medical conditions sleep
Health,  National Days,  self-care,  Sleep

Medical Conditions that Interfere with Normal Sleep

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If you are always exhausted, despite making real attempts at improving your sleep, or you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia), then you should always discuss this with your medical doctor. There are two reasons for this. First, some medications contain compounds that make it harder to sleep. For example, some pain medications have caffeine in them. In addition, some asthma medications, and even nasal decongestants can also disrupt your sleep. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Second, a number of health conditions, both physical or mental, can interfere with your sleep, and some of them can actually be dangerous.

Here are a few physical medical conditions to know about.

Sleep Apnea

This is actually a very common sleep disorder. Unfortunately, sleep apnea is quite serious, as it involves the interruption of breathing during sleep. Pauses in breathing can last from a few seconds to much longer, and they can occur many times an hour. In one type of sleep apnea, the brain does not send the signals for breathing to occur. The second type of sleep apnea is more common, and it is called “obstructive sleep apnea,” because it involves the collapse of tissues in the throat during sleep. It is more common in overweight and obese individuals, and weight loss can be a solution to the problem. However, other things that can contribute to sleep apnea include large tonsils, sinus issues, family history, and so on. So even if you are not overweight, you can still be affected by sleep apnea. In fact, children are also diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Other risk factors for sleep apnea are:

  • Being of male gender
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Having reflux/heartburn
  • Older than 40
  • Having nasal blockages from large adenoids, sinus problems, or the bone between your nostrils is offset (deviated nasal septum)

Some of the signs and symptoms that point to the possibility of sleep apnea include:

  • Choking during sleep
  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headaches
  • Pauses in your breathing while sleeping
  • Dry mouth when waking up
  • Exhausted
  • High blood pressure
  • Waking up with a dry throat

If you or your partner notice any of the above, be sure to speak to your doctor.

In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor may order a sleep lab test or a sleep home test to confirm if sleep apnea is the source of your sleep woes. If sleep apnea is confirmed, then your doctor will determine the next step. As previously mentioned, weight loss may be recommended. If large tonsils or adenoids are the issue, then surgery may be the treatment plan. Some people may benefit from special dental appliances or mouth guards that help keep their airway open during sleep. Smoking cessation can also help, as can ensuring you don’t sleep on your back. Sewing tennis balls into the back of your pajamas is one way to wake you up if you turn onto your back during sleep. Sometimes, a special machine such as a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) will be recommended to ensure that the tissues in your throat do not collapse during sleep.


Heartburn is the result of regurgitation of stomach contents, including stomach acid, back up your food pipe (the esophagus) that causes a burning pain in your chest. These acidic contents can reach the back of your throat, causing you to cough or choke, and wake up from sleep.
Fortunately, some effective techniques exist to help you manage heartburn, and improve your sleep. These include:

Use a bed wedge

You can find these in medical supply stores that sell all kinds of medical equipment. If they do not have one in stock, they can be ordered in. The purpose of the use of a bed wedge is to raise your upper body on an incline, making it harder for stomach contents to move against gravity. Regular pillows are not effective as you need to raise your chest too.

Sleep on your left side

This is not always effective for people with severe reflux that results in heartburn, but it is worth a try as it works for many. Studies have shown that when you sleep on your left side, there is less chance of stomach contents traveling up your food pipe to your throat when compared to right side-lying. Here are two easy sayings to help you remember what side to sleep on: “Right is wrong.” or “Left is right.”

Elevate the head of your bed

The easiest way to do this is to elevate the head of your bed six inches higher than that of your feet. You can purchase items called “bed blocks” from any medical store, as these are often used by people with arthritis or hip replacements to raise their beds. In the case of heartburn and reflux, you only put the bed blocks under the head of the bed. Like the bed wedge, it makes it harder for stomach acid to make its way upwards against gravity.

Consult with your doctor and a pharmacist

Just as some medications interfere with sleep, some medications also contribute to reflux, causing you to lose quality and quantity of sleep.

