Navigating Sleep Disorder, Dysautonomia, And Health Of An Individual That Is Struggling

Dysautonomia is a term that may only be familiar to some people. However, for 70 million people in the world with some form of it, dysautonomia has a significant impact on not just their daily lives but also their nightly rest. When paired with sleep disorders, dysautonomia presents a unique set of challenges that can significantly affect an individual’s health and well-being.

Understanding Dysautonomia Sleep Disorder

Dysautonomia refers to a group of conditions that cause a malfunction of the central autonomic nervous system. This system is responsible for controlling the ‘automatic’ functions (autonomic functions) of the body – those we don’t consciously think about, like heart rate, digestion, and blood pressure regulation. When dysautonomia strikes, this delicate internal balance and autonomic regulation are disrupted, leading to a myriad of challenges.


These conditions that affect the autonomic nervous system can be a pre-existing condition or the result of a different disease or injury. A person’s symptoms might be the result of environmental factors, neurological health issues, injuries, or even genetic causes; dysautonomia can be difficult to diagnose due to the range of causes it has.

Symptoms are equally diverse. As a condition that affects the automatic functions of our body, it can lead to dizziness, fainting, unstable blood pressure, abnormal heart rates, digestive disturbances, chronic fatigue, and more. These symptoms not only vary from person to person but can also fluctuate in severity over time.

Different Types

There are several types that each present unique characteristics and affect the body in different ways. Here are a few of the most common forms of dysautonomia:
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
One of the most common forms is characterized by an abnormal increase in heart rate after sitting up or standing.
Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS)
Involves sudden fainting as the predominant symptom.
Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)
A more severe form, with widespread effects on the body’s functions.

Role Of The Autonomic Nervous System

Understanding the autonomic nervous system is key to grasping the impact of dysautonomia in your daily life. This part of our nervous system operates largely below the level of consciousness, meaning we’re not completely aware when it’s working.

It is divided into the sympathetic neural mechanisms and parasympathetic systems, which work in harmony to regulate body functions. Dysautonomia represents a disruption in this harmony, leading to the different symptoms experienced by patients.

Daily Living

Living with dysautonomia can be challenging. The unpredictability of symptoms often requires lifestyle adjustments and careful management. Patients may need to modify their diet, exercise routines, and even their work life to accommodate their condition.

Social interactions, work commitments, and personal hobbies are all viewed through the lens of symptom management. The constant adjustment to these symptoms, particularly fatigue, dizziness, and heart rate fluctuations, can be emotionally and physically taxing. This struggle with how our body automatically works not only affects the physical aspect of life but also impacts, our mood, mental health, and overall well-being.

An often overlooked yet critical aspect of this struggle is the profound impact dysautonomia has on sleep architecture. The very system that disrupts daily activities—the autonomic nervous system—also plays a pivotal role in regulating sleep patterns. Understanding this connection is vital to completely understanding the impact of dysautonomia on daily life and what you can do to manage it.

The Science Of Sleep Disorder And Dysautonomia Disorder


Everybody needs sleep. It is a vital part of your life that makes sure your body is healthy and well-rested. The process of sleep is dynamic and involves various stages. It is considered to have two primary types: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM sleep stage, each playing a distinct role in our health. In Non-REM sleep, the sympathetic nervous system has decreased activity, and it specifically has three stages:


The transition from wakefulness to sleep, where the body begins to slow down.


Vital for physical recovery and growth, this stage sees a further slowing down of the body’s systems.

Very Deep

Here, brain waves are at their slowest, and waking up becomes more difficult.

Following these stages, we enter REM sleep, where most dreaming occurs, and the brain is almost as active as when awake. This stage is crucial for cognitive functions like memory and learning.

The autonomic nervous system plays a crucial role in transitioning between these sleep stages. It fine-tunes the body’s internal environment, adjusting heart rate, breathing, and other vital functions necessary as we fall asleep and rest. Dysregulation of the ANS, as seen in dysautonomia, can disrupt these transitions, leading to sleep disturbances.

Why Do We Need Sleep?

Sleep is not just a period of rest but a critical component of our health. It aids in memory consolidation, muscle growth, tissue repair, and resetting our emotional compass. It’s also when the body clears toxins from the brain, reducing the risk of neurological diseases. Inadequate or poor sleep quality can lead to a host of health issues, including mood disorders, impaired cognitive function, and a weakened immune system.

The Connection Between Dysautonomia And Sleep Disorders

In the United States, 34.8% of adults don’t get enough sleep. The difficulty falling asleep can stem from the relationship between dysautonomia and sleep, causing sleep disorders and affecting cognitive functioning. Dysautonomia, with its hallmark of autonomic dysfunction, can significantly disrupt the delicate balance required for restful sleep. Let’s delve into how this condition can impact sleep patterns, cause autonomic dysfunction in sleep disorders, and the resultant effects on daily life.



