The Wardley Wellbeing Hub is the central area for the ACTNow campaign.
Insomnia, Restless legs syndrome, Sleep apnoea, Narcolepsy
People for whom sleep problems are a regular occurrence and are interfering with their daily life, may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Anybody who is unsure as to whether they have a sleep disorder can take the Epworth sleepiness scale test. For further information about the test, see the Narcolepsy UK website.
Continued poor sleep can affect the brain’s function and lead to problems such as forgetfulness, irritability or lack of concentration. Over a prolonged period the part of the brain that controls language, memory, planning and sense of time is severely affected. So sleep is crucial to feeling good and enjoying life. Given that insomnia is often caused by lifestyle choices, here are some tips that might help to improve your sleep:-
- keep a regular routine, go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time, but don’t go to bed until you feel tired
- don’t eat a heavy meal late in the evening, this can lead to heartburn and difficulty in falling asleep, opt for something light, for example, wholemeal toast or a bowl of cereal
- don’t drink caffeine late in the day, instead switch to decaffeinated drinks after 4pm (caffeine stays in your system longer than you might think)
- the NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise/activity plus two or more strength sessions per week. However, strenuous exercise late in the evening will stimulate the body so if you have problems sleeping you might find that a more calming exercise, such as Yoga or Tai Chi, works better for you
- keep your bedroom dark, cool (if necessary, leave a window slightly open), clean, clutter-free and quiet (wear soft ear plugs if needed)
- keep your bed for sleep, reading, listening to relaxation music and sex. The mind and body will then create a positive association between these things and the bed
- if you are not asleep within 30 minutes get up and do something relaxing, but not stimulating, until you feel tired and ready to go back to bed. Try to be relaxed about it, don’t clock watch and your natural sleep rhythm should soon return
- ensure that you have a good bed and pillow that is comfortable and suits your need
- make sure that your bedding is appropriate for the time of year, for example, lightweight in the summer and heavy in the winter.
Some prescription and over-the-counter medication can cause insomnia as a side effect. These include:-
- some antidepressants
- epilepsy medicines
- medicines for high blood pressure, for example, beta blockers
- steroid medication
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
- some asthma medicines.
People should check with their GP or local pharmacist to see if any medication they are taking could cause insomnia or sleeping difficulties.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
Restless legs syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a medical disorder that causes an urge to move your legs (this can also affect some people’s arms). This urge develops when sufferers are lying down or resting and is usually caused by uncomfortable, tingly or aching sensations. This sensation is often worse in the evenings and during the night, so it is most commonly associated with difficulty in sleeping.
Common signs and symptoms include:-
- uncomfortable sensations deep within the legs, accompanied by a strong urge to move them
- repetitive cramping or twitching of the legs during sleep
- these sensations are triggered by rest and often get worse at night.
Sufferers often find that the discomfort eases when they move, stretch or massage their legs. In some instances, restless legs syndrome is linked to an underlying medical condition, for example, iron deficiency or kidney disease. In instances where it is not related to an underlying medical condition, sufferers might find that regular exercise, good sleep habits and quitting smoking may help. For further information and support, see the RLS-UK, the restless legs syndrome charity website.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing. These pauses in breathing interrupt the sufferer’s sleep and whilst people rarely remember the interruptions, they can often feel exhausted, tired and irritable during the day. Symptoms of sleep apnoea include:-
- chronic snoring
- gasping, snorting or choking whilst asleep
- waking up with shortness of breath, chest pains, headaches, nasal congestion, or a dry throat
- frequent pauses in breathing during sleep.
Sleep apnoea is a serious condition and anybody who suspects that they may have sleep apnoea should consult their doctor. Treatment options include:-
- lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, cutting down on alcohol and sleeping on your side
- using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. This device delivers air via a mask during sleep
- using a mandibular advancement device (MAD) which is a gum shield-like device that fits around the teeth, holding the jaw and tongue forward to increase space at the back of the throat whilst sleeping.
For further information about sleep apnoea, including advice about treatment, see the British Snoring and Sleep Aponoea Association website.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes people to fall asleep very suddenly at inappropriate times. It is caused by a malfunction of the brain mechanism that controls sleeping and waking. People who have narcolepsy may have sleep attacks at any time, for example, whilst working, talking or driving. Symptoms include:-
- excessive daytime sleepiness
- disturbed night-time sleep
- sleep attacks – falling asleep suddenly and without warning
- cataplexy- the temporary loss of muscle control, often in response to emotions, for example, laughter and anger
- sleep paralysis- temporary inability to move or speak when falling asleep or waking up.
For more information, including the diagnosis and treatment of narcolepsy, see the Narcolepsy Association UK website.