We’re all about the natural, holistic, and organic road to health and wellness whenever possible. It’s why we espouse the benefits of mindfulness, taking “me time”, and general, hands-on and experiential self-care. BUT…
Sometimes you find yourself dealing with issues that go beyond cuddling with your pet, drinking tea, calming your mind, and taking a spin class. In the world of sleep ailments, there are a plethora of real physical problems that only a healthcare specialist can guide you through. It’s why there are actual sleep doctors — or somnologists, as they are known — who focus on these things, and why some otolaryngologists (aka Ear, Nose & Throat doctors) offer medical treatment for those hurdles that aren’t so seamlessly overcome.
As we’ve mentioned in the past, wellness is all about taking care of yourself. That means when something is wrong, if your tried and true go-tos for addressing whatever your “something” aren't working, being a good steward of the “you” that you’ve been given is to get checked out. In the world of sleep, there are some key “work with a doctor” signs we want to share with you. The big three — in our humble opinion — are Restless Leg Syndrome, Sleep Apnea, and the one that covers a multitude of disorders, Parasomnias.
Do you have them? Well, we’re not doctors, remember? But here’s some info that may help you know when to reach out and touch a somnologist or talk to your ENT.
“Gotta move!” — Restless Leg Syndrome
If you own a dog or have observed them when they sleep, at some point you’ll see them move their legs while they’re resting and sometimes even sleep-run. It’s cute, right? And you smile a little in adoration for the pup, even giggle in delight at the videos flooding the Internet.
When it’s you, when you’re the one in your own bed, sleeping away but are suddenly overcome by an uncomfortable sensation in your lower extremities and you have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs for relief, it definitely doesn’t feel adorable and TikTok-worthy. This is Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS, and while the movement temporarily relieves that terrible sensation, it also disrupts our sleep and creates issues with our daily life. Why? Well, if you’re experiencing it on a consistent level and are constantly being awakened by RLS, then your quality of rest is compromised and it can lead to you feeling tired during the day, even depressed.
RLS is pretty non-discriminating. There is no age limit — although it generally gets worse as you get older — doesn’t have a specific socio-economic or ethnic demographic, and while it appears to affect more women than men, it’s a very “come one, come all” kind of ailment. That “uncomfortable” feeling you get can take on the appearance of crawling, creeping, itching, aching, even a sense of electricity shooting through your legs and, sometimes — not often, but it does happen — your arms and hands.
Many people don’t like to share their RLS symptoms with their doctors because they’re afraid they won’t believe them. It seems so amorphous and ephemeral that they worry it will be viewed as something just in their mind. RLS is a real disease, however. Its medical name is Willis-Ekbom disease and while there is no cure, there are treatments and it is taken very seriously.
“You (don’t just) take my breath away.” — Sleep Apnea
A lot of people snore. But why do we snore? What’s the physiological reason for it? When we go to sleep, everything relaxes, even all the things that make our mouth work — our tongue, the roof of our mouth, and our throat. Sometimes, the tissues in our throat let go so much, they block that space in there known as our airway and then, well, vibrate.
It’s not uncommon, and when it’s periodic — for example, when some of us are super tired and our bodies just give in fully to our snooze — we snore even if we’ve never done so or RARELY done so before. Not a big deal other than making whoever we share the bed with really irritated.
If you or someone you care about snores all the time, frequently, or very loudly — there's a bigger issue going on and it is known as Sleep Apnea. Sure, most people think of this ailment as your breathing stopping in your sleep or gasping yourself awake. And, yes, that, too, is Sleep Apnea, but more seemingly mundane symptoms fall under the umbrella of this medically diagnosed slumber inhibitor.
Waking up with a dry mouth all the time, excessive morning headaches, constantly feeling sleepy during the day, and, yes, your breathing stopping while you snooze or gasping for breath — these and more are signs of this disease. This is for real shit, my friends. Not only can it cause you deep physical problems but it can make it so that your waking life is completely set askew.
There are three types of Sleep Apnea: Obstructive, Central, and Complex, which is a double whammy of having both types at once. Let us explain.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common and universally known. Remember how we talked about your whole mouth and all those things that are part of the breathing apparatus relax so totally that it can even inhibit your breathing? That’s what this is.
Central Sleep Apnea
This is when your brain’s not sending the right kind of signals to your body to keep you breathing when you’re sleeping. Not cool.
Complex Sleep Apnea
This occurs when both variations happen at once. It’s also known as Treatment Emergent Sleep Apnea.
Please know, just because you snore or someone you know snores doesn’t mean you have Sleep Apnea. It could be that you’re tired. Really, really tired.
We all get that way. Even if no one says so. But if it is so consistent as to make your rest feel unproductive? Talk to someone.
“It’s all or nothing.” — Parasomnias
Sleep walking, night terrors, incessant nightmares, talking in your sleep… Anything that gives the impression of still being awake even though you are most definitely not?
If someone shares your bed or is in close proximity to where you slumber, they may very well think you are awake when you experience these things.
You are not.
The general definition of Parasomnias is “unusual and undesirable physical events or experiences that disrupt your sleep.” (Thank you, Cleveland Clinic.) Those disorders that contribute to parasomnia are the experiences you have either right before, during, or as you are coming out of your zzzz’s. The ways in which these manifest range from the not-so-basic, but well-known sleepwalking, to sleep terrors where you wake up completely freaked out, to serious confusion, to sleep eating.
Because the parasomnia actions are so frequently associated with what we do when we’re awake and even how we go about them look like we are aware, those around us may feel we’re cognizant of what we’re doing but we definitely are not, and that is what concerns us most of all because we often do not remember any of it.
There are two different states of sleep in which these occur: Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and the more familiar Rapid Eye Movement or REM.
The occurrences in NREM can be those we’ve already stated — sleep walking, sleep terrors, waking confused, and sleep eating. Those discovered in REM include excessive nightmares, isolated sleep paralysis, bed wetting, sexsomnia or the carrying out of sexual behaviors during sleep, and RSBD or REM sleep behavior disorder, to name a few. RSBD is when you physically act something out while completely asleep. Verbalizing or being physically aggressive in reaction to something you’ve dreamed.
Again, this is real, this happens regardless of age, and while certain genders display more types of parasomnia behavior than others, the overarching theme is anyone can be affected and not only lose precious sleep because of them, but be seriously physically and emotionally compromised.
Need help? Ask and you shall receive.
Everything we’ve shared are true medical conditions that can be addressed and worked on with the right professional. Of course, there are ways to alleviate every ounce of them by focusing on your sleep habits, getting better exercise, eating well, and committing to a strong, positive wellness regimen. Certainly. And yet, you may not even know what and how to go about any of this unless you talk to a medical professional, because in each of these instances, there could be something physical causing your sleep to be disrupted or affected in a way that manifests these diseases.
Because it’s always our goal to give you as many avenues to relief and wellness as possible, we want to make sure you have resources to investigate more intensive support.
To learn more about RLS, check out the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation website. Think you have Sleep Apnea? Dig into it more here. And the broad, wide world of Parasomnias can be explained more clearly in this Medical News Today article.
All this to say, sometimes we need help beyond our personal wellness routines to even us out, get us to the other side, and be as healthy as we deserve. This is when a specialist who understands the medicine and physiology of sleep inhibitors is the lifeline that can make a true difference for us.
A good night’s sleep matters to our waking life in ways we often never thought possible. Please, get that much needed rest in any way you can.