Lose a few pounds

By losing weight, you can decrease the severity and frequency of reflux and heartburn.

Do not eat a large meal right before bedtime

A small snack is okay to help improve sleep: however, you should not be eating a large meal two to three hours before bedtime. In addition, it really is advisable to avoid foods that make your reflux worse. You may need to use a food diary to determine what they are, or you may already know what to avoid. Common culprits are carbonated beverages, coffee, tea, spicy foods, garlic, onions, and fatty fried foods.

Quit smoking

This is much easier said than done. As you know, the average smoker makes many attempts before achieving success. However, it may be worth seeing if giving up the habit also improves your sleep, if it is accompanied by a reduction in reflux symptoms. Smoking is known to relax the muscles of your food pipe (esophagus), contributing to reflux.


One reason why you may not be sleeping well is that you have diabetes, and do not even know it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 million Americans have diabetes, and ¼ of them don’t even know it!

Diabetes and poor sleep go hand in hand. People whose blood sugars are high due to diabetes often spend a lot of time up at night having to urinate. They also may wake up with night sweats, or wake up due to feelings of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Likewise, poor sleep also increases your risk of diabetes.

If you are diabetic, by eating properly during the day and evening, you can stabilize your blood sugars, so that you will get better sleep.


It is estimated that 80% of people with arthritis also suffer from sleep problems. Pain in joints can make it difficult to find a comfortable position to fall asleep and to remain sleeping.

Thyroid Problems

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland found in your neck, and it secretes hormones. It has a major role in controlling your metabolism.
If your thyroid is not functioning properly, it is possible that you have developed an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), or an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).

Or if your thyroid is overactive, it makes it difficult to fall asleep, and you may also experience night sweats.

If your thyroid is underactive, then you feel sleepy and cold all the time.
Your physician can do a blood test that determines how your thyroid is functioning by measuring your levels of thyroid hormones.

Restless Legs Syndrome

This disorder is really a neurological disorder that originates in the brain. However, it is considered a sleep disorder, as it interferes with sleep.

Symptoms include unpleasant, uncomfortable, or painful sensations in the legs that occur when inactive such as sitting or lying still. These sensations create an intense urge to move the legs, resulting in the name, “restless legs syndrome.” Symptoms tend to be worse in the late afternoon and evenings, and most severe during the night when you are trying to sleep. As a result, you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Interestingly, the symptoms can subside in the morning, which is when people affected by restless legs syndrome, can achieve their most restful sleep. In some, but not all cases, restless legs syndrome is related to another health condition, such as iron-deficiency anemia, diabetes, or peripheral neuropathy (numbness and pain that results from damage – usually due to diabetes – to nerves in your arms and legs).

Perimenopause, Menopause, and Post-Menopause

Whether your body is just beginning to change (perimenopause), or has already gone through menopause, many women experienced disrupted sleep due to a change in hormone levels – less production of estrogen and progesterone. These sleep disruptions tend to affect the quality of sleep, not the time spent sleeping. Hot flashes, sweating, and drenched pajamas can wake women up from sleep, resulting in next-day sleepiness. Insomnia is also a common complaint of women in this stage of their lives. Hormone replacement therapy is sometimes used, or you can opt for more natural supplements such as black cohosh.


Difficulty sleeping can be a sign of depression. Lack of sleep can also make depression worse, as it is more difficult to cope with daily stresses when you are tired.

In addition, some people with depression sleep much more, and yet still feel fatigued all the time.

Depression can occur on its own, or it can accompany other medical issues. For example, an underactive thyroid can exhibit depression as a symptom. People with arthritis may also experience depression related to the pain that negatively affects their daily functioning.


Just as with depression, anxiety can cause difficulty sleeping, or lack of sleep can cause anxiety. People with ongoing insomnia are at increased risk of developing a diagnosed anxiety disorder.

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This article provides general information and discussion about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. Consult your own physician for any medical issues that you may be having.

Medical Conditions that Interfere with Normal Sleep


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