Health Conditions That Affect Sleep Quality

Written by Chinmay Shankar

Last Updated June 13, 2024

Marwa Ismail Fact checked by Marwa Ismail

Sleep doesn't happen in silos. It is as much a combination of the internal and external environment as other bodily functions. So what occurs outside (change in weather, seasons) and what happens inside (mood swings, physical and mental pain) can have an effect on our lives, minds, and sleep.

In this blog, we will explore what medical conditions can disrupt your resting time, how to cope with the ailments, and how to catch up on your lost sleep schedule. Read on to learn more.

health conditions that affect sleep quality

What medical conditions disrupt sleep?

Several medical conditions, from psychological to physiological, from age-related to sex-related, impact your natural sleeping patterns. Let's take a look:

  1. Breathing Problems
  2. Physical pain
  3. Itching, Skin Conditions
  4. Digestive Problems 
  5. Neural Problems
  6. Mental Disorders
  7. Age-related problems
  8. PMS 
  9. Pregnancy 
  10. Menopause 

How much does stress affect sleep quality?

According to the American Psychological Association, most American adults sleep less than the recommended amount of 7-9 hours, and a fair share of them (43%) acknowledge stress as one of the factors affecting their sleep cycle.

Stress, anxiety, panic attacks, and PTSD can cause acute insomnia. And if not taken care of in time, the combination of all the emotional deadweights can lead to chronic insomnia.

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How can stress eat into your rest time?

Psychologically, there could be multiple reasons - you might be thinking about work, life, and family responsibilities; things might not be going well on the financial front; or you might be in plain deadline panic. All of it can make your mind very active.

Of course, taking care of all these issues during the daytime is good. But when you come to bed, you should leave all those tensions behind.

We know it is not easy—one thing to say, totally different to implement. But the more you think, the longer it takes you to fall asleep, which can have an effect on you for the next day and the day after.

how can stress affect your sleep

What does stress do to your body?

Physiologically, stress increases the cortisol hormone in your body. If that is not enough, it also increases adrenaline levels, making your heart pump faster. You see, your mind doesn't know what things you are facing in life or where exactly you are. It is still primal. So with all the stress around, your mind alerts the body to potential dangers and prepares for a fight or flight response. That's why you are hyperactive and hypervigilant when you are stressed out.

Stress also impacts your digestion. It can give you a painful spasm by increasing tension in your muscles. Your nerves get overworked. Your sexual libido drops. You forget to breathe properly. Shallow breathing further complicates the whole situation.  And so comes the question - “How can I get rid of stress?”

How can I get rid of stress?

Just breathe! You can control stress with mindful breathing, meditation, and yoga techniques.

If possible, don't bring your work home. If you work from home, then avoid working late. Drink less coffee and less alcohol, preferably in the late evenings. And yes, do not brood alone. Instead, jot down your thoughts and try to acknowledge your feelings and problem thoughts.

And no matter what, don't miss your workout sessions. Even if it is as little as 20 minutes, that helps. Eat healthy and get help whenever you feel like it. Feeling stressed is normal when you are in a new job, in a new city, or at a stage where things might be overwhelming.

But remember, life is all about flow. As you are less stressed, there are fewer chances of you being awake in bed and better chances of being happy at whatever you do.

Can breathing problems disturb my sleep?

Your sleep is a thread of breathing, metaphorically (and literally). The more irregular breathing patterns you have, the more disturbed your sleep is. And breathing problems can be traced from fairly common snoring or sleep apnea to allergies to asthma. So if you snore loudly (your partner can tell), gasp for air multiple times during your sleep, wake up with a dry mouth, and feel sleepy and irritated during the day, you might not be getting a good night's sleep.

Whether your breathing starts and stops due to nasal congestion, brain-muscle signal problems, or throat muscles relaxing and choking your airways - all of that simply means you have a breathing problem affecting your sleep.

breathing problems and sleep

Why do breathing problems happen?

