The natural internal clock that controls our 24-hour cycle of sleep and waking, circadian rhythms are easily upset by changes in schedule, and they're greatly affected by light and darkness. Jet lag is the best known circadian rhythm disorder, but this sensitive inner clock can also be disrupted by changes in routine resulting in an erratic sleep schedule.
Sleep disorders are a group of conditions that affect the ability to sleep well on a regular basis. Whether they are caused by a health problem or by too much stress, sleep disorders are becoming increasingly common in the United States. In fact, more than 75 percent of Americans between ages 20 and 59 report having sleeping difficulties fairly regularly.
What to do: Talk to experts about sleeplessness, and you'll be told to practice good "sleep hygiene." What this means is that you need to take your lack of sleep seriously and look at your sleep habits and physical surroundings to see what might be preventing you from sleeping well. Start with your evening habits: What do you do in the hours before bed? Eliminate late-night eating, drinking, and computer use and your chances of falling asleep quickly and sleeping soundly are much greater. Use the last hour before bed to do things that relax you, like taking a warm bath, meditating, or reading.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that causes an almost irresistible urge to move your legs (or arms) at night. The urge to move occurs when you’re resting or lying down and is usually due to uncomfortable, tingly, aching, or creeping sensations. There are plenty of ways to help manage and relieve symptoms, though, including self-help remedies you can use at home.
The most common sleep disorder is insomnia. Others are sleep apnea, narcolepsy and hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness at inappropriate times), sleeping sickness (disruption of sleep cycle due to infection), sleepwalking, and night terrors. Management of sleep disturbances that are secondary to mental, medical, or substance abuse disorders should focus on the underlying conditions.
What to do: If you suspect you have a circadian rhythm disorder, take steps to get your body onto a regular sleep schedule. Choose a bedtime and wake-up time that work for you, and follow the same routine each day, even on weekends. This can be tough for those who have to get up early during the week but like to stay up later on weekends, but do your best to craft a compromise between your work week and weekend habits. The important thing is to avoid the trap of sleeping from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the week, then suddenly shifting to late nights and late mornings on the weekends. This will inevitably leave you with insomnia on Sunday night, which in turn sets you up to start the week exhausted on Monday morning.