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What Causes Sleep Disruptions? Part 3

June 10, 2015By Dr. Britney Blair

Dr. Blair is a licensed clinical psychologist and is board certified in behavioral sleep medicine. Dr. Blair is on the adjunct faculty at The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. She has a private practice in Palo Alto and San Francisco, where she works with individuals and couples with sleep complaints.

This is the third and last part in our series about causes for insomnia. In part 1 we highlighted the psychological factors that contribute to insomnia and in Part 2, the environmental factors that contribute to insomnia. In this post, we will focus on physiological contributors.

Snoring may signal a temporary narrowing or blockage of the upper airway during sleep. Sleep apnea may cause multiple arousals across the night which affect the quality of sleep and, if you have a hard time falling back to sleep, you may experience insomnia symptoms.It is estimated that more than 18 million Americans have sleep apnea.

You should make an appointment with your healthcare provider for a sleep evaluation if:

  • You wake up snorting or gasping (even if you fall right back to sleep).
  • You have noticed, or have been told, that you snore.
  • Your throat or mouth is dry when you wake up in the morning.
  • You wake up non-refreshed.
  • You wake up with a headache.
  • You get up multiple times during the night to urinate.
  • You feel very sleepy during the day and tend to doze if you are engaged in a sedentary activity (like watching TV or reading).

Another medical condition that can increase your risk for insomnia is Restless Leg Syndrome (or RLS). RLS is characterized by the urge or need to move the legs to stop unpleasant tingling, creeping or crawling sensations in the legs. When the legs are moved, the unpleasant sensation dissipates. These frustrating sensations can last for an hour or more and can cause sleep disruption by preventing someone from falling asleep.

A very common sleep disruptor is chronic pain or pain as the result of an injury. Waking up in the middle of the night and then being unable to get back to sleep because you can’t get into a comfortable position could lead to ongoing sleep disruption. Ironically, pain medications can disrupt the sleep if they are wearing off when in the middle of the night.

Illness can also disrupt the sleep and lead to insomnia. Many medical conditions, as well as the drugs used to treat them can negatively impact sleep. Some medical problems may include arthritis, cancer (and cancer treatment), heart failure, lung disease, gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), overactive thyroid, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, a very common side effect of many prescription drugs is sleep loss or insomnia. These prescriptions drugs may include some antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications, allergy medications, stimulants (such as Ritalin), and corticosteroids. Many over-the-counter medications — including some pain medication, decongestants and weight-loss products — contain caffeine and other stimulants, which may also disrupt your sleep.

If you feel that a medical condition or your current medication regimen may be contributing to sleep disruption, please contact your healthcare provider.

Our next series will focus on tips for improving your sleep. Stay tuned and follow our blog to learn more!

 

 

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