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Sleep Disorders – The Complete Guide

Sleep-Disorders

When you think about Sleep Disorders, you think of ones on the extreme side of things like perhaps insomnia or even sleep paralysis.

But there are various types of sleep disorders. In fact, snoring is considered to be a common sleep disorder, although that is partially untrue, as you will soon find out.

Essentially, a sleep disorder is any condition that affects the quality and duration of your sleep. It doesn’t just involve the amount of rest you get but also extends to your physical and mental health along with your memory and cognitive performance.

So whether you suffer from the occasional sleepless night or have lived with a lack of quality sleep for years, this article will help you to better understand your sleeping disorder.

Classifications of Various Sleep Disorders

  • Dyssomnias: is a classification that usually involves sleep disorders that affect the ability of a person to go to sleep, remain or continue sleeping, constantly being sleepy (arising from lack of quality sleep). E.g., Narcolepsy, sleep apnea, insomnia, etc..
  • Parasomnias: is a classification which involves disruption of sleep, which results in behaviors that can be out of the person’s control. E.g., sleepwalking, sleep paralysis, sleep terrors, etc..
  • Sleep Disorders associated with Mental, Neurological, and Other Disorders.

What Are The Different Types of Sleep Disorders

Now that you’ve kind of understood the broad classifications of sleep disorders let’s expand that into the different types of sleep disorders, starting with one of the most commonly known sleep disorders.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea is a type of sleeping disorder that causes brief stoppages in breathing while you’re asleep.

This interruption is usually caused by your brain not sending the required signal to your brain or by a blockage in the airway or even both. This interruption in breathing won’t just happen once, but many times, and thus becomes a huge problem.

You’re probably thinking – but not too many people know about this condition. Well, the truth is that snoring, a sleep condition you’ve definitely heard of, is commonly interchanged with sleep apnea. Chronic snoring is usually seen as a common symptom of sleep apnea, even if snoring itself is not a sleep disorder.

Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea include

  • Headaches in the morning
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Loud Snoring
  • Your sleeping partner(s) informing you about times where you stop breathing in your sleep
  • Waking up gasping or with the feeling of being choked

If left untreated, it could lead to a variety of problems, which include heart attack, depression, and other mental health issues, high blood pressure, etc..

Now, coming to what causes sleep apnea, one is due to the throat muscles and other tissues in the back of the throat like your tonsils, tongue, relaxing as you sleep, thereby causing recurrent obstruction of the airway. This causes your body to send a signal to your brain about the constant lack of oxygen, resulting in your body being abruptly forced to wake up to breathe. This is what causes the choking or gasping sound.

Another cause is when your brain doesn’t properly send the right signals to your throat muscles that control breathing, something commonly occurring for those with heart conditions or taking certain medications.

Or even a combination of the above.

Those who are at high risk for this sleep disorder are those who are obese, have a family history of sleep apnea, have diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), who have throat and nose problems resulting in airway blockage, etc..

A doctor can diagnose you with this sleeping disorder after having a look at your results from a sleep study, medical history, and after a physical exam.

Treatment usually involves a lifestyle change, sleeping on your side, reduction in smoking and alcohol consumption, weight management,  and staying away from certain medications like sedatives, opioids, antidepressants, or any that relax your throat muscles.

Insomnia

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that involves difficulty in falling asleep, in remaining asleep, or both.

Its symptoms include:

  • Difficulty in falling asleep
  • Difficulty in staying awake
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Bad quality of sleep resulting in hardly feeling refreshed and energized in the morning
  • Constantly fatigued
  • General irritability or mood swings

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can either be short term or long term.

Short term or acute insomnia is when someone is unable to sleep for a short time either due to stress or a recently traumatizing event like a death in the family or others, causing intense stress and worrying. It can also be caused by a change in sleeping habits – jet lag is one.

Long term or chronic insomnia lasts for longer than three months and is a little bit more complex. It usually results from mental health problems like anxiety, depression, physical problems that might make it harder to remain asleep (asthma, chronic pain, intestinal problems), bad lifestyle, constant stress, medication, substance abuse.

Insomnia is something that is usually easily self-diagnosed, and it is highly recommended to visit a doctor to understand what needs to change in your life to treat it.

Treatment for insomnia usually depends on the underlying reason why you have it in the first place. Acute insomnia is a little more easily curable. One of the first steps would be to practicing good sleep hygiene, like going to sleep at the same time and trying to get up at the same time every day and others would include avoiding the use of electronics right before bed, meditation, short term use of sleeping pills, behavioral and/ or cognitive therapy, etc..

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes excessive sleepiness in a person to the point that they may have uncontrollable episodes of suddenly falling asleep. It is neurological in nature.

Although the person might feel very well-rested when they wake up, they will feel sleepy throughout the day. This becomes extremely problematic since a person might rapidly fall asleep in the middle of an activity, such as running, driving, or even eating.

Symptoms of Narcolepsy include:

  • Excessive sleepiness regardless of how much sleep the individual gets
  • Sleep Paralysis and hallucinations
  • Feelings of weakness and loss of voluntary muscle tone and control
  • Memory and cognitive problems

There is no known definite reason behind what causes Narcolepsy, but scientists have narrowed one main reason down to the low presence of the hormone, hypocretin. It might also be a loss of this particular hormone as a result of irregularities in the immune system.    It usually involves a combination of factors like infections, toxins, and even trauma. 10% of those suffering from Narcolepsy have someone in the family suffering from the same disorder.

