometimes, snoring is just snoring. But if you notice certain disturbances in your sleep, coupled with other issues, keep a log of your symptoms and see what your GP thinks.