Medical Conditions That Disrupt Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation estimates that about 70 million Americans are affected by a sleep disorder, and almost half of those people aren’t even aware of it.
Sleep disorders can cause fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and other symptoms. They also increase the risk of severe health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
Here are some of the most common medical conditions that disrupt sleep:
- Heart failure.
Heart failure is when your heart isn’t strong enough to pump blood through your body at the rate it should be going. When you’re asleep, your body repairs itself, but if your heart isn’t pumping blood fast enough during the sleep, you may wake up feeling tired or even short of breath.
- Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is characterized by an unpleasant tingling or creeping sensation in your legs that makes you want to move them around constantly. It’s often worse at night when you’re lying down, so it can keep you awake for hours.
- Periodic limb movement disorder.
This condition causes involuntary leg movements during sleep that wake you up briefly every few minutes. The movements usually stop after a few seconds but can be hard to ignore if they happen while you’re trying to fall asleep.
- Sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. A partial or complete airway collapse causes it during sleep and often results in loud snoring and interrupted breathing.
The disorder affects about 9 percent of adults, but many people with sleep apnea don’t even know they have it because they’re unaware of their snoring. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and more severe health problems.
But treatments can help improve your quality of life, including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which involves wearing a mask over your nose or mouth at night to keep the airway open while you sleep.
These drugs reduce the activity of your sympathetic nervous system (which controls the fight-or-flight response) and lower blood pressure. They’re often prescribed to treat high blood pressure or heart failure conditions. They may also treat anxiety disorders, migraine headaches, and asthma.
- Calcium channel blockers
These drugs treat high blood pressure and chest pain caused by coronary artery disease (angina). The most common ones include amlodipine (Norvasc), diltiazem (Cardizem) and nifedipine (Procardia). Calcium channel blockers can make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to daytime fatigue and trouble concentrating.
- Chronic pain
Insomnia is often an issue for patients with chronic pain, especially neuropathic pain (nerve pain). Neuropathic pain is caused by damage to the nervous system and can be difficult to treat. The condition often causes insomnia because sleeping with chronic pain can worsen the pain.
People with depression have more trouble falling asleep at night than those without depression. They also have less slow-wave sleep and more REM (rapid eye movement) sleep — both indicators of poor quality sleep — compared to people who are not depressed.
The reasons for this are unclear but may include the use of alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism or mental health issues such as anxiety and PTSD.
Asthma is a chronic (ongoing) disease of the lungs that inflames and narrows the airways. When they exercise, people with asthma often experience coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and trouble breathing or are exposed to specific triggers such as cigarette smoke, cold air, or dust.
- Kidney disease
Kidney disease can disrupt sleep because it affects the body’s ability to filter waste and control fluid balance. As a result, people with kidney disease may have too much or too little fluid in their bodies. Fluid imbalances can lead to swelling (edema) and high blood pressure, disrupting sleep.
Kidney disease also causes problems with urination, including frequent urges to urinate or incontinence (inability to control urination). These problems can interrupt sleep quality at night and cause daytime fatigue. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common cause of insomnia in older people; about 30 percent of older adults with CKD report trouble sleeping at least three nights per week.
Heartburn is a painful feeling in your chest caused by stomach acid backing up into your esophagus (the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach). Heartburn occurs when stomach acid flows back from your stomach into your esophagus through a weak spot in the lower esophageal sphincter muscle at the bottom of the esophagus called the cardiac sphincter.
Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that affects the ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy experience sudden and overwhelming daytime drowsiness, often accompanied by muscle weakness.
Narcolepsy is caused by the loss of neurons that produce hypocretin, a hormone that regulates wakefulness and is essential for maintaining regular sleep patterns.