If you often feel tired or sluggish during the day, or often wake up feeling unrefreshed, it might mean you have some type of sleep disorder. But what you do and how you feel at night, can provide a few clues, too.
“Sleep disorders occur when you have trouble with sleep quality, timing, and/or duration,” Chris Brantner, sleep expert and founder of SleepZoo, tells Bustle. “You could be getting the right amount of sleep, but the sleep could be low quality. Or you could be getting good quality of sleep, but you’re not able to fall asleep on time, which then affects your overall amount of sleep. Occasional issues don’t qualify as sleep disorders.”
It’s only when they become chronic that your sleep issues may be worth looking into. “A few nights of poor sleep are entirely normal,” Martin Reed, certified clinical sleep health expert and founder of Insomnia Coach, tells Bustle. “[But] if you struggle with sleep at least three nights each week and this has been going on for more than three months, you should speak to your doctor about your sleep.”
They can tell you which sleep disorder you might have — such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, etc. — as well as what you can do to begin feeling better, so you can finally get those solid seven to nine hours of rest you so desperately need. Here are a few bedtime habits you may want to point out to your doctor, according to experts.
1. You Lie Awake Worrying & Over-Thinking
Pretty much everyone thinks about their day for a moment or two, before falling asleep. But if you struggle to shut off your brain — or end up lying awake worrying for hours on end — it may be a sign of a sleep disorder.
“If you find that your heart races and your mind goes into overdrive as soon as you get into bed (or even think about the bed), you may be living with insomnia,” Reed says. “These reactions are a symptom of the body’s arousal system being activated as a result of repeated nights of bad sleep. For many people with insomnia, the bed has become a cue for stress and wakefulness rather than a trigger for relaxation and sleep.”
With insomnia, the mere act of climbing into bed can trigger these thoughts. And it can be something that’s difficult to overcome, without the help of a professional sleep expert.
2. You Often Try To Go To Bed Extra Early
It’s fine to occasionally go to bed an hour or two earlier than you normally would — especially if you’re sick or want to recover from a particularly stressful day. But if this has become a habit, take note.
“As a way of compensating for sleep difficulties, many people with insomnia will go to bed earlier than normal, stay in bed later than normal, and even call in sick to work or cancel plans,” Reed says. “If any of these behaviors sound familiar, you should take steps to address them since they actually risk making your insomnia worse.”
3. You Suddenly Feel Wide Awake At Night
Do you tend to get sleepy as the evening goes on, but once you climb into bed, it suddenly feels like you drank ten cups of coffee?
“Feeling sleepy, going to bed, and then suddenly feeling wakeful like a switch has been flipped can be a sign of a sleep issue,” Ginger Houghton, LMSW, CAADC, a therapist specializing in sleep issues, tells Bustle. Namely, insomnia.
“Often times if we spend a lot of time in bed doing things like reading, binge watching TV, or other activities, we train our brain that the bed is a place for wakefulness,” Houghton says. “Then, when we lay down and expect to sleep, our brain says ‘no, this isn’t what we’re supposed to be doing here.'”
Cut to insomnia symptoms that get worse and worse. “When it’s done night after night, we start to get worried that there is something wrong with our sleep and then try to force ourselves to sleep and it can spiral into insomnia,” she says. “This is easily treatable through CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) where patients learn to retrain their brain by limiting the bed to just sleep and sex and addressing unhelpful thoughts about sleep.”
4. You Can’t Stop Moving Your Legs
It’s normal to jostle around in bed for a few moments as you find a comfy spot and settle in. But if your legs feel itchy and squirmy to the point you can’t stop moving them, it may be a sign of a sleep disorder called restless legs syndrome. And your doctor may be able to help if you tell them about your symptoms.
5. You Frequently Change Your Bedtime Routine
If you don’t have much in the way of a bedtime routine, that can be a sign of a problem in and of itself. Same goes for switching up your routine night after night, as a way of tricking yourself into getting more sleep.
“Regularly thinking about sleep or changing your routine to accommodate your sleep […] is a common symptom/habit among insomnia sufferers,” Reed says.
For healthy sleepers, sleep is a part of their day they don’t have to think too much about. So if you’re hyper-focused on it, and are constantly adjusting your life in an attempt to get more or better sleep, it may be a good idea to speak with your doctor.
6. Your Partner Says You Snore
If you’re someone who snores throughout the night, it could be a sign of a sleep disorder — especially if your snoring is rattling the window panes or waking the neighbors.
“If a bed partner has ever told you that you snore loudly, or your breathing pauses during the night, you may be living with sleep apnea,” Reed says. “Other symptoms include having a sore throat or dry mouth in the morning, morning headaches, waking feeling unrefreshed and/or morning grogginess, and high levels of daytime sleepiness and fatigue.”
7. You Fall Asleep Then Wake Up
If you tend to wake up several times throughout the night, don’t accept it as a normal part of life. This is often a sign your body is out of balance, and it’s preventing you from getting a restful night’s sleep.
“Waking multiple times, too early, and/ or unrefreshed means your body is not getting adequate deep sleep. This [could be due to] cortisol, hormonal, [or] stress issues.” Alyse Snyder, L.Ac., Dipl. OM, tells Bustle. “Our normal cycle as humans is to rise with the sun, have consistent energy throughout the day, leading to a progression of relaxation with the night (known as our circadian clock).” If you’re internal clock seems out of whack, definitely let a doctor know.
8. You Take Longer Than 30 Minutes To Fall Asleep
If you take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep each night, it’s definitely worth looking into possible reasons why. “It takes the average person about 15 minutes to fall asleep once their head hits the pillow and they close their eyes for the night,” Brantner says. “So if you’re taking longer than a half hour to doze off, that likely signifies a problem.”
Of course, this happens to the best of us on occasion. It’s only if it happens night after night, that it may be a sign of insomnia.
9. You Pass Out Immediately
On the other hand, it may also be a sign of a sleep disorder if you fall asleep too quickly. “It’s nice when we doze off quickly, however, most people don’t realize that if you’re falling asleep immediately upon hitting the pillow every night, this can signify a sleep disorder,” Brantner says. “It’s possible that you’re simply exhausted from not getting quality sleep. A rule of thumb is if you’re falling asleep in less than five minutes each night, there may be something afoot.”
Whether you’re snoring, falling asleep too quickly or lying awake long into the night, let your doctor know. They can help get the bottom of the issues, and figure out if you do, in fact, have a sleep disorder.