Illnesses that Impact Sleep

When you are not feeling well, regardless of what your condition is, it is often difficult to get the sleep you need. Something as ordinary and benign as the common cold may keep us up at night with a dripping nose or cough; allergies can do the same. Other physical conditions may not physically interfere with our sleep but may still have an effect on the quality of our rest as we lay awake and worry. Still other illnesses have sleep disruption as a symptom. Treating the condition may help with getting a good night sleep, which is important because getting adequate rest is an integral part of our overall health. 

Bladder Problems

Bladder problems that wake us up in the middle of the night are more frequently discussed as a problem in males, but women experience them too. In men, the problem is often prostatism, a condition in which the prostate swells and prevents the bladder from draining properly. This means that even after a man has gone to the bathroom his bladder is still partially full, so he feels the need to go again that much sooner. Women experience a similar condition that is caused by bladder inflammation. In this condition only a small amount of urine in the bladder causes the same sensation that would normally be experienced when the bladder is full. The sleeping woman is awakened and thinks that she has to urinate, but when she tries to void there is very little urine produced. This problem, which increases with age, is often exacerbated by a high intake of caffeine or by the person with the problem taking diuretics, a common medication in the elderly.


Pain is a ubiquitous problem in both the elderly and the young, though it often originates from different sources. Young people may experience pain as a result of injury or over-exertion, while the elderly tend to be more sensitive to any kind of discomfort, as well as more vulnerable to injury. In both cases, pain can interfere with our ability to sleep, and if it is severe enough it can actually awaken us.

 Hiatal Hernia

As we age, hiatal hernia becomes a more common occurrence. It is a result of a relaxation of the muscles in the lower esophagus, and it results in acid coming up from the stomach into our windpipe when we are lying in a horizontal position. The acid from the stomach creates a burning sensation as well as a sour taste in the mouth. The experience is unpleasant and can be painful. Though there are medications available to stop this reflux from taking place, one of the most effective methods of preventing it is to simply elevate the sleeper’s ed with some two or three inch tall blocks. This counteracts the impact of lying completely horizontal and employs gravity to keep the stomach acids where they belong.

Heart Disease

Many people who suffer from problems with their heart find that when they are lying horizontally their symptoms get worse. Chest pain and a difficulty in breathing are common symptoms of heart failure, and many people are awakened by a sensation of tightness in their chest.


Diabetes is a chronic condition that involves the body’s inability to manage its own blood sugar levels. Whether the body’s levels go too high or drop too low it creates a situation in which sleep becomes difficult: if blood sugars are elevated the sleeper is awakened y night sweats or by the need to urinate frequently. When the levels are too low they may become anxious, suffer from headaches, or even start shivering.


Menopause is a phase in a woman’s reproductive cycle in which her fertility is waning and coming to an end. As the hormone levels shift, many women experience difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep, hot flashes and night sweats, all of which can cause disrupted sleep.  Hot flashes in particular cause severe disruption, as they are preceded by a level of arousal in the brain that remains present for a long period of time, making it more difficult to go back to sleep once awakened.

Lung Diseases

There are a number of different diseases impacting the lungs that have a negative effect on sleep. Asthma or any other illness that affects the regularity of a person’s ability to breath will interrupt and limit REM sleep; just as snoring or a nasal or throat obstruction interferes with sleep, problems within the lungs themselves impact the levels of oxygen in the blood and awaken us.

 Depression and Anxiety

Depression, anxiety and lack of sleep are so linked to one another that it is often difficult for a physician to confidently diagnose depression unless the patient is also experiencing insomnia.

 Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that generally appears in senior citizens, though some people are stricken with the illness during middle age. It is characterized by confusion and the loss of memory, and severe changes in sleep habits are a very common symptom. Many Alzheimer’s patients, as well as others suffering from a variety of forms of dementia that come with aging, are known to suffer from a period of confusion that strikes them in the night time, known as sundowning. It is during this acute phase of disorientation that disoriented patients are most likely to wander off and come to physical harm or get lost, and it has been theorized that this is because Alzheimer’s patients’ brains are unable to distinguish between REM sleep and wakefulness. The vicious cycle of Alzheimer’s makes it unclear as to whether it is the lack of sleep that is contributing to the patient’s confusion or the patient’s confusion contributing to their lack of sleep. In either case, the inability to regulate their sleep time and the potential danger posed by being up and confused in the middle of the night often contribute to the eventual decision to institutionalize Alzheimer’s patients.