Sleep disorder is a medical or psychiatric problem that causes sleeping problems. There are more than 80 different types of sleep disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health. The most common type is Insomnia, followed by Hypersomnia and breathing-related sleep disorders.
Sleep loss and sleep disorders are among the most common yet frequently overlooked and readily treatable health problems. Failure to recognize sleep problems not only precludes diagnosis and treatment – but it also precludes the possibility of preventing their grave public health consequences. The public health consequences of sleep loss and sleep-related disorders are far from benign. Let’s first look at what are some of the common types of sleep disorders.
What Are Some Common Types?
- Insomnia – Chronic difficulty sleeping at night despite being tired through the day.
- Hypersomnia – Excessive daytime sleepiness, almost daily napping for longer than three hours or being unable to stay awake during the day.
- Narcolepsy – An overwhelming need to sleep during the day, but being unable to do so despite being tired.
- Circadian Rhythm Disorder – The body’s internal clock does not align with normal sleep and wake times.
- Sleep Apnea – There are different types of sleep apnea – pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while sleeping, resulting in restless sleep and daytime fatigue. Snoring is also a common characteristic of this type of sleep disorder. Often people who snore loudly are at an increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea.
- Restless Leg Syndrome – This is a need to move the legs due to uncomfortable sensations while trying to fall asleep or staying asleep.
- Night Terrors – Occurs when a person suddenly wakes from a deep sleep in a terrified state, often screaming and throwing their arms and legs around.
- Sleepwalking – Walking around with a lowered level of consciousness during deep sleep.
Some types require specific tests performed by a doctor to identify the underlying cause of the sleeplessness. To understand some types of sleep disorders, one must first understand how sleep works.
How does Sleep Work?
Sleep occurs when two parts of the brain communicate with each other – the Hypothalamus and Thalamus. The Hypothalamus is responsible for the many autonomous activities of the body, including waking and sleeping. It tells the body when it needs to sleep or wake by sending two different neurotransmitters to the Thalamus. The Thalamus acts as a switchboard relaying sensory signals from various parts of the brain to other parts, which are responsible for memory, thinking, emotions and so on.
After receiving these signals from the Hypothalamus, the Thalamus sends nerve impulses back down to specific cells in an area at the base of the brain called ‘the reticular activating system’, which either keeps a person awake or lull him into sleep.
Once asleep, an individual passes through five stages – Stage 1 (sleep onset) may last between one and seven minutes. Stage 2, the shortest stage of sleep, is a transition period from being awake to entering deep sleep.
During deep sleep – stages 3 and 4 – blood pressure, breathing rate and body temperature drop with a person appearing very relaxed. In this state, it is difficult for a person to be awakened except by a loud noise or physical disruption. Stage 5 of sleep, called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, is often described as ‘Paradoxical Sleep’ because brain waves are similar to those during wakefulness. In addition, heart rate increases, limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed and vivid dreaming occurs most frequently at this time. This phase is where most types of parasomnias occur such as night terrors and sleepwalking.
What are the Causes and Symptoms?
Sleep disorder types can be a result of several causes. Some sleep disorders, including narcolepsy, are believed to be genetic in origin while others result from common health problems such as obesity or depression. In addition, certain medications can cause side effects that impact sleep. These include antihistamines used to treat allergy symptoms, some pain relievers and drugs for high blood pressure or heart disease. Age is also a factor with many older adults showing signs of insomnia.
Sleep disorders have been linked to the development of chronic diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression. They can reduce the quality of life by causing fatigue or excessive daytime sleepiness that results in a person being less productive throughout the day. A lack of sleep has also been shown to increase the risk of injuries, such as car accidents due to falling asleep at the wheel.
What’s the Diagnosis?
It is important for people who have one or more types of sleep disorders to get diagnosed and treated by a healthcare professional. This can help them find the best sleep disorder treatment that works for them. A combination of therapy, medication, lifestyle changes and sleep aids are often used to successfully manage sleep disorders.
Once a diagnosis is made, a person can then work closely with their healthcare team to decide which treatment option or combination of therapies would be most effective. It is important for those who suffer from sleep disorders to learn as much as they can about the various treatments so they can make informed decisions about which will agree with them and also provide them with the best chance of success.
Interrupted sleep patterns such as those seen in jet lag or shift work disorder can often be resolved by making adjustments in sleep habits. Sleeping at regular times each day, including on weekends, helps keep your body’s internal clock consistent and it becomes easier to fall asleep and stay asleep when you need to.
A person should also take steps to reduce factors that may be disrupting sleep, such as limiting caffeine intake after mid-afternoon or cutting out alcohol completely before bed. Sleep hygiene tips, including getting daily exercise and exposure to natural light during the day, can also help promote good sleep at night. It is important to find a treatment option that works for you so you can enjoy healthy sleep every night.