Other Causes of Insomnia

Sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome are other sleep disorders that can cause symptoms of insomnia.

There are other sleep disorders that might be preventing you from getting a restful night’s sleep. While pain and insomnia are commonly linked, there are other sleep disorders including:

Sleep apnea is atype of sleep disorder caused by one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breathing while you sleep—pauses can last from a few second to minutes. There are actually three kinds of sleep apnea: Central, Obstructive, and a mixture of the two. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is characterized by a decreased respiratory effort. People with this type of sleep apnea may stop breathing for dangerously long periods of time while unconscious. The cause, to be brief, is neurological. There is a clear imbalance in the brain’s control centers for breathing. Because of this, the parts of the brain that monitor carbon dioxide levels in the body don’t react fast enough to maintain a normal respiratory rate. This is why people with CSA breathe irregularly or stop breathing altogether while sleeping.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OBA) is very different from CSA and is much more common. When you snore, that’s actually a form of OBA. When a person with OBA relaxes and falls asleep, the muscle tissue in their airway passage blocks their airways. In a very mild form of OBA, people will lightly snore. Snoring can be more severe, though, and can cause sleep deprivation when they wake themselves up from snoring too loud. When people have bad OBA, they end up suffocating themselves in their sleep. They commonly wake with a jolt because their body is reacting violently from the dangerous drop in oxygen levels. The third type of sleep apnea is a mixture of the two types previously mentioned.

There is a good chance that if you have sleep apnea, it’s affecting how well you sleep at night. Some 6% of insomnia cases have been linked to a form of sleep apnea.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is another sleep disorder. You’ve probably experienced restless legs at one time or another. RLS causes a strong urge to move your legs or stretch them to alleviate a strange and unpleasant feeling in your legs. According to the National Institute of Health, “People who have RLS describe the unpleasant feelings as creeping, crawling, pulling, itching, tingling, burning, aching, or electric shocks. Sometimes, these feelings also occur in the arms.”

However, RLS can be very severe. It’s most common in middle-aged women, and in pregnant women in their last trimester, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. If this is keeping you awake at night along with your pain, it’s possible that you’re suffering from a combination of chronic pain and RLS, rather than chronic pain and insomnia.

Treatments for RLS vary. Sometimes doctors look to find and treat an associated medical condition that could be causing the RLS, like diabetes or peripheral neuropathy. Relief from RLS can also come from making certain lifestyle changes. This can include decreasing the use of caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. RLS can also be caused by deficiencies in magnesium, iron, and folate.

RLS can also be a cause of your insomnia. Some 12% of insomnia causes are linked to problems with RLS.

Again, insomnia is mutually exclusive and is not connected to CSA, OBA, or RLS. What you perceive to be your problem with insomnia could be actually a consequence of pain, RLS, sleep apnea, or some other disorder. So review your symptoms. Try to figure out why you can’t get to sleep. Do you feel wired at night but restless during the day? This could be insomnia. Do you wake up with a sudden jolt? This could be a form of sleep apnea. Are your legs constantly uncomfortable, especially when you’re trying to rest? It’s possible that you have RLS.

Updated on: 04/14/15
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