It is difficult to pin down breathing problems for one reason. It could be your weight, high blood pressure, or family history. Alcohol and nicotine consumption further complicate breathing issues in an individual. Aged people, especially men, are 2-3 times more prone to sleep apnea problems than women. Chronic lung diseases, allergies, and panic attacks further trigger the problem.

Various breathing exercises can help you out. Sometimes medication and changing your lifestyle also help.

Can physical pain give you insomnia?

Any kind of acute or chronic pain can be a cause of insomnia. When in physical pain, your mind responds by firing all the neurons. Since your mind, nerves, and muscles are quite active, it becomes pretty difficult to sleep when you are in physical pain.

Not just that, being in pain also disturbs your body's endocrine system. Dopamine levels go down, and cortisol levels go up. Even the opioids you take, such as morphine or codeine, only help you for a while. Ultimately, it is your sleep that helps correct your immune system. The more you sleep, the more robust your immunity will be. And the chances of inflammation would also go down.

What is pain management, and how can it help me sleep better?

If you are like most people, your body will still respond to pain in its own unique way. This is why pain management, along with health care, is important because pain affects not only sleep positions (you won't be able to sleep the way you want) and your sleep stages (from sleep onset to REM, the deep stage), but also your mental and physical well-being (from a disturbed mood to a lack of exercise).

One of the ways is to accept your pain (and that is a tough and brave thing to do) and try to get plenty of rest. There are also cognitive behavioral therapies available for insomnia. Take them without hesitation. Sleep. Do your thing (eat, do light exercises, talk, and laugh). Repeat.

How do itching and skin conditions affect your sleep?

It is challenging to keep your mind off when you have an itch and can't scratch it. For people with dermatological conditions, it becomes a part of their everyday lives. Scratching makes the skin condition worse. Looking at increasing patches of skin can make you more stressed. Increased stress raises cortisol hormone levels, affecting the immune system and the willingness to eat right and exercise. It's a vicious cycle.

Dermatitis or eczema can be itchier at night, giving you restless legs syndrome. People with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis experience inflammation, swelling, and itching around knee joints and elbows. And even if you are not that agitated or restless, engaging in nighttime itching can keep you awake or delay sleep onset.

There are various ways you can calm down your immune system and your overreaction to skin conditions.

First, you can start by moisturizing the dry patches. Ice packs help, too, but once the cold sensation subsides, itching might return. Secondly, try to find out the triggers for these conditions. It could be stress or an allergy to certain things. Once you find out, keep a safe distance from something you think might excite your skin or immune system. For inflammation, you can use a humidifier or a hot and cold treatment for joints.

Most important of all, consult a good dermatologist. If ignored, an itch can cost you your sleep.

skin problems and sleep

Can digestive problems wreck my rest time?

Most digestive problems can be summarized in simple words like these - Your body did not like what you ate or how much you ate. If you have less fiber and more fat in your diet, constipation will slow down your digestive system. If you had a big, spicy meal late at night, just wait for GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). And if you are lying down just after having a hot meal during the afternoon, heartburn is sure to follow.

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Can gastritis cause sleeplessness?

We are aware that nobody wants their stomach to act strangely, including you, especially when you want to take a rest or simply want to catch up on your sleep schedule. But our digestive systems are made that way. When there is inflammation in the gut, your body is set for irritable bowel syndrome. Not to mention, multiple trips to the bathroom drain your energy and raise your stress levels. In fact, 40% of IBS patients have reported difficulty sleeping.

Lactose intolerance (allergy to dairy products) and celiac disease (allergy to gluten-based foods) can also cause bloating, nausea, stomachache, and flatulence. All of it can be troubling for your deep sleep and might disrupt your sleep cycle.

can gastritis cause sleeplessness

Do eating patterns affect our quality of life?

Eating and sleeping are needed for our survival. And with a few tweaks in your eating and sleeping patterns, you can improve your overall quality of life.

