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How Sleep Disorders Affect Your Body

Do you find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep? If you answered yes, you are not alone. In the United States alone, 70 million individuals suffer from a sleep disorder.

The term sleep disorder refers to a group of over 80 conditions that impact your sleep. These disorders may impact your sleep quality, timing, or duration and impact how you function when awake. Suffering from poor sleep quality or quantity can do more than make you feel tired and groggy. It can have a huge impact on your physical health.

In this article, we will take a look at the most common sleep disorders. Next, we will discuss the health consequences of a sleep disorder. Finally, we will review some easy habits you can adopt to improve your sleep at night.

What is a Sleep Disorder?

A sleep disorder is a condition the impacts your ability to get restful sleep at night.

Most people will experience some sleep problems from time to time. However, you might have a sleep disorder if the experience frequent symptoms of poor sleep.

For instance, symptoms of a sleep disorder include:

  • Frequently finding it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.

  • Feeling tired throughout the day, even after getting at least 7 hours of sleep at night.

  • An impaired ability to complete regular daytime activities.

  • More symptoms of a sleep disorder include: irritability, anxiety, depression, weight gain, and unusual breathing patterns.

Types of Sleep Disorders

There are over 80 different sleep disorders, defined as a condition that disturbs normal sleep patterns. Some of the most common types include: insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy.


The primary symptom of insomnia is an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. If you have insomnia, you may find it next to impossible to get back to sleep if you wake during the night.

There are two primary types of insomnia:

  • Short-Term (Acute) Insomnia: This lasts for days or weeks and occurs more often in times of stress or after a traumatic event.

  • Long-Term (Chronic) Insomnia: When insomnia lasts for a month or longer it is called chronic insomnia. This type of insomnia may co-occur with other medical conditions that may impact sleep.

Sleep Apnea

There are several types of sleep apnea, which occurs when you have abnormal breathing patterns when you sleep. During sleep, there are periods when an individual repeatedly stops breathing, before their breathing resumes. It can cause loud snoring, and feelings of inadequate sleep during the day.

There are 3 main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the throat muscles relax. When these muscles temporarily relax, it causes your airway to narrow, momentarily cutting off your breathing.

  • Central Sleep Apnea: This occurs when the brain doesn’t send proper signals for the body to breathe during rest.

  • Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome: This type of sleep apnea occurs when an individual has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea at the same time.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Also called Willis-Ekbom disease, this is a type of restless movement disorder. When an individual with RLS tries to fall asleep there is an uncomfortable sensation. This sensation causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, which temporarily eases the sensation. In people with RLS, sleep is disrupted and this can also impact daytime activities. In some cases, RSL is associated with another condition called periodic limb movement of sleep, which causes the legs to move and twitch throughout the night, during sleep.


If you are frequently overcome by fatigue in the daytime and suffer from sleep attacks, then you might have narcolepsy. With narcolepsy, it may be difficult for you to stay awake for long periods of time throughout the day, regardless of the activities you are engaged in. Symptoms of narcolepsy include: excessive daytime drowsiness, sudden loss of muscle tone, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations experienced when waking or falling asleep. This is a chronic condition that has no cure. However, medication and lifestyle changes can help you manage the symptoms so you can cope with the sleep disorder.

Sleep Deprivation

Though sleep deprivation is not a sleep disorder, it can also have a negative impact on your health. Parents caring for newborns, students, shift workers, and people who work long hours may be more prone to sleep deprivation.

As many as one third of American adults suffer from sleep deprivation – defined as less than 7 hours of sleep a night for adults.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • Memory impairment

  • Impaired performance for school or work

  • Mental health symptoms

  • Impaired judgment.

  • Daytime drowsiness and microsleep episodes.

“Acute total sleep deprivation is the absence of any sleep at all for a limited time, such as pulling an all-nighter on one night to get work done,” according to sleep expert, Dr. Hilbert, from Yale Medicine in Connecticut.

In most cases, sleep deprivation occurs for a limited amount of time and is partial. According to Dr. Hilbert, “People can only go without any sleep at all for short periods before they experience an intense need to sleep.”

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?

Over 100 million Americans do not get an adequate amount of sleep at night. Although sleep requirements vary by individual, most adults require 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.

Not getting adequate sleep can lead to a number of consequences for your health, safety, and quality of life. For instance, inadequate sleep can impair cognitive function and lead to memory impairment, irritability, and slower reaction times. Furthermore, cognitive impairment can put you at risk of automotive and workplace accidents. It can also lead to impaired school and work performance.

If left untreated, a sleep disorder can have a drastic impact on your health.

Health Consequences of a Sleep Disorder

Your brain needs sleep to function properly. Not getting enough sleep puts you at risk for developing chronic health conditions.

For instance, a sleep disorder can increase your risk of developing:

  • Heart disease and hypertension.

  • Diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance.

  • Obesity in adults and children.

  • Depression and anxiety.

  • Heart attack and stroke.

In some cases, your sleep disturbances may be a warning sign for a medical or neurological problem. Sleep disturbances are more common in people with the following conditions:

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Parkinson’s disease

What causes sleep disorders?

There are numerous causes for sleep disorders. For instance, sleep disorders can arise from medical condition or any type of pain that prevents an individual from being able to sleep. Additionally, some medicines can interfere with sleep. Other causes of sleep disorders include mental illness, and genetic conditions.

Causes of sleep disorders:

  • Medical conditions (including heart disease, lung disease, nerve disorders and ulcers).

  • Mental illness (including depression and anxiety)

  • Certain medicines

  • Genetic factors

What lifestyle factors contribute to sleep difficulties?

