Related Topics - Healthy Sleep

What Factors Can Affect Our Sleep?

Sleep disorders are very common conditions that can be overcome. It is important to understand what affects sleep and the importance of sleep. The following will help you understand sleep disorders and their treatment.


Insomnia is trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or waking up too early. Insomnia can be a short-term problem or a chronic, long-term problem. People with insomnia often have a hard time relaxing in bed and turning off the mind. They often spend time in bed thinking, worrying, tossing, turning, and trying hard to sleep. Their sleep is very unpredictable; they never know what kind of night's sleep they will have. They often have several nights of poor sleep followed by a better night's sleep followed by a few more poor nights, and so on.

Persons with insomnia often have a number of daytime consequences of difficulty sleeping that include: not feeling rested; feeling fatigued or 'run down'; problems with attention, concentration or memory; problems with work or school performance; problems with relationships; feeling irritable; mood problems; low motivation, energy, or desire to start an activity.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep is recognized as an important part of disease prevention and health promotion. Sleep and Sleep Disorders (CDC) provides a brief overview of disorders, how much sleep you need and tips for the promotion of sleep.

Sleep Apnea (MedlinePlus) also called sleep-disordered breathing is a common disorder. As you are sleeping, it can cause shallow breathing or your breathing can stop for a period of time.

What Is Your Snore Score? (American Sleep Apnea Association)

Sleep and Traumatic Brain Injury

Sleep and Traumatic Brain Injury: We spend about one-third of our lives asleep. Many things can keep us from getting a healthy amount of sleep. One of the many conditions linked to sleep problems is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). (My HealtheVet article)

Medical or Psychiatric Illness

Medical and psychiatric illnesses including stress, anxiety, depression, worry, pain and medications can affect sleep. Body tension and too much thinking and worrying in bed can affect our sleep.

Sleep and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (National Center for PTSD)

Stress (MedlinePlus)

Anxiety (MedlinePlus)

Depression (MedlinePlus)

Restless Legs Syndrome and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Restless legs syndrome is a sleep disorder but it doesn't happen while you are sleeping! Periodic limb movement disorder is a sleep disorder that occurs during sleep. Restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder are two different sleep disorders but they are closely related to each other.

People with restless legs syndrome complain of a strong and almost irresistible urge to move their legs. They may also complain of uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings in their legs. They often use the words 'creepy', 'crawly', 'itchy', 'like bugs in my legs' and describe the sensation as a feeling that is 'deep down' in the legs. The unpleasant feelings and the urge to move their legs sometimes happen at the same time. Restless legs syndrome is not a muscle cramp and it is not 'fidgety legs'. Persons are typically laying down or sitting for a period of time when the urge to move their legs occur. Usually the longer a person is resting, the worse the problem becomes. When persons are confined to the car, a movie theatre seat, or an airplane seat, restless legs syndrome can be a real problem. Restless legs syndrome is often worse in the evening and at night. Restless legs syndrome is a sleep disorder that keeps people from falling asleep and falling back to sleep.

Persons with periodic limb movement disorder kick their legs and flex their feet up during sleep. It can happen quite often during the night. Often the bed partner is the one who notices the leg movements but it may wake the person who is experiencing them. Periodic limb movement disorder can also include the arms but is more common in the legs. Periodic limb movement disorder occurs more in older persons.

Read more about restless legs syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD):

Restless Legs (MedlinePlus)

What is RLS? (RLS Foundation)

What about Sleep Medication?

Sleep medication is used to manage insomnia. Prescribed sleep medication is often used when first treating an insomnia problem. Sleep medication is best used on an "as needed" basis. Continued use of prescribed sleep medication can lead to psychological dependence on the drug. The medication may work well for a while and then start to lose its effectiveness requiring larger doses in order to work. You can develop serious side effects by stopping medication abruptly. Do not make any changes in sleep medication use without discussing it with your health care provider.

Finally, your provider may want to do an overnight sleep test on you. These sleep tests are called polysomnography. The test is conducted in a sleep laboratory to find out what is causing your sleep problems.

Updated January 2012
Clinical Advisory Board Sponsors: Karen M. Ott
Clinical Subject Matter Experts: Dr. Dana R. Epstein, Dr. Gail Powell-Cope, Dr. Joseph V. Agostini, Dr. Monica S. Horton
Patient Education Subject Matter Experts: Eileen Canzonetti, Karen M. Ott, Patricia Jost