First of all, avoid having big meals close to bedtime. If you are a stomach sleeper, try not to sleep right after a big meal. Cutting down on caffeine and alcohol can also improve your digestion. If possible, avoid eating processed foods at all. Any food high in preservatives, sugar, or sodium can mess up your gut biome. No, not even innocent-looking chocolates or ice creams. While one or two bites are okay during the daytime, eating products made out of cocoa and dairy products can cause gas and bloating.

What to do, then? Eat small meals. If you crave snacks, eat an apple or a bowl of unsweetened oatmeal. Physical activities like walking and exercise also help with digestion and expend energy for your body. The healthier your digestive system is, the better sleep you get.

Can neural problems make one's insomnia worse?

Coordination between the brain and nerve signaling is vital for our well-being. Nerves not only control our emotions but also help with our muscle movements. A particular kind of twitch or motor disability affects the patient in many things - like sleeping positions, the onset of sleep, and the nature of sleep.

Are Parkinson's symptoms worse at night?

People with Parkinson's disease also find it hard to sleep at times. While it is observed that patients with neural problems tend to sleep a lot, all they get is fragmented sleep. Hallucinations and vivid dreams also disrupt their rest time. If it is a neuromuscular disorder, it can impact the normal functioning of the respiratory tract, causing sleep apnea.

What is the way out for people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases?

In the case of neurodegenerative diseases, 90% of patients are affected by insomnia and other sleep disorders. In addition, muscular atrophy and multiple sclerosis can induce pain, an urge to urinate during the night (nocturia), irritation, and depression. Needless to say, all of these make sleep not so pleasant for the suffering person.

But there are solutions here, too, from specific cognitive behavioral therapies to melatonin dosage. Although one needs to be cautious as most of these diseases affect older adults, there might be a situation with multiple conditions. In that case, consult a physician or an expert before getting into any therapy.

Is sleep linked to mental health?

In this difficult life, getting mentally taxed over something that bothers you to your core is easy. It could be a financial issue, relationship problems, or simply old age catching up with you. While it is somewhat easier to address physical and even neural issues to some extent, mental health has been one area that people are still trying to grasp.

sleep and mental health

Can anxiety disorders dampen your bedtime spirit?

A next-door young woman can be depressed, or a charming, sweet-talking older man can have Alzheimer's disease. Mental health issues are relatively common, and they need to be tackled as such. Then only we will be able to gauge their devastating impact on people, their social lives, and especially their very personal sleep cycles.

Can OCD make it hard to sleep?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, happens when you try to put everything in its proper place, be it your life or that vase on your window. Constantly cleaning, tweaking, and changing things to make things perfect might make your life so, but the whole exercise of obsessing might make your nights not-so-perfect.

As you might end up tossing and turning instead of sleeping, the act is not going to help anyone. Not your mind, and definitely not your body.

Circular, repeated thoughts, fixations, and compulsive rituals can turn the simple act of sleeping into a mission. You stay up late at night. Even when you go to bed, you stay up without winking a bit. And when you sleep, you wake up multiple times. The more you try, the more elusive sleep becomes.

Does sleep hygiene help with insomnia?

You can start maintaining good sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time. Don't bring all your gadgets to bed. Perhaps an old piece of technology would do - like a paperback storybook. Try to tolerate the uncertainties of life. There's another day for everything you want to do in life. For now, meditate and take a deep breath.

However, when it comes to depression, things might not be as simple as they seem. Depression, in fact, is bi-directional in nature.

Insomnia causes depression, and depression can cause insomnia.

Do people with depression have a problem sleeping?

According to WHO, almost 3.8% of the world's population suffers from depression. When you feel sad, hopeless, and worthless for a longer period of time and the emotions are intense, they can push you towards depression.

And when people are depressed, their sleeping patterns can go either way - they will sleep a lot or not at all. Oversleeping, or narcolepsy, is one of the earliest signs of depression, even before insomnia becomes a part of it. Considering it a mental illness should not make you feel awkward; instead, it will give you the courage to address the underlying mental disorder conjured up by your mind and your circumstances.

