When you’re having trouble sleeping, you know it. You wake up feeling tired, irritable, groggy…what’s that all about? It’s bad enough when you can’t sleep at all, but many times the problem is one that subtly sabotages the sleep you are managing to get, so the hours you spend in bed don’t refresh and revitalize you the way they should.
Here are five signs that you have a sleep problem or disorder that’s secretly stealing your rest…as well as tips on fixing the issue to get the sleep you need.
1. You sleep poorly and wake with a bad taste in your mouth.
What it’s a symptom of: “Morning mouth” can be a signal of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or asymptomatic heartburn. Recent sleep studies have shown that up to 25 percent of people who report sleeping poorly without a diagnosed cause have sleep-related acid reflux.
How it interrupts sleep: Acid reflux causes the body to partially awaken from sleep, even when there are no symptoms of heartburn. The result of this “silent reflux” is fitful, uneven sleep.
What to do:
• Follow treatment suggestions for heartburn, even though you aren’t experiencing classic heartburn symptoms: Don’t eat for at least two hours before hitting the sack, and avoid acid-causing foods in your evening meals – alcohol, chocolate, heavy sauces, fatty meats, spicy foods, citrus fruits, and tomatoes all contribute to heartburn and acid reflux.)
• Certain medications, particularly aspirin and other painkillers, are hard on the stomach and esophageal lining, so don’t take them just before bed.
• Sleep studies have shown that sleeping on the left side reduces symptoms, and sleeping on the right side causes them to worsen because acid takes longer to clear out of the esophagus when you’re on your right side. If you prefer to sleep on your back — a position that can increase reflux, elevating your head and shoulders can help.
• Losing weight can do wonders to banish heartburn and acid reflux. And if all else fails, try taking an over-the-counter antacid.
2. You toss and turn or wake up often to use the bathroom.
What it’s a symptom of: Nocturia is the official name for waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 65 percent of older adults are sleep deprived as a result of frequent nighttime urination. Normally, our bodies have a natural process that concentrates urine while we sleep so we can get six to eight hours without waking. But as we get older, we become less able to hold fluids for long periods because of a decline in antidiuretic hormones.
How it interrupts sleep: For some people, the problem manifests as having to get up to use the bathroom, and then being unable to get back to sleep. But for others the problem is more subtle; they may sleep fitfully without waking fully, as the body attempts to signal that it needs to go.
What to do:
• Start with simple steps. Don’t drink any liquids for at least three hours before going to bed. This includes foods with a lot of liquid in them, like soups or fruit.
• Go to the bathroom last thing before getting in bed and relax long enough to fully empty your bladder. It’s also important to get checked for conditions that cause urination problems.
• Diabetes can also cause frequent urination, so if you haven’t been tested for diabetes recently, see your doctor. Certain drugs such as diuretics and heart medications can contribute to this problem; if that’s the case, talk to your doctor about taking them earlier in the day. A prescription antidiuretic can cut down on nighttime urination if all else fails and there’s no underlying issue.
3. Your jaw clicks, pops, or feels sore, or your teeth are wearing down.
What it’s a symptom of: Teeth grinding, officially known as bruxism, is a subconscious neuromuscular activity. Bruxism often goes on without your being aware of it; experts estimate that only 5 percent of people who grind their teeth or clench their jaws know they do it until a sleep partner notices the telltale sound or a dentist detects wear on the teeth. Jaw clenching is another form of bruxism, except you clench your teeth tightly together rather than moving them from side to side. Jaw clenching can be harder to detect than grinding, but one sign is waking with pain or stiffness in the neck.
How it interrupts sleep: Bruxism involves tensing of the jaw muscles, so it interferes with the relaxation necessary for deep sleep. And if you’re fully grinding, your body is engaged in movement rather than resting.
What to do:
• See a dentist, who can look for underlying causes and can prescribe a mouth-guard-type device. If jaw clenching is your primary issue, there are specific dental devices for that as well.
• Experts also suggest giving up gum chewing during the day, because the habitual chewing action can continue at night. Some people who grind their teeth have experienced relief from botox injections to the jaw muscle. Others have had success using a new biofeedback device called Grindcare, approved by the FDA in 2010.
4. You move all over the bed or wake tangled in the covers.
What it’s a symptom of: That kind of movement indicates restless leg syndrome or a related problem, periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).