If you would like to improve your sleep at night, there are four very simple things you should avoid before bed.

Avoid: Exercising Before Bed

While daytime exercise can be beneficial, exercising too close to bedtime can compromise your sleep. Exercising boosts your heart rate, body temperature, and adrenaline levels. This can cause your brain to feel more alert.

To get the greatest health boost from high-intensity workouts, it is best to work out at least 3 hours before bed. If you still want to exercise before bed, opt for a low-intensity exercise, like gentle yoga, which won’t increase your heart rate too much.

Avoid: A Poor Diet

Your diet has a profound impact on your sleep. And, it is mostly down to the amount of stimulants (like caffeine) and alcohol you consume.

Caffeine consumption is a big factor that plays into poor sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that makes an individual feel more awake. For optimal sleep, try to avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bed. And remember, caffeine is found not only in coffee, but also in some teas, and chocolate too.

Another big contributor to poor sleep is alcohol. Though you may feel like a nightcap helps you get to sleep, a new review of over 27 studies suggests that drinking alcohol disrupts normal sleep. The studies found that alcohol impacts REM sleep, which is the restful and restorative sleep that occurs when you dream.

In terms of food, it is best to avoid spicy and fatty foods before bed as both can lead to sleep difficulties. Finally, it is best to avoid eating within 3 hours of going to bed, to ensure you have optimal blood sugar, leptin, and insulin levels to promote a good night’s sleep.

Avoid: Technology Before Bed

One of the other major causes of not being able to sleep is technology. When using technology, it can be very addicting watching a show, scrolling social media, or browsing the web. This can prevent an individual from going to bed at a set time. Furthermore, the screens on your phone, laptop, or TV emit a blue light that makes you feel more awake. This blue light can disrupt your circadian rhythm and interfere with your sleep at night.

Avoid: Negative Thinking Before Bed

According to Dr. Sean Drummond, a professor of clinical neuroscience, negative thoughts are more likely to intrude before bed. This phenomena is called ‘conditioned arousal’.

Dr. Drummond says that people with chronic insomnia, “lie in bed worrying and ruminating and problem solving and thinking about whatever’s stressing them out. That then generally leads to negative emotions such as anxiety or depression.

“Then they realize they can’t sleep so they get frustrated and upset that they can’t sleep and they’re tossing and turning. What happens, essentially, is that all this time in bed stressed out and worrying and ruminating starts to send these signals to the brain saying, the bed is a place to be awake and to worry, rather than the bed is a place to be comfortable and relaxed and falling asleep.”

What happens is that the bedroom becomes a conditioned arousal trigger to the brain that it is time to be stressed and begin worrying or trying to problem solve.

Dr. Drummond continues, “Even when you are nice and relaxed and falling asleep in front of your TV, if you get up and go to your bedroom and lie down your eyes pop open and your mind starts to race because the brain thinks that is what the bed is for.”

What are sleep-healthy habits?

If you would like to improve your sleep at night, try these sleep-healthy habits.

Exercise During the Day

Regular exercise can help improve sleep in a number of ways. First, exercising raises your core body temperature. This helps signal to your body that it is time to be awake. Later, after 30 to 90 minutes, your core body temperature drops, facilitating sleepiness. Second, exercising during the day has been proven to reduce stress – which can reduce sleep onset (or the time it takes to fall asleep). Finally, exercising can help combat excessive weight gain, which in turn makes a person less susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea.

Set a Calming Bedtime Routine

Before bed, try to have a positive mindset. Avoiding negative thoughts like “If I don’t go to bed soon, how will I function tomorrow?” Such negative thinking will only make it more difficult to get to sleep.

Instead, create a relaxing bedtime routine that includes a stress-reducing activity. Some stress reducing activities include drinking a non-caffeinated herbal tea (like Chamomile) and reading a book. You could also try taking a warm bath, meditating, listening to calming music, and writing in a journal.

Create an Optimal Bedtime Environment

It is relatively common to have a TV in the bedroom. However, this is a habit you should try to avoid. Watching TV before bed exposes you to blue light, which makes your body feel more alert and can interfere with deep sleep. For a better sleep, try removing your TV from your bedroom. In fact, try to eliminate as many electronics from your room as possible.

Instead, try reorganizing your bedroom so it becomes a sleep oasis. As a general rule, you can try to make things as cold, dark, and quiet as is comfortable for you. To make your room darker, you could invest in some blackout curtains. Next, tidy up and remove clutter so that your room feels more peaceful. Try setting the thermostat to 60 to 70 Fahrenheit (or 16 to 21 Celsius).

Before bed, make sure all electronics are turned off. Next, turn out the lights and pull down your blackout curtains. Finally, get into bed and enjoy. Remember: once your head hits the pillow, don’t try to do anything other than fall asleep.

Your Sleep is Important

Sometimes it is hard to understand what is causing your sleep difficulties. Using the Health Gauge Phoenix wearable, you can track your sleep at night. By tagging your daily habits, Health Gauge makes it easier to understand what habits might be contributing to your poor sleep. Over time, you can adjust your daily habits to get a sleep at night.

Remember that when it comes to a good night’s sleep there are sleep-healthy habits that can boost your sleep at night. For instance, hours before your bedtime, you should avoid heavy exercise, eating a heavy meal, caffeine, alcohol, and blue light technology. Finally, for a good night’s sleep, try going to bed at the same time every night, and establish a bedtime routine that involves a relaxing activity, such as reading a book, doing gentle yoga, or meditating.

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