Can depression be cured?

There are ways. Clear the cobwebs of negative thoughts in your head. Psychiatric consultation might help. But one must not ignore the power of antidepressants and sleeping pills (take them only after a doctor's consultation). Remember, depression happens in our minds but affects our bodies too. So it can't be simply cured by 'talking it out.'

Depressed souls between us need proper medication and a life that supports them. Once they start feeling good about themselves, the sleep problem goes away. Those who might not be in the clinical depression category can try deep breathing exercises, yoga, and other visualization techniques to help them sleep. And it is the same with other mental health issues.

What do age-related problems do to our minds and rest time?

Old age changes not only your body but also your mind. Depression, anxiety, and loneliness can trigger sleep disorders in the elderly. In addition, physical pain, bladder control, and dependence on people affect an older adult's lifestyle.

The thing is, everything adds up in old age. According to research, around 39% of adults in the age group of 65 and older take more than five medicines every day. Of course, multiple medications affect each person differently. And the side effects of multiple medicines impact the old-age bracket a bit more as their immune system goes down with time. Our life choices can make us more prone to diseases like diabetes and heart-related ailments, and so multiple medications are almost unavoidable as we cross a certain age.

Further, an old person can feel depressed or anxious, possibly along with physical pain like arthritis and a nervous and muscular 'tingling' sensation that only they can perceive. This translates into a messed-up sleeping schedule, tiredness, and decreased alertness. This also means that all of these issues affect their mental health. Remember, mental health conditions restrict your mind in many ways - impacting your sleep could be one.

As they lose bladder control, they have to get up multiple times during the night. Incontinence and nocturia (the urge to urinate during the night) can lead to anxiety disorders and disrupt mental health and rest time in the elderly. And with less and less exposure to daylight, they get a reduced quantity of melatonin and cortisol secretion, leading to a change in the body clock. One of the reasons why your grandma used to wake up so early in the morning for her walk.

Should you let dementia or Alzheimer's patients take long naps?

Alzheimer's disease and dementia can further complicate sleep disorders in the elderly. People with dementia and Alzheimer's can confuse the morning with the evening and feel disoriented. They will wake up more often and stay awake longer than expected. Their brain cells change, and so does their sleep routine.

As mentioned above, a change in the body clock and sleep rhythm can happen in old age. So it is good to let them take a nap, but keep an eye on their oversleeping pattern. If you can help them maintain their schedules, it will reflect on their rest time.

Should considering mental health be part of your sleep regime?

More than getting frustrated, it is about understanding and treating all the possibilities you have at your disposal. For example, if walking or exercise is an option, do that. Mingle with people and share your thoughts instead of being alone. Stay with family in your old age.

If you have elderly people at home, try to notice their behavioral changes, look closely at their mental health conditions, and adapt accordingly. Sometimes, when they feel secure and comfortable, their sleep will improve.

Insomnia and sleep-related issues are also connected with hormones and mood changes. And that brings us to premenstrual syndrome and its effect on young women.

mental health and insomnia

Why do I struggle to sleep just before my periods?

As women get near 'that time of the month' or PMS, losing their sleep over upcoming menstrual bleeding can be a reality that many women face every month. Sometimes irregular periods can disturb the rhythm too. In addition, bloating, muscle cramps, stomachaches, and mood swings are enough to wreck the sleep schedule. You will sleep a lot or not at all.

As hormone levels change, or rather fluctuate, they tend to push us into emotional territories. Depression, anxiety disorders, and fatigue can become a part of you for a week or two.

More serotonin in your body means you crave more food and feel more lethargic. More progesterone means you will get sleepy during the day.

All these fluctuations also mean your body is quite active, raising your body temperature. For sleep, your body needs to be a degree cooler than usual. Rest is difficult when all you have are hot flashes and sweaty nights.

Another factor that disturbs sleep during your period is constant worrying. If you are a heavy bleeder, you know you must stay alert and keep pads near you all the time. All these worries and anxiety may lead to disturbing dreams and a fragmented sleep schedule. Unless your period is over or you're pregnant, that's a different issue altogether. So let's look at that.

