Sleep disorders refer to conditions that impact an individual’s sleep on a regular basis. They might be the result of a health-related problem or stress. Sleep disorders have become common nowadays. Most of the people encounter problems in sleeping often due to various everyday reasons like hectic schedules, stress and other daily factors. But, when these problems become regular and start interfering with a person’s normal routine, it might be an indication of a sleep disorder. Based on the type of sleep disorder experienced, the affected person might have difficulty in falling asleep which results in extreme tiredness the following day. This has an adverse effect on the person’s concentration, energy, and mood and might affect his or her overall health.
Sleep disorders can also be signs of other health conditions. They can also be indicators of a mental health condition. These problems normally resolve themselves once treatment starts for the underlying cause. In case the problems are not due to any underlying health problems, treatment might consist of a combination of healthy lifestyle changes and other medications. It is imperative to get treatment quickly in case individual suspects that he or she might be suffering from a sleep disorder. If the condition is not treated on time, it might result in further damage to the health.
Sleep disorders are also known as somnipathy might become serious that they start affecting the social, physical, emotional and mental well-being of the affected person. Sleep disorders can be bifurcated into parasomnias, dyssomnias, circadian rhythm sleep disorders which are related to the timing of sleep and also includes various other problems which might result because of other medical or psychological reasons. This also includes sleeping sickness.
Some of the most common sleep disorders are hypersomnia, sleep apnea, cataplexy, narcolepsy, sleeping sickness etc. Some of the other sleep disorders that are encountered are night terrors, sleepwalking and bed wetting.
- Insomnia: This refers to the inability to fall asleep or the inability to remain asleep. Insomnia can be the result of digestive problems, jet lag, hormones or stress and anxiety. Insomnia can cause adverse effects and might lead to weight gain, depression, irritability, low performance at work or school and difficulty in concentrating. It is a very common disorder and occurs mostly in older adults and women. There are three types of insomnia namely, chronic in which the symptoms occur for at least one month on a regular basis; intermittent in which there are periodic bouts of insomnia; transient in which the symptoms persist for only a few nights at one time.
- Sleep Apnea: This disorder involves pauses in the breathing of the person during sleep. This is a serious disorder that leads to less intake of oxygen by the body and might also wake the individual in the middle of the night.
- Parasomnias: These type of sleep disorders cause abnormal body movements and behaviours while the affected person is sleeping. These include sleepwalking, groaning, bed wetting, sleep talking, nightmares and jaw clenching or teeth grinding.
- Restless Leg Syndrome: This disorder causes an extreme need to move the legs. This might also be present with a tingling sensation in the legs. These symptoms can be experienced during the day or at night but they are more common in the night. Restless leg syndrome can also be linked with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Parkinson’s disease.
- Narcolepsy: This disorder involves sleep attacks that are experienced during the day. This makes the person extremely tired and can make them fall asleep without any warning signs. This can also be accompanied by sleep paralysis which might result in the inability to physically move right after waking up. This disorder might occur by itself or it might also be associated with certain neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
There are various other disorders like Bruxism, Catathrenia, Hypopnea syndrome, Delayed sleep phase disorder, Nocturia, Night terrors, Periodic limb movement disorder, Shift work sleep disorder, Somniphobia, Rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder, Kleine Levin syndrome, Idiopathic hypersomnia etc.
Research suggests that people with traumatic childhood experiences are more prone to develop a number of sleep disorders in adulthood. Some disorders like idiopathic sleep behaviour disorder might have some hereditary component. People suffering from this disorder are likely to have a close relative suffering from the same disorder. Individuals who have suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are more susceptible to develop sleep disorders. Individuals with TBI are at a higher risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Different symptoms might be experienced based on the type of the sleep disorder and the severity of the disorder. The symptoms can also vary depending upon the underlying condition that is causing the disorder. General symptoms of these disorders include experiencing fatigue during daytime, depression, irritability or anxiety, difficulty in falling asleep, difficulty in staying asleep, lack of concentration, experiencing a strong urge to sleep during the day etc.
Occasional sleep problems are experienced by everyone. But it is important to know when these turn into a more sleep disorder. Tell-tale signs of sleep deprivation during the day need to be scrutinized. Some of these signs are falling asleep or feeling extremely tired while driving, looking tired all the time, giving slow reactions, experiencing trouble in controlling emotions, need caffeinated beverages to stay awake etc. In case the individual is experiencing any of the above symptoms on a daily basis, he or she might be suffering from a sleeping disorder.
The symptoms can be tracked by maintaining a sleep diary. Keeping a record of the sleep patterns and timings can also be beneficial in determining in case a sleep doctor needs to be consulted. Details like the timing of going to bed and waking up, total hours of sleep, the drugs or medications taken before going to bed, feelings and moods before going to sleep, type of food, caffