Sleep Disorders and Complementary Health Approaches

Mary Cross
August 16, 2017

Scientists identified more than 80 different sleep problems. The most common sleep disorder is called insomnia. If you experience a difficulty in falling asleep or a difficulty in staying asleep, then you have insomnia.

Some people who feel tired and cannot focus properly during the day have an actual sleep disorder. Other people just don’t have enough time to rest. Studies confirmed that an adult needs between 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night to feel well-rested, but most of the people sleep for less than 7 hours a night.

Dealing with Sleep Disorders

Most of us had at least once a nightmare. These particular dreams feel very real, and the person who dreams is involved in disturbing actions. Nightmares are most common in children during, but adults can have them as well. People awake immediately, and they recall the dream in details. Children can also have the so-called sleep terrors. These extreme nightmares are often described as very frightening by children.

Common characteristics of sleep terrors

child-sleep-terror-330x330Children feel agitated, with large pupils, start sweating, and they have increased blood pressure. Children wake up screaming, and they appear terrified for several minutes. After that, they relax and go back to sleep. Children have these sleep terrors during the first part of the night, and most of the times they start sleepwalking as well. When they wake up in the morning, children do not remember the nightmare or they have a vague memory of they dreamt during the night.

When we think about the dreaming state, we believe that it includes a purely mental activity, which doesn’t involve the body. But for adults suffering from REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) dreaming involves the body as well. They feel very connected to what they are dreaming, and they start acting out the dream. These people move their entire body during sleep or even get up from the bed and start doing activities that they would normally do if they would be awake. Most of them start talking in their sleep, hitting, shouting, screaming or punching the pillow and sometimes even the bed partner.

There are cases of people who got up from beds and start running. RBD is usually severe when the persons having these dreams put in danger their bed partner or other individuals in the house. RBD can be treated with success.

We have to understand that what we usually call “sleep” involves going through three different states: being awake, having a rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and the so-called nonrapid eye movement sleep. Most of the REM sleep behavior disorders occur during REM sleep.

During REM sleep, the scientists observed that the electrical activity of the brain of a person it is very similar to the electrical activity that person has when he or she is awake. It seems like neurons in the brain during this state is following the same functioning process as they do during waking. It is known that during REM sleep a person can sometimes feel temporary paralyzed. These people usually have narcolepsy.

This sleep problem is a neurological disorder that affects the clear distinction between sleep and wakefulness. Individuals who are narcoleptic feel very sleepy during the day, and they cannot control the short episodes when they fall asleep. It is interesting that these so- called sleep attacks can be experienced during any activity at any hour of the day.

It is common for people with sleep disorders to talk in their sleep without remembering the next day. Sleep talking can involve complicated scenarios with clear dialogues or monologs or just mumble. This type of sleep disorder it is rare, and children and men usually experience it.

Those who talk in their sleep are not aware they are doing that. Many people reported that their partner’s voice sounds different when that person talks in his/her sleep than then the voice he/she normally has. An individual may, sometimes, speak in his or her sleep if it is provoked by someone else.

When they talk in their sleep, people talk about past events with no or little relevance to the present. Scientists believe the rational mind does not produce this. Those who talk in their sleep don’t feel comfortable to sleep away from home. This condition can, in many cases, cause insomnia in a bed partner.

A person who talks in her or his sleep is usually depressed, stressed, didn’t sleep well in a while, had too much to drink, or has the fever. In many cases, sleep-talkers come from families with sleep talking history.

It is common that sleep-talking to be associated with other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, nightmares, REM sleep behavior disorder. People over 25 years old who have mental illnesses can talk in their sleep as well.

Sleep talking can be severe, moderate or mild.

  • Mild: the person talks during the sleep less than once a week
  • Moderate: the person speaks during the sleep more than once per week, and it causes mild annoyance to a bed partner
  • Severe: the person talks during the sleep frequently, and it causes pronounced disturbance to a bed partner

Most of the people do not get any treatment. When the sleep talking is severe and persists for a long period, it is recommended to talk to your doctor about this condition. You might have a serious sleep disorder, or you might be under a lot of stress.

You can do several of things to avoid sleep talking.

Make sure you follow a specific sleep schedule, sleeping enough during the night and avoiding watching TV or other electronic devices before bed. Do not drink alcohol before going to sleep and make sure you eat light meals. Keep your mind relaxed and calm.

Bed partners and roommates can use earplugs to reduce the level of noise coming from a person who talks in her or his sleep.

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders

How a delayed sleep phase disorder manifest?

Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD) is often called circadian rhythm sleep disorder. People with this disorder cannot sleep as other people, at conventional clock time and they cannot awaken at regular hours the next days. When they choose their ideal sleep schedule, people with DSPD sleep enough hours for their age, but they have a delayed relationship with the 24-hour sleep-wake typical pattern.

DSPD is very common among young adults. These young people can experience high irritability during the day because of the unusual sleep pattern. They might even have problems in finishing their school tasks. Adults can have difficulties at the job or marital problems because of this different sleep pattern.

Is DSPD presenting any risks to the affected person?

Doctors do not know exactly why DSPD manifest in some people. It seems like the endogenous circadian system of these people is affected. Other causes are the person’s behavior, the environment in which this person lives, and constant exposure to social rules.

Sometimes people with mood and personality disorders manifest DPSPD[1] as well.