Does pregnancy mess up your sleep?

Sleep can be elusive during pregnancy, and it can happen despite your system pushing you to take more rest and sleep. It's an interesting problem. You will feel tired and have the urge to urinate during the night. You will feel calm, but your legs will be restless. And you might snore louder than your partner. So yes, all of it can lead to sleep disorders.

In fact, as the levels of the progesterone hormone increase, your body pumps more blood into the system to take care of the fetus. More blood and more progesterone mean you will feel sleepy during the day. But napping can be seductive, especially when you are carrying a baby. Long naps can rob you of your essential night's sleep.

Even if you don't take a long nap during the daytime, your nighttime rest will be dotted with frequent bathroom trips, as, along with stress, the baby's movement puts pressure on your bladder.

Can good food and side sleeping positions during pregnancy give you better sleep?

Another factor that hampers your sleep during pregnancy is the food you eat. Spicy food can cause digestion issues and physical discomfort and tend to lead to eating disorders. So, consuming smaller portions and more carbs (more helpful if you look at the glycemic index of the food you eat) is better, as you need more energy for yourself and your baby.

As your belly grows, choosing a sleeping position becomes more difficult. You can only sleep on your sides as risk factors for the baby increase during late pregnancy. Tenderness in the breasts and leg cramps make matters worse by giving you restless legs syndrome as you try to get through your sleep. And if that is not supported by proper pillows and mattresses, you might wake up with back pain and interrupted rest.

Ultimately, different types of mood swings and sets of emotions can be the catalyst for all the sleep problems you face as you move into the third trimester. Pre-birth anxiety disorder and depression can disrupt your 'me time' in your daily life. But you can try yoga and exercises to keep your mood in check: nothing vigorous, just light stretching and breathing reps. And if nothing works, then it is better to consult an expert or keep your family and friends around for emotional support.

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Why does menopause affect sleep?

As women go through life, their bodies go through multiple defining changes. Menopause is one of those transformations your body goes through. As there is less secretion of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, there are hot flashes, mood swings, and more disruption to your sleep schedule.

Hot flashes are basically your sensitive reaction to your body heating up. Your body's thermostat goes bonkers with a low estrogen level in your system. Your brain tries to bring down the temperature, hence the fluctuations. All of this might lead to frequent sweating and feeling uncomfortable at night. And as your quota of reproductive hormones is reduced, this leads to weight gain. With every pound you gain, your snoring or sleep apnea problem worsens.

Yes, menopause sounds terrible. But it is also the start of your middle age. As your body goes through physical and mental changes, you need to amp it up with a better mental and emotional quotient.

Good nutrition helps, like soy-based foods, which have plenty of phytoestrogens in them. So if you like tofu, soy milk, or soybeans, you can get enough nutrition support to minimize hot flashes and improve sleep.

Hormone replacement therapies also help you cope with the issues of menopause. But they might not be that good for cancer patients or people who have blood clot-related problems, have had strokes or episodes of heart attacks, or have been chronic patients of heart disease. Consult your physician before going for such therapies.

The best way ahead is to look at life positively. Maybe get good aromatic candles for your bedroom or scented bath salts for your long bath before sleep.


Every health condition that affects your body impacts your mind too. Your brain can anticipate the worst and induce anxiety and depression. Medicine and self-care can cure physical pain and discomfort. But sleep will only come to those who live life in its full glory. With healthy living, the right medical treatment, and social support, you can ensure that 'trouble sleeping' is a thing of the past for you.

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Disclaimer: What is said in this article has been referenced from multiple sources and is intended only for educational and informational purposes. Please note that no content in this article is a substitute for professional advice from a qualified doctor or healthcare provider. Always consult an experienced doctor with any concerns you may have regarding a health condition or treatment, and never disregard any medical suggestions or delay in seeking treatment because of something you read here.