Perhaps the most immediate and noticeable impact of dysautonomia on sleep is insomnia. The irregular activity of the autonomic nervous system makes it difficult for individuals to relax into a sleep state. This leads to trouble in both falling and staying asleep, causing sleep deprivation. The mind and body, caught in a state of heightened alertness due to ANS irregularities, struggle to achieve the tranquility necessary for deep sleep.


Dysautonomia can affect breathing patterns and the muscles involved in respiration, potentially leading to obstructive sleep apnea. The repeated interruptions in breathing (respiratory autonomic dysfunctions) resulted in frequent awakenings, fragmented sleep, and a significant reduction in sleep quality.

There are still more different types of sleep disorders, such as: REM sleep behavior disorder, restless leg syndrome, or sleep disordered breathing. All of these types can also be affected due to the loss of autonomic control.

Impact On Daily Life

The impact of sleep disturbances in dysautonomia extends far beyond the night and leads to sleep deprivation. Too often, people may wake up feeling as if they haven’t rested well, even after a full night’s sleep. Poor sleep quality can exacerbate daytime sleepiness symptoms of dysautonomia, creating a cyclical pattern of discomfort and restlessness. This can manifest in several ways:

  • Increased Fatigue: A common symptom of dysautonomia, fatigue can be significantly worsened by poor sleep, affecting cognitive functions, mood, and the ability to perform daily tasks.
  • Cognitive Impairment: Lack of restorative sleep can lead to difficulties with memory, concentration, and decision-making, adding to the challenges of managing daily life with dysautonomia.
  • Emotional and Psychological Impact: Chronic sleep disturbances can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression, further complicating the management of dysautonomia.

Without treatment, it could lead to excessive daytime sleepiness.

Getting The Help You Need For Dysautonomia Disorder And Sleep Disorder

It’s important to acknowledge when it’s time to seek professional help. If you’re experiencing persistent sleep disturbance, wake up feeling unrefreshed, and feel excessively tired throughout the day, it may be time to consult with your healthcare provider. These autonomic symptoms, especially when coupled with known dysautonomia, can significantly impact your quality of life, your sleep duration, and warrant professional attention.


Diagnosing sleep disorders, especially in dysautonomia patients, requires a multifaceted approach. Common diagnostic tools include:

Studies (Polysomnography)

These studies monitor various bodily functions during sleep, such as brain waves, heart rate, breathing, and movement, specifically periodic leg movements.

Questionnaires and Logs

Patients may be asked to complete detailed questionnaires or keep sleep logs to record their sleep patterns and daytime symptoms.

Medical History Review

A thorough examination of the patient’s medical history, including any existing conditions like dysautonomia, medications, and lifestyle factors.

The challenge in diagnosing sleep disorders in dysautonomia patients lies in the overlapping symptoms and the variable nature of both conditions. An accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective management, as it informs the treatment plan and helps in addressing specific sleep issues, leading to improved overall health and quality of life.

Learning To Manage It And Its Impact

Managing dysautonomia and its impact on sleep involves a combination of lifestyle adjustments, medical interventions, and holistic approaches.

Lifestyle Modifications
Changes like a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adhering to good sleep hygiene practices are important. These steps can help regulate the body’s internal clock and promote better sleep.

Depending on individual symptoms, sleep medicine (sleep med) may be prescribed to regulate heart rate, blood pressure, or sleep patterns and alleviate symptoms.

Non-pharmacological Interventions
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, and more can play a part in improving sleep quality and reducing stress.

Proper Healthcare
A multi-disciplinary healthcare team is vital in creating a personalized management plan. This way, you have a comprehensive approach to treating both dysautonomia and sleep disorders.

Dysautonomia and sleep disorders can largely impact your daily activities and nightly rest. They can take a toll not only on your mental and physical health but on your career, social life, and personal happiness as well.

Fortunately, with a thorough understanding of these conditions and the help you need, managing these conditions affecting the autonomic nervous system can be successful. A more restful night’s sleep and more comfortable day-to-day life are within reach for those navigating the complexities of dysautonomia and sleep disorders.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does dysautonomia cause sleep problems?

What is the most serious sleep disorder?

What are the symptoms of a neurological sleep disorder?

What is the disease where you can’t sleep?

Is sleep disorder a mental illness?

Why am I so tired but can’t sleep?

Do sleep disorders go away?

What is sleep anxiety disorder?

How I cured my sleep anxiety?

What is the best medicine for anxiety and sleep?

Is sleep anxiety serious?

How many hours should a person with anxiety sleep?

Why is anxiety worse at night?

Why does anxiety stop you from sleeping?

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