How it interrupts sleep: Doctors don’t know exactly what causes these sleep movement disorders, but they do know they’re directly related to a lack of deep, restful, REM sleep. The restlessness can prevent you from sinking into deep sleep, or a muscle jerk can wake or partially rouse you from deep sleep.
What to do:
• See a doctor to discuss your symptoms and get a diagnosis. Diabetes, arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, anemia, thyroid disease, and kidney problems can all contribute to restless leg syndrome and PLMD. Make sure to tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking; a number of medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, and lithium, can cause restless leg syndrome as a side effect.
• You can also try making dietary changes to make sure you’re getting enough iron and B vitamins, particularly folic acid, since iron and folate deficiency have been linked to restless leg syndrome. Red meat, spinach, and other leafy greens are good sources of both nutrients, but you may want to take supplements as well.
5. You wake up with a dry mouth or horrible morning breath.
What it’s a symptom of: Mouth breathing and snoring both disrupt sleep by compromising breathing. Look for drool on your pillow or in the corners of your mouth. If you have a partner, ask him or her to monitor you for snoring, gasping, or overloud breathing.
How it interrupts sleep: Mouth breathing and snoring can interrupt sleep because you’re not getting enough air to fully relax. Severe snoring — par
ticularly when accompanied by gasps or snorts — can also indicate a more serious problem with obstructed breathing during sleep.
What to do:
• Train yourself to breathe through your nose. Try snore-stopping nose strips, available over the counter at the drugstore, or use saline nasal spray to irrigate your nasal passages. Experiment with sleep positions; most people have a tendency to snore and breathe through their mouths when sleeping on their backs. Use pillows to prop yourself on your side, or try the tennis ball trick: Put a tennis ball in the back pocket of your pajama bottoms (or attach it some other way), so it alerts you when you roll over.
• If you typically drink alcohol in the evening, try cutting it out. Alcohol, a sedative, relaxes the muscles of the nose and throat, contributing to snoring. Other sedatives and sleeping pills do the same thing, so avoid using anything sedating. Alcohol also can trigger snoring in two other ways: it makes you sleep more deeply initially and is dehydrating.
• Losing weight, even just ten pounds, can help eliminate snoring, studies show. If none of these solutions work, consult a doctor to get tested for sleep-disordered breathing conditions such as apnea.
6. You sleep fitfully, feel exhausted all the time, and wake with a sore throat or neck pain.
What it’s a symptom of: Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder, defined as breathing interrupted by intervals of ten seconds or more. Experts estimate that 20 million Americans have sleep apnea, and 87 percent of those are unaware they have the problem. One mistaken assumption is that you have to snore to have sleep apnea. In fact, many people with apnea don’t snore.
How it interrupts sleep: Obstructive sleep apnea is the result of the throat closing and cutting off airflow, preventing you from getting enough oxygen. Blood oxygen levels drop, and when the brain knows it’s not getting enough oxygen, it starts to wake up. This causes fitful, unproductive sleep. Weight gain is a major factor in sleep apnea, because when people gain weight, they end up with extra-soft tissue in the throat area, which causes or contributes to the blockage.
What to do:
• See an otolaryngologist, who will examine your nose, mouth, and throat to see what’s interrupting your breathing and how to fix the problem. It’s also important to have your oxygen levels measured during sleep.
• Other options include oral appliances, which change your mouth position by moving your jaw forward to open up the throat, and surgery, including some newer, minimally invasive outpatient surgical treatments.
7. You get a full night’s sleep, but feel groggy all the time or get sleepy while driving.
What it’s a symptom of: This signals circadian rhythm problems or, more simply, getting out of sync with night and day. Irregular sleep patterns, staying up late under bright lights, working a shift schedule, using computers and other devices in bed, and having too much light in the room while you sleep, can disrupt your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
Why it interrupts sleep: The onset of darkness triggers production of the hormone melatonin, which tells the brain it’s time to sleep. Conversely, when your eyes register light, it shuts off melatonin production and tells you it’s time to wake up. Even a small amount of ambient light in the room can keep your body from falling into and remaining in a deep sleep. The use of devices with lighted screens is especially problematic in terms of melatonin production because the light shines directly into your eyes. This light is also at the blue end of the spectrum, which scientists believe is particularly disruptive to circadian rhythms.
What to do:
• Try to get on a regular sleep schedule that’s not too far off from the natural cycle of night and day — and preferably the same schedule all week. (Experts recommend 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night, but that’s just a general outline.)
• A trick experts recommend to help night owls reset their internal clocks: force yourself to get up and get into bright light one or two mornings in a row and you’ll be less likely to get that “second wind” and burn the midnight oil or experience nighttime sleeplessness.
• As much as possible, banish all screens, nightlights, and other sources of light from your bedroom. Reading is much more sleep-inducing than looking at a lighted screen, but make sure your reading light isn’t too bright. Does your smoke alarm have a light in it? Put tape over it. Use an alarm clock without a lighted dial, or cover it. If your windows allow moonlight and light from streetlights to shine in, install blackout curtains or shades tightly fitted to the window frames. Don’t charge laptops, phones, cameras, and other devices in your bedroom unless you cover the light they give off.