Sleep plays a vital role in your overall health and wellbeing — it gives your body and mind the downtime they need in order to heal and repair themselves. Not getting enough good quality sleep can be detrimental to your health and can lead to additional issues over time.

Individuals who have certain health conditions are at higher risk for experiencing problems with sleep. Here, we’ll discuss how and why some illnesses affect sleep and what you can do to improve the quality of your rest.

Chronic conditions


It’s likely you’ve experienced heartburn (acid reflux) at some point in your life: according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, an average of five million Canadians suffer from heartburn at least once per week. Despite its name, heartburn doesn’t have anything to do with your heart. The burning feeling in your chest or throat that’s associated with heartburn happens when the valve that connects your throat to your stomach doesn’t function properly, causing stomach acid to leak into your esophagus.

If your heartburn symptoms are chronic and you suffer from them more than twice a week, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Left untreated, GERD can result in additional health problems — including sleep disorders.

If you have heartburn at night (whether as a result of GERD or otherwise), try raising the head of your bed or elevating your upper body with a foam wedge to alleviate the severity of your symptoms. Refraining from eating three to four hours before bed may also help in relieving nighttime heartburn.

Arthritis pain

The Arthritis Foundation states that up to 80% of those with arthritis have trouble sleeping due to aches and pains at night. The relationship between arthritis and sleep is cyclical — poor sleep can further contribute to discomfort and worsen pain in your joints. Not getting enough good quality sleep may affect the brain pathways that regulate pain, and it’s thought that issues with sleep may result in increased inflammation throughout the body.  

Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and ensuring your sleep environment is as comfortable as possible are good steps towards improving your sleep hygiene and in turn, the quality of your sleep. If your symptoms are regularly interfering with your sleep, consult your doctor for further guidance — sleeping aids or other medications are sometimes prescribed to treat nighttime pain from arthritis.

Kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease is linked to a number of sleep disorders including sleep apnea, insomnia, excessive sleepiness, restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder. Symptoms may be more severe in those who have end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Research in this area is ongoing, but it’s thought that a number of factors are involved in the correlation between chronic kidney disease and issues with sleep. If you have chronic kidney disease and you’re struggling with sleep, discuss your concerns with your doctor so they can address this in your treatment plan.

Thyroid disease

Your thyroid produces two hormones (thyroxine and triiodothyronine) that play a key role in physiological processes. When the production of these hormones isn’t happening as it should, bodily functions can be affected, leading to additional health problems.

Individuals who have hyperthyroidism (increased activity in the thyroid) may take longer to drift off, have difficulty staying asleep, or experience excessive daytime sleepiness. Muscle and joint pain, increased anxiety, and cold intolerance are all symptoms of hypothyroidism (decreased production of thyroid hormones). These symptoms can be uncomfortable, which can make it hard to relax and drift off.

Those with thyroid disease should keep their sleeping environment cool — this is particularly important if you’re in the process of getting your thyroid regulated. A comfortable, dark sleeping environment will set you up for a good night’s rest and give you the perfect place to unwind before bed.

Breathing problems

Sleep-related breathing disorders are conditions of irregular and difficult respiration while asleep, including chronic snoring and sleep apnea. While some sleep-related breathing disorders have minimal effects on your health, others can have serious consequences due to their negative impact on sleep and the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.

If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you should adhere to your PAP therapy in order to ensure you’re receiving the greatest benefits from your treatment. If your sleep is regularly interrupted and you find yourself excessively sleepy during the day, consult your doctor (who may refer you to a sleep clinic for diagnostic purposes).

Mental health disorders


Sleep problems are one of the most prevalent symptoms of anxiety. This can range from being unable to drift off, feeling exhausted while awake, waking in the middle of the night because of anxious thoughts, and poor quality sleep. You may also have nightmares because of anxiety.

Anxiety can interfere with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is what allows you to experience vivid dreams. You may begin to become scared of falling asleep, resulting in further disruptions to your sleep schedule. Some even develop “sleep anxiety” due to their struggles with falling asleep. This type of anticipatory anxiety can lead to further deleterious effects to your sleep schedule. 

Discuss sleep issues linked to anxiety with your mental healthcare provider to establish strong coping strategies and determine possible treatment options.

Panic attacks

Nighttime (nocturnal) panic attacks can happen without an obvious trigger and awaken you from sleep. Symptoms are similar to those of daytime panic attacks and may include sweating, a quickening heart rate, trembling, difficulty breathing, hyperventilation, chills or flushing, and a sense of impending doom. Although panic attacks can be debilitating, they are not dangerous.

Nocturnal panic attacks typically last for only a few minutes — but it can take some time to calm down after a panic attack, resulting in loss of sleep. People who have panic attacks at night also tend to have panic attacks during the day.

It’s not entirely known what causes panic attacks, but they can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying condition. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms if you’re concerned. Both medication and cognitive behavioural therapy work well to lower the likelihood of panic attacks and reduce their severity when they do occur.

Bipolar disorder

Sleep disturbances are very common in individuals with bipolar disorder, and they seem to play a crucial role in the cycling of the disorder. 

In people with bipolar disorder, hypomania and mania can often result in insomnia. When this happens, the goal is to treat the underlying condition (hypomania or mania due to bipolar disorder). Those with bipolar disorder may also experience delayed sleep phase syndrome. This is a circadian rhythm (body clock) disturbance that is most prominent in adolescents.

Individuals with bipolar disorder often have irregular sleep-wake schedules — when there is no sleep routine, the irregular cycle can hinder the appropriate treatment of the disorder. Additionally, bipolar disorder patients report having nightmares which result in disrupted, poor quality sleep.

The relationship between sleep and wellness is multidirectional and multifaceted, and it’s perhaps one of our body’s most important relationships. When we sleep well, we feel well — and vice versa. If you’re trying to improve the quality of your sleep, you can find further resources here: 

If you’re experiencing sleep problems you feel are linked to a condition you’ve been diagnosed with, consult your doctor to explore treatment options.