Five medical conditions that could be affecting your sleep and causing insomnia
For most of us, a bad night’s sleep is a passing thing. For others, it can turn into a chronic condition that can cause real lifestyle issues. More often than not, poor sleep is a function of poor sleep hygiene (habits), but there are some medical conditions that cause or exacerbate insomnia.
Dr Wanviput Sanphansitvong, an anti-ageing physician at the Vitallife Wellness Centre at Bumrungrad International Hospital explains five medical conditions that are common culprits associated with poor sleep and insomnia.
1. Poor thyroid function. Hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid overstimulates the nervous system making it hard to fall asleep and may cause night sweats. Since the thyroid affects every organ and system in the body, the symptoms can be wide-ranging and sometimes difficult to diagnose. Checking thyroid function is easy and requires only a simple blood test.
2. Nocturia. This is the frequent need to urinate during the night and typically affects older adults. The mild version happens at least twice during the night and in severe cases, a person may get up as many as five or six times. Nocturia may be a product of age, but could be a function of diabetes, an enlarged prostate, or medication (especially diuretics).
3. Kidney Disease. People with kidney disease can no longer eliminate liquid waste and keep electrolytes in balance as they once did when they were healthy. Kidney disease can cause a build-up of waste product in the blood resulting in insomnia or symptoms of restless legs syndrome.
4. Arthritis. This musculoskeletal pain can make it hard for people to fall asleep or get back to sleep once awakened. The pain makes people restless and oftentimes the treatment with steroids either causes or exacerbates insomnia.
5. Headaches. People prone to headaches need sleep but struggle to get it because of the pain. Cluster headaches and migraines are two types of headaches that cause real discomfort when the walls of the blood vessels dilate.
When we don’t sleep well we suffer. Insomnia makes our brains foggy, impairs cognitive skills and plays havoc with mood. Typically, we tend to think about sleep only at night but the reality is we really should be moderating our behaviour during the day in order to get the best quality sleep at night.
Research on sleep shows that we are sleeping less than we used to – 20 per cent less than we did 100 years ago – and its easy to see why. We live in large, noisy urban centres tethered to our phones and computers where we spend several hours a day playing on social media or catching up work; often at night before we go to bed.
“We just don’t know how to power down anymore,” says Dr Wanviput “and that creates a real problem when it comes to sleeping. As a society we have become addicted to stimuli, and as individuals we have becoming undisciplined in our sleep hygiene.”
She points to several common mistakes people make that prevent them from having a good night’s rest. Here are the top five.
Too much caffeine. With coffee shops now on every corner, we are beginning to abuse coffee in our diets. Coffee is no longer just a stimulant we use to get us going in the morning, it is now a social scene and a lubricant for get-togethers. Coffee itself is not bad, but drinking coffee too much or too late in the day will cause sleep problems for most people.
Too much screen time. We just cannot seem to put our phones and iPads down and this causes two big issues for sleep. One, it causes hyperactivity or overstimulation in our brain, and two, it causes dependency so that we want that stimuli all the time. Like coffee, screen time is fine, but too much time staring at the phone or computer too close to bedtime overstimulates the brain and makes it hard to go to sleep.
Too much food at night. As a society, we have near immediate access to food anytime we want it, and eating too close to bedtime is a poor habit to get into as it leads to poor sleep and weight gain.
Too much alcohol at night. A little bit of alcohol will make you feel relaxed, but too much alcohol will cause problems with the quality of sleep and the amount of sleep you get. Heavy drinking causes a host of health problems and sleeping is one of them.
Too much worrying. Anxiety is a real impediment when it comes to sleep because it overstimulates the brain and won’t let the body shut down. Without a proper pre-sleep ritual to calm the mind and the body, we leave ourselves open to a constant stream of thoughts coming into our head at night.
Doctors who specialise in lifestyle medicine often talk about insomnia as a lifestyle disease, because it is influenced by our daily routines and habits. Experts in the field of sleep recommends that the best set-up for a good night’s sleep is to power down the electronics, put the phone down and turn the screens off. The ideal setting is a very dark, temperature-controlled room, that is relaxing and safe with no distracting bright lights or noise that will disturb sleep time or sleep quality. If you think a medical problem might be to blame, have a thorough health evaluation.