Sleep disorders, also known as somnipathies, are medical disorders that affect the sleep pattern of an individual, sometimes to the point that can interfere with normal daily functioning. Problems can vary from bedwetting and teeth grinding to night terrors and narcolepsy.
Disorders involving sleep typically fall into one of the following categories:
- Insomnia – Difficulty falling or staying asleep when there appears to be no medical or physical cause.
- Dyssomnias – Trouble falling asleep or remaining asleep due to medical conditions or personal choices. as well as excessive sleep or tiredness. Examples include sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and disorders related to alcohol dependency.
- Parasomnias – Abnormal movements, behaviors, and dreams related to sleeping, including the various stages of wakefulness before falling asleep and upon waking up. Examples include sleepwalking and restless leg syndrome.
- Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders – Difficulty sleeping during what is considered normal resting periods, even though the individual is capable of resting completely according to their own internal sleep clock. Examples include jet lag or night shift workers.
- Sleeping Sickness – A physical disease known as African trypanosomiasis that is transmitted through the bite of an infected tsetse fly.
Forty million Americans experience chronic long-term sleep disorders, while twenty million people report occasional sleep issues, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Below are some common issues, what causes them, and what can be done to help.
It seems that everyone experiences insomnia every once in awhile. Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, possibly because our brain is unable to slip into its sleep cycle or caused by numerous other potential issues, including:
- Psychiatric or medical conditions
- Food, medication, or alcohol
- Unhealthy sleep habits
- Stress or emotional issues such as anxiety or depression
- Biological factors
- Lifestyle factors
Before determining how to fix insomnia, you must fully understanding the underlying reason for your wakefulness. If medically-based, speak with your doctor about your prescriptions. It is possible to change the time of day that you take a pill that may cause insomnia, taking it with breakfast rather than at bedtime.
If you find that you are unable to “shut off” your thoughts at night, your insomnia may be related to anxiety or depression. You may lie down to sleep, only to get caught up in thoughts about something that occurred in the past, future events, or a seemingly unending list of responsibilities. Treating the anxiety should effectively cure the insomnia. Speak with your doctor or a mental health professional about steps you can take to ease your symptoms.
Insomnia can cause unhealthy sleep habits that only further encourage bouts of insomnia. For instance, if an individual experiences insomnia due to a stressful event, she may get out of bed and do chores or even just lie in bed on her phone. The next day, she may compensate for the lack of sleep by taking an afternoon nap, skipping out on her workout, or drinking alcohol to “help” her sleep. This will only further her chances of experiencing insomnia, turning a temporary issue into a chronic problem, particularly since one tends to further worry about sleep as bedtime approaches, reinforcing the pattern. A conscious attempt to change one’s sleep patterns, using yoga or cognitive behavioral exercises, can effectively prevent insomnia and return one’s sleep patterns back to normal.
Individuals with narcolepsy may feel sleepy during the day and may randomly fall asleep whenever they are in comfortable positions, even when doing normal daily activities. The brain’s sleep clock does not have a set rhythm, blurring the lines between sleep time and awake time.
Some people with narcolepsy experience a condition called cataplexy, where the muscle paralysis that is a normal part of REM sleep occurs while the individual is awake. People may also suffer from vivid hallucinations, disrupted nighttime sleep, and terrible nightmares.
Most people with narcolepsy do not fall asleep mid-conversation or while focusing on work or driving; however, it is possible if left untreated. There is no cure for this disease, but with behavioral treatments along with the right medicines, narcoleptic patients can live a normal life.
To determine if you have narcolepsy, your doctor will perform a physical exam and schedule a sleep study. The study involves a full night’s sleep at a study center along with a “nap test” to determine how quickly and how often, if at all, you fall asleep when in a relaxed position.
Narcolepsy affects more Americans than the public realizes, with an estimated 200,000 U.S. citizens and three million people worldwide with the disease. However, the Narcolepsy Network estimates that only a quarter of sufferers have been diagnosed.
Approximiately 1.5 million Americans, mostly children, develop night or sleep terrors. This is not the same as a nightmare, as it is a recurring condition that causes the child to wake up screaming, frightened, and reacting as if they are still dreaming or hallucinating.
Your child may be experiencing night terrors if they display the following behavior:
- Waking up from a deep sleep with screaming and crying out
- Bolting upright in bed
- Exhibiting violent movements while still sleeping, as if having a seizure
- Being difficult to rouse or wake up
- Experiencing confusion and agitation upon waking
- Being unable to console
- Trying to walk, but moving as if sleepwalking
- Having no recollection of the incident in the morning
While there are not treatments for night terrors and medicine is not recommended, there are options that seems to lessen the chances of sleep terror episodes. David W. Richards, night terror expert, states that waking the child approximately fifteen minutes prior to his typical nightly episode will prevent the night terror and allow the child to return to a peaceful night’s sleep. The Mayo Clinic recommends treating any underlying condition, addressing stress, and improving sleep habits.
Approximately 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, and yet 80 percent of the cases of obstructive sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. The condition, in which one’s breathing repeatedly stops, can be serious if not treated. Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring and excessive sleepiness even after a full night’s sleep.
Sleep apnea can be caused when the throat muscles relax during sleep, closing off the airways. This is the most common type of apnea and is known as obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, is when the brain doesn’t send the proper breathing signals to the body. If an individual has both obstructive and central sleep apnea, it is referred to as complex sleep apnea syndrome.
For mild cases, doctors may recommend lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, but for more severe cases, it may be possible to effectively treat the blocked airway with devices, such as mouth or nose pieces.
The most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea cases is the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP (pronounced SEE-pap), machine. The patient wears a rubber mask on his nose or nose and mouth, which delivers air pressure into the airways while sleeping. The pressure opens up the passages and prevents apnea as well as snoring.
Living with Sleep Disorders
Regardless of the type of sleep disorder you may have, there are ways to control it and lessen the effects in order to maintain a healthy, normal lifestyle. If you suspect that you have a sleep disorder, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your sleep issues and fatigue. When one treatment fails, be sure to discuss with your doctor any problems you may have so that other options can be administered. Healthy sleep equals a healthy you.