What are sleep disorders?
Sleep disorders are conditions that affect a person’s sleep quality, timing, or the amount of sleep they get, as well as the ability to properly function while awake. Sleep disorders often occur alongside other medical problems and may also be symptoms for underlying mental health issues. Sleep disorders and their causes can be very complex, but most can be characterized by one or more of the following signs:
- Difficulty staying awake during the day.
- Trouble falling or remaining asleep.
- Imbalances in circadian rhythm that interfere with a healthy schedule.
- Being prone to unusual behavior that disrupts your sleep.
Sleep problems can often be improved with healthy sleep habits. Check out our sleep tips page for more tips. If your sleep problems persist or interfere with how you feel or function during the day, you should seek evaluation and treatment by a physician.
Understanding the importance of sleep.
Sleep is a basic human need, crucial to both physical and mental health. Just as nutritious food and physical activity are important components of your wellness, so is restorative sleep. When you sleep, your body and brain undergo “repairs” that ensure optimal function.
There are two stages of sleep: rapid-eye movement (REM) and non-REM. REM sleep is when most dreaming occurs and non-REM has three phases, including the deepest sleep. Sleep helps your brain function properly. Not getting enough sleep or experiencing poor quality sleep has many potential consequences, including fatigue and decreased energy, irritability, and problems with focus and concentration. Decision-making ability and overall mood can also be affected. Sleep problems often coexist with symptoms of depression or anxiety. Sleep problems can exacerbate depression or anxiety, and depression or anxiety may lead to sleep problems.
Both a lack of sleep and too much sleep are linked to several chronic health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. Sleep disturbances can also be a warning sign for medical and neurological issues, such as congestive heart failure, osteoarthritis, and Parkinson’s disease.
Common sleep disorders.
Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both – even under the right conditions for restful sleep. It’s one of the most common sleep disorders among young adults, causing issues that interfere with daily life and may be debilitating for some people. There are many factors that contribute to this disorder, including stress, medications, home environment, and sleep habits. There are two main forms of insomnia: acute and chronic. Acute insomnia involves sleep difficulties that last for a few days to several weeks, but not longer than three months. If sleep challenges persist over three months, the insomnia is then classified as chronic.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep-related disorder that disrupts regular breathing at night. People with this condition often snore heavily and may wake up choking or gasping for air. There are two types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when tissue in the mouth and throat slackens during sleep, blocking the upper airway. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing. This interrupted sleep causes daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
Lifestyle changes like losing weight or sleeping on your side can improve sleep apnea. Treatment options include CPAP therapy, oral appliances, and, in some cases, surgery.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes extreme drowsiness during the day. People with narcolepsy often find it hard to stay awake for long periods of time and may fall asleep suddenly. This can cause serious problems in their daily routine. In some cases, narcolepsy can be accompanied by a sudden loss of muscle tone and control, also known as cataplexy. This condition is often triggered by a strong emotion, especially laughter. There is no cure for narcolepsy, but medicine and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms. Treatment involves both behavioral approaches and medications. Behavioral approaches may include planned napping, diet changes, sound sleep hygiene, daily exercise, and more. Please consult a physician for more information.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) / Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)
Restless legs syndrome involves an urge to move one’s legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable creeping, crawling, tingling, burning, or itching sensations in the legs.
This urge to move the legs:
- Begins or worsens during periods of rest or inactivity.
- Is partially or totally relieved by movement.
- Only occurs or becomes worse in the evening or at night.
The symptoms occur at least three times per week, continue for at least three months, and cause significant distress or problems in daily functioning. Symptoms may cause difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and can lead to daytime sleepiness. Treatment options may include home remedies, therapy, medical devices, or medication. Though RLS is not life-threatening, the frustration of not being able to sleep well can take a significant toll on mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and the support of loved ones may help those experiencing RLS. Please consult a physician for more information.
Parasomnias are unusual behaviors experienced prior to falling asleep, during asleep, or in the arousal period between sleep and wakefulness. These behaviors include sleepwalking, sleep paralysis, and night terrors. Parasomnias vary considerably in terms of characteristics, severity, and frequency.
Sleep experts have determined that parasomnias occur when the brain transitions in and out of sleep, as well as during the period between REM and non-REM sleep stages. Parasomnias are more common in children than adults, but they have been noted in all age groups.
While each parasomnia involves distinct symptoms, these behaviors can be categorized into three general groups: NREM-related, REM-related, and “other.” NREM-related types involve confusion arousal, sleep walking, night terrors, and sleep-related sexual abnormal behavior. REM-related types include REM behavior disorder (RBD), recurrent isolated sleep paralysis, and nightmare disorder. The “other” types include exploding head syndrome, sleep related hallucinations, and bedwetting.