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Common Types of Sleep Disorders and Simple Ways to Manage Them

Published | 8 min read

Uninterrupted and high-quality sleep can be hard to come by. Here are the most common types of sleep disorders and natural ways to help manage them.

A woman waking up in the morning, free from types of sleep disorders

It can be challenging to get high-quality sleep. You do your best to go to bed on time and put the day’s troubles behind you. Unfortunately, such efforts don’t always guarantee that you will fall asleep or stay asleep all night. 

Regularly getting enough sleep is necessary for the body to run like a well-oiled machine. Seven to eight hours of high-quality, uninterrupted rest allows the body to recover and heal itself. It’s how you replenish your energy, keep your immune system healthy, and regain mental and physical balance. 

Some people sleep for an adequate number of hours but don’t reach a deep enough stage of sleep to be well-rested and feel rejuvenated. Waking up intermittently can prevent you from attaining deep sleep. Whether you are facing acute sleep disruptions or chronic sleep disorders, multiple factors may contribute to your sleep dilemmas. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat sleep disorders, including prescription medications, sleep devices, and behavioral therapy. However, before you look into these, try using natural remedies which don’t have any side effects and can easily be made a part of your daily life.

In this article, you can explore five of the most common types of sleep disorders and discover the remedies that may be able to get the rest you deserve.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Disorders 

A man rubs his eyes in front of a laptop, feeling tired and sleepy
Excessive daytime drowsiness is a sign of several types of sleep disorders.

Specific sleep disorders come with their own set of symptoms. There are, however, some universal signs. They include excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability, mental exhaustion, and drowsiness. Weight gain and elevated blood pressure are also common results of chronically poor sleep. 

5 Most Common Types of Sleep Disorders 

Sleep Disorders are very common in the United States. In 2014 the National Sleep Foundation reported that 35% of Americans felt that their quality of sleep was “poor” or “only fair.”

Risk factors that make you vulnerable to sleep deprivation and low-quality rest include excessive alcohol drinking, chronic stress, and tobacco smoking. Anxiety, parenthood, and medical conditions like diabetes or chronic or acute pain can also be triggers.

1. Insomnia

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that may include difficulty falling or staying asleep and not feeling well-rested. In 2016 it was reported that it affects 10%–50% of the population worldwide. Young adults and teens also have high rates of insomnia as a result of excess social media use. FOMO, or “fear of missing out” contributes to their lack of sleep.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), insomnia can be classified into five syndromes, and each has different causes and symptoms. TCM physicians differentiate the syndromes by conducting a comprehensive analysis of a patient’s clinical information and using it to guide the choice of treatment, either by acupuncture, herbal prescription, or other methods. Furthermore, the color of urine and tongue, complexion, and pulse rate is also among the symptoms of insomnia that professional physicians will examine to determine which insomnia syndrome the patient is having. 

Eu Yan Sang’s TCM Physician Jolene Chong describes one of the syndromes as a “disturbance of the Heart and Mind. Patients with mild insomnia may suffer from difficulty in falling asleep, or light sleeping, often getting up during the night.” She explains, “They also may have difficulty going back to sleep after waking up at night.” The most serious cases may make it impossible to sleep through the night at all. 

Physician Chong explains that the symptoms commonly consist of trouble falling or staying asleep, having too many dreams, as well as physical discomforts and emotional distress like irritability, dizziness, headaches, chest pains, sweating, breathlessness, and lethargy. 

As TCM believes in the balance of yin and yang of the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys, the remedies must be based on the causal factors. General treatments for insomnia include customized herbal prescriptions, acupuncture, ear acupuncture, and cupping. 

2. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless leg syndrome is an intense urge to move one’s legs while sitting or lying in bed. That can be accompanied by uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations in the legs.

According to Physician Chong, the syndrome of liver-fire disturbing the heart and mind as well as the syndrome of the internal disturbance of phlegm and heat can be the cause of restless leg syndrome (RLS). Generally, a weak spleen and intense positive or negative emotions may be to blame for your restless legs at night. If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or panic, it’s best to find ways to cope and process your feelings.

A weak spleen may be a result of poor digestion, a rich diet, or unhealthy foods. These things work together to create excess phlegm in the spleen and stomach. Meanwhile, heightened emotions of any kind may cause qi stagnation in the liver. A continuous stagnation will result in liver-fire syndrome. As this happens, your energy moves upwards, disrupting the serenity of heart and mind. In turn, it causes unrest and discomfort. 

To treat RLS, you should find ways to ease your mind. Also, consider taking herbs that help ease digestion and stomach pain.