If you decide to consult a doctor for your sleep symptoms caused by your shift schedule, the health provider might ask you questions:

  • About your physical and mental health history.
  • If you had these symptoms for a long time if they are frequent, and how these symptoms interfere with your job and personal life.
  • If you have a specific work schedule and how do you usually sleep.
  • If you had other sleep-related problems such as sleep apnea and insomnia.
  • Your health provider might talk to you to determine a diagnosis, or he might suggest specific tests to gather more information.
  • What should you ask your doctor when you think you might deal with a sleep disorder?
  • You should ask him if your symptoms are caused by your shift work schedule, or by another cause
  • Ask him if you should make any behavioral changes to improve your symptoms
  • Ask about the treatment alternatives available (sleeping pills and non-medical treatment)
  • Make sure you talk with him about the best treatment for your case
  • Are you dealing with shift work disorder or insomnia?

People suffering from shift work disorder cannot fall asleep quickly, and they cannot stay asleep for a long time. They wake up after a few hours of troubled sleep, and they usually sleep less than seven hours a night.

Some people with shift work disorder can have the same symptoms as those with insomnia. There is a difference between those two. If you are dealing with a change work disorder, your sleep disorder is connected to your job schedule. When you change your job pattern, usually insomnia disappears.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder caused by different factors such as the health conditions of a person, the biology, the anxious nature of that person, life changes, and medication use or abuse.

People Affected by Sleep Disorders

It seems like night shift workers are the ones affected the most by sleep disorders. These people cannot stay focused for a long time, and they are more involved in different accidents. The studies show that people working in night shifts have higher risks of falling asleep during work compared to those with a morning or afternoon shift.

Many individuals in these situations reported that they almost fell asleep driving or they almost had an accident because they fell asleep behind the wheel.

In some cases, the situation is even worse because these people are health care workers or pilots. They risk other people’s lives as well.

Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals have to take care of their sleep routine to function properly during their night shifts. Some studies showed that some doctors because of lack of sleep made life-threatening mistakes, while others managed to overcome their sleepiness and function as they suppose to. It depends very much on the organism of the affected person.[2]

Complementary health approaches and insomnia

Studies reported significant results for some specific complementary health approaches in treating insomnia, such as relaxation techniques.

Best mind and body practices for insomnia

Relaxation techniques can be effective in improving chronic insomnia.
Mindfulness meditation was effective as well in a small group of people with insomnia.

Different studies showed that postmenopausal women and women with osteoarthritis managed to improve their sleep after practicing yoga.

Some practitioners reported that hypnotherapy helped some patients to relax and calm their minds, without improving the sleep patterns in those with insomnia.

In 2012, a study showed that massage therapy can improve insomnia in postmenopausal women.[3][4]

No studies reported so far improvements in sleep patterns for people with insomnia going to acupuncture sessions.

Can Dietary Supplements Help People with Insomnia?

Melatonin is a solution for sleep disorders. Specific substances change into melatonin in the human body—L-tryptophan and 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), and they help a person fall asleep faster and better.
Chamomile tea is another natural solution used by many people to improve their insomnia. Some caution is necessary; some people have chamomile allergy.

Another supplement which promises to treat insomnia is kava. Unfortunately, it has side effects as well, as it seems like it damages the liver.
Valerian is another excellent herb used by many people with sleep disorders. It is recommended not to be used for a long term.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is also known to have beneficial effects in regards to sleeping disorders and study shows that 40-50% of subjects that followed cannabis based treatments attained good or very good sleep quality.[5]

Are there other complementary health approaches?

Aromatherapy is a therapy based on the use of essential oils from plants. Studies have not reported any improvements in people with insomnia.

Complementary health approaches for sleep problems

Talk to your doctor about your intentions. Tell him about the complementary health approach you are interested in trying and ask any questions about it.

When you are using any sleep product (prescription medications, dietary supplements, or homeopathic remedies), you have to inform yourself about the side effects of these products.

Natural products are not always good for everybody. Make sure you are not allergic to some of the product’s compounds.

If you are expecting a baby or you are breastfeeding you have to consult your doctor before taking a sleeping product.

If you decide to try a complementary therapy such as acupuncture or aromatherapy, let your doctor know about your intentions.[6]

Excessive daytime sleepiness disorders

These types of sleep disorders are common in new parents. Raising a little one is very exciting and rewarding, but very challenging as well. The first year of new parenthood comes with a lot of sleepiness in both parents. After the first year, the child needs attention as well when he starts to experience nightmares, or he feels the separation anxiety.

New parents can sleep well and the required hours if they take shifts in taking care of the baby. They can also bring the baby’s crib close to their bed, to make the feeding easier. You can also take naps during the day when the baby sleeps. This way you have the necessary energy for this period.

It is recommended to disconnect from social media, cell phones, IPads, and computers well before going to bed. Electronic devices can keep your brain active, and this makes falling asleep much more challenging.

If it is challenging for you to stay awake during the day, take walks in the park. Ask a family member to watch your child if you want to sleep a little. If you have questions about this period when your baby needs your full attention, consult the pediatrician.[7]

How can you get a Good Night Sleep?

If you cannot fall asleep as fast as you suppose to, there are many solutions. As we said before, simply turning off the computer or the TV earlier is a way to improve your sleep quality. Specialists are also talking about sleep hygiene. This means to avoid alcohol or coffee before going to bed. You should also find a calming ritual such as meditation or breathing exercises right before going to sleep.

You will clear your mind of any worries, and you will feel much calmer and relaxed.

If it is necessary to start taking sleeping pills, after consulting your doctor. Many sleep experts recommend people with severe insomnia to consider behavioral therapy. This type of treatment involves changing negative thought patterns and expectations into positive thoughts.
The quality of your life will improve if you manage to sleep better. It seems like the lack of sleep can have a cumulative effect. That means the sleep disorder can lead in time to sleepiness, fatigue, stress, anxiety.
Sometimes, all you need to do to improve your sleep pattern is to adopt a relaxed way of seeing and living things. Stress is among common causes in people with sleep disorders.[8]