Narcolepsy often goes undiagnosed for many years, especially since it usually required overnight tests under the supervision of a sleep specialist. If the disorder is left undiagnosed, it can affect a person’s ability to interact or do normal activities, which could lead to mental health issues.

As for treatment, while there is no cure, lifestyle changes like practicing good sleep hygiene, taking shorter naps throughout the day and medications help to regulate the episodes of Narcolepsy. Certain medications like antidepressants have shown to help in controlling the loss of muscle tone.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome is a sleeping disorder that affects the nervous system, causing the legs to move uncontrollably due to sensations of discomfort that are worsened by sitting or lying down. These feelings of discomfort are usually sensations of crawling, creeping, itching, pulsating, aching, etc..

This feeling of discomfort is usually only alleviated when the person’s body becomes active byways of moving about legs and arms, walking, exercise, or stretching.  This period of activity will ease a person’s pain or discomfort only for that short period of activity.

This means sleep constantly evades the person no matter how tired they are because of how uncomfortable they are feeling.

Symptoms of the Restless Leg Syndrome include:

  • Irresistible urge to move legs due to feelings of discomfort
  • Uncomfortable sensations in your legs.
  • Sensations are usually always worsened when resting
  • Symptoms are worse at night and cause poor quality of sleep
  • Relief usually comes only with movement or activity

Although experts suspect the hormone dopamine to be responsible for the syndrome, there is no determined cause for why the restless leg syndrome develops. Restless Leg Syndrome is one that can develop at any age, with the chances of you experiencing the syndrome higher during childhood, and usually more common in women than in men.

Researchers, however, have their suspicions – the disorder is suspected to often be hereditary, especially if it runs in the family and if the disorder starts before the age of 40. It has also been linked to iron deficiency, damage to nerves, spinal cord, etc..

A doctor usually has to administer both a physical and neurological test since this is a sleep disorder that affects the nervous system. You may also need to run some tests under the supervision of a sleep specialist, depending on how severe your condition is.

Although Restless Leg Syndrome isn’t life-threatening, it severely disrupts sleep leading to problems in functioning properly during the day and even poor mental health. Unlike other sleeping disorders that affect the quality of sleep, this disorder prevents napping that is usually done to make up for the lack of sleep. Hence, it is important to see a doctor if you suspect that you have a restless sleep disorder.

With regard to treatment, iron deficiency is often seen as responsible for many patients with restless sleep syndrome. Hence, one of the first steps, depending on your blood test reports, would be to correct this iron deficiency, normally done through injection or via tablets or medication.

Muscle relaxers and sleep medications might also be prescribed. Benefits have also been derived from physical therapy and at-home treatments like stretching, hot baths, and self-massage.

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep Paralysis is a sleeping disorder that results in the inability to move or speak. It usually occurs just as you’re falling asleep or when you’ve suddenly woken up. It is a result of the body remaining asleep when the brain is awake, resulting in experiencing a variety of sensations or hallucinations that aren’t real while you’re unable to move one bit.

Nearly everyone experiences it at least once in their lives. Unfortunately, it becomes a disorder for those who suffer from an episode every couple of days or even more frequently.

Those suffering from Narcolepsy often find themselves a victim of this condition as well.

Its symptoms include:

  • Can’t move your body or speak out loud.
  • Feelings of being watched or hearing sounds.
  • Finding it difficult to breathe, almost as if you’re being suffocated or someone is sitting on you
  • Seeing weird hallucinations that seem fictitious in nature (ghosts, demons, etc..)

Sleep Paralysis can be brought on by a variety of factors. It has been heavily linked to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Irregular and unhealthy sleep schedule has also proven to be one of the contributors to experiencing an episode of sleep paralysis. Any activity, like alcohol, medication, or substance abuse, that inhibits sleep hormones might also be responsible.

For those who experience it only once or twice, they can write it off as a one-off that won’t likely happen again. On the other hand, if you’ve been experiencing sleep paralysis on a frequent basis, it is important to get it diagnosed by a doctor so as to help treat the underlying reason behind why you’ve developed this disorder.

Treatment options include the obvious – improving your sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, therapy, meditation, a better work-life balance, and/or not sleeping on your back. Surprisingly, many have found that something as simple as changing your sleeping position reduces the possibility of you experiencing sleep paralysis.

Some other sleep disorders are:

Sleep-Related Hypoventilation Disorders

This sleeping disorder occurs when breathing is restricted and inadequate, resulting in interruptions that disrupt sleep.

Parasomnias

Parasomnias consist of various sleep disorders that involve arousals from rapid eye movement (REM), which result in unintentional behaviors, some of which one might not even have the memory of doing. Examples include sleep terrors, sleep sex, sleepwalking, and REM behavior disorder.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders (Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder)

Circadian Rhythm Disorders is a group of sleeping disorders that involve disruptions in the sleep that result in changes to the body’s overall internal clock. Examples include jet lag, shift work disorder, non 24 sleep-wake disorder, and irregular sleep-wake disorder.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a complex medical condition that affects the nervous system and comes with a number of symptoms, the most common being extreme fatigue and tiredness. It is usually seen that the symptoms worsen with activity or exercise but cannot be alleviated with rest. It is a syndrome that generally accompanies many sleeping disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and sleep paralysis.

Conclusion

Covering every single disorder, syndrome, and condition that falls under the group of sleep disorders in one day is difficult to do so in one single article.

As you’ve already read, most of the sleep disorders share many symptoms and causes, with treatments varying all over the scale. It is highly advised to see a sleep specialist to treat the underlying causes and to really understand what might be causing it in the first place.

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