3. Nightmares and Night Terrors

A woman covering her eyes with her arms as she suffers from a nightmare
Nightmares and night terrors can prevent you from falling asleep and make you feel tired all day.

A nightmare is usually an extremely unpleasant or frightening dream. Sleep terrors are different from nightmares. After waking up from a nightmare, you may remember some details. A person who has a sleep terror episode remains asleep and may have multiple episodes.

Physician Chong says that nightmares and night terrors are from the syndrome of Qi Deficiency (low energy) of the heart and gall bladder. Along with the terrors, you may also experience heart palpitations, breathlessness, and spontaneous sweating. That can happen at any time during the day.

She adds, “qi deficiency of the heart results in the inability to calm the mind and spirit.” She goes on to say, “While qi deficiency of the gall bladder affects the spirit. It causes one to be timid and fearful at all times even during sleep, hence impacting sleep quality.”

You can treat qi deficiency of the heart and gall bladder by boosting qi and calming the mind and spirit.

4. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep Behavior Disorder is considered a parasomnia. Parasomnias are characterized by abnormal movements, behaviors, emotions, dreams, and perceptions. Usually, these abnormal symptoms happen when a person is falling asleep, between sleep stages, or when waking up. 

A literature search in the China National Knowledge Infrastructure found several studies which reported that herbal remedies for REM sleep behavior disorders (RBD) were as effective as Western medication. This proves that TCM methods can help manage RBD. 

5. Advance Sleep Phase Disorder (ASPD)

A woman wearing white shirt sleeping on a sofa in the afternoon
Taking a short nap is recommended, but when you tend to sleep for hours during the daytime, your circadian rhythm will be in disarray.

Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder or ASPD happens when your natural circadian rhythm is too early, compared to normal. Common symptoms are difficulty staying awake until an appropriate bedtime, and difficulty staying asleep until the desired wake time.

ASPD results from blood deficiency of the heart and qi deficiency (low energy) of the spleen. Physician Chong says, “An unhealthy lifestyle or over-fatigue may weaken the Spleen and negatively affects the absorption of nutrients.” This will make “less essence for qi and Blood production.” She also reports, “Chronic illnesses may also result in an overall deficiency in the blood.” Also that, “Blood deficiency of the heart impacts the normal upholding of a calm heart and mind, thereby affecting sleep.”

TCM Tips for Treating Sleep Disorders

There are some overall lifestyle tips that TCM practitioners recommend.

  • You should keep a regular sleep schedule, such as hitting the hay by 11 p.m.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine at least 4 hours before bedtime.
  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Adjust the room temperature to improve your sleep environment. Investing in the right pillows or bedsheets, warm lighting, and comfortable, soft pajamas are also great ideas.
  • Turn off all electronics or remove them from your bedroom completely at bedtime. Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, and alcoholic beverages at bedtime.

If you want to try TCM remedies for sleep disturbances, consider the following:

TCM Sleep Formula: The TCM Sleep Formula derives from a sour jujube concoction (Suan Zao Ren Tang) used for centuries. It now comes in dissolvable granules and is used for temporary relief of sleeplessness due to deficiency of blood in the liver and restless sleep caused by fatigue and over anxiety. A 2015 clinical study concludes that Suan Zao Ren Tang effectively improves sleep quality and provides therapeutic effects.

A Lingzhi Supplement: This can be used to boost the immune system, replenish qi and blood, calm the mind, fortify the spleen and stomach, detox the lungs, and replenish vital essence. Lingzhi is also great for those that live very hectic or busy lives. Lingzhi also contains high sterol content with sedation and hypnosis effects. Additionally, adenosine as an active component of lingzhi regulates the sleep-wake cycle to help regain a healthy sleep schedule.

Consistent use of TCM herbs and medicines may help you see great improvements in your sleep routine.

Other Choices: Physician Chong also recommends some herbs and remedies outside of traditional Chinese medicine. These include magnesium, lavender aromatherapy, caffeine-free chamomile tea, peppermint tea, and vitamin B12 supplements.

Consistency Matters

When it comes to managing different types of sleep disorders, the important thing to remember is that being consistent in your efforts makes a significant difference. Proper sleep hygiene, or sleep habits, go a long way when it comes to getting an adequate amount of rest. Behavioral therapy might also help you to understand how your emotions and thoughts affect your sleep.

Once you identify the types of sleep disorders, you adopt great sleep hygiene and incorporate TCM supplements into your routine it may still take some time to consistently get good quality rest. Be patient and persistent. Practicing these tips over time can help you finally get the rest you need and deserve. 

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