Sleep-wake disorders are a common problem, affecting one in five people. But what’s even more common is not knowing you have one. Some people aren’t even aware they suffer from either sleep or wake disorders until they’re diagnosed by a physician or therapist. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, don’t wait to see your doctor—and don’t ignore the warning signs!
To help you figure out whether an issue with your sleep or wake cycles warrants medical attention, we’ve compiled some of the most common symptoms of these conditions:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night and waking up in the morning (sleep-onset insomnia)
- Waking up frequently during the night and having trouble returning to sleep (sleep maintenance insomnia)
- Trouble falling asleep when it’s time for bed because your mind is racing (psychophysiological insomnia)
- Waking up too early in the morning despite getting enough hours of sleep each night (early awakening syndrome)
- Difficulty staying awake during daytime hours because you feel tired all day long (hypernychthemeral syndrome).
I have always been a very early to bed late to rise kind of person
It has always been difficult for me to fall asleep at night. And when I say “fall asleep,” I mean that I used to sleep from 11 pm until 6 am without any problem. But then, around 3 am, it would be difficult for me to return to a deep sleep and stay asleep. This became a regular pattern for me—one that continued up until about 20 years ago when I started having trouble falling back asleep as well.
Traffic controller for over 25 years.
Every decision I made had serious consequences if it was wrong, so I knew how much stress I would be under.
I knew that my job would be stressful, but even after all those years and all those hours on the job, nothing prepared me for what happened next:
what is a sleep-wake disorder
Sleep-wake disorder, also called circadian rhythm sleep disorder, is a condition in which your internal clock is out of sync with the day-night cycle. It can affect when you fall asleep, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how long you stay asleep, and when you wake up.
The main symptoms of the sleep-wake disorder include:
- difficulty falling or staying asleep at night (insomnia)
- excessive daytime napping (hypersomnia)
- waking up too early in the morning compared to other people on the same schedule
I began to experience severe fatigue and difficulties concentrating during the day.
I began to experience severe fatigue and difficulties concentrating during the day. I felt like a zombie. I would go through periods of sleepiness, but then suddenly wake up for no apparent reason. My mind would go blank for no reason at all, and I would struggle to remember what I was supposed to be doing (or where I was supposed to be).
During this time, my sleep schedule became more erratic as well: sometimes I’d fall asleep early as normal; other times it was hard for me even if it was late at night.
Treatment for sleep-wake disorders
There are many ways to treat sleep problems. Some medications can help with sleep issues, but they shouldn’t be used on their own. The most effective treatment for your symptoms will depend on the underlying cause of your disorder and what works best for you.
If you have a sleep-wake disorder, it’s important to see a doctor who specializes in these disorders so they can diagnose the problem and develop a treatment plan that meets your needs.
The first step toward treating your sleep-wake problems is finding out why you’re having them in the first place!
A psychological counselor works with people on their mental health issues.
The sleep-wake disorder is a sleep condition that can be diagnosed and treated by your doctor
- Sleep-wake disorders are a group of sleep conditions that affect staying asleep or waking up.
- Insomnia: Not being able to get enough sleep at night
- Hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness): Waking up too early in the morning and having trouble getting to sleep at bedtime
- Circadian rhythm disorders: Having trouble adjusting to changes in your daily schedule
My doctors wanted me to sleep more.
So you may be wondering, “How do I know if I have SBD?” Well, in my case it was pretty obvious. If you’re having trouble sleeping and feeling tired during the day, then you have insomnia.
My doctors wanted me to sleep more because they thought that would help with my anxiety issues and depression problems as well as improve my overall health (which was very important when I was pregnant).
I felt better when I slept less.
I already knew what it was like to feel sleepy at night and wake up early in the morning. That’s just how my body worked. But when you have a sleep-wake disorder, that doesn’t mean your body has to stay on the same schedule all year long. You might be able to function during the day just fine one week, but then sleep well into the afternoon the next week—and then back again.
This is another way I knew something was off: I felt more rested when I slept less than normal for me. I was able to get more done during the day and concentrate better because I wasn’t as tired at work or school as I had been before my diagnosis of SWHR (which stands for shift work hyperarousal).
My family history didn’t give any clues.
You may think you’re destined to have a sleep-wake disorder because of your family history. However, I want to remind you that this is not always the case. Certain types of sleep-wake disorders are genetic, but these are extremely rare and don’t account for most cases. In my experience, it’s often surprising how little our genes have to do with whether or not we develop a sleep-wake disorder!
I thought that maybe I was just crazy.
It’s easy to feel like you’re going crazy when you don’t know what is wrong with you and your body. The symptoms of this condition can be so overwhelming that it’s hard to keep up with them all. It’s also important to remember that not everyone who has a sleep disorder will have all of these symptoms, so if you are experiencing some or most of them, don’t think that it’s impossible or unlikely for you to have this condition.
I was tired all the time. I had trouble concentrating at work, where I was constantly forgetting simple things such as names and numbers (even simple ones like 4-5-6). I would get irritable and moody when people asked me questions about my work because I knew they were asking me something I couldn’t answer due to my lack of concentration on the task at hand. And worst of all: I was having trouble sleeping at night! It wasn’t unusual for me to wake up feeling groggy after only getting four hours of sleep!
You can take control of your sleep-wake disorder. If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, consider talking to your doctor about the different treatments that could help improve your sleep health. If you have restless leg syndrome are medications that may be able to help with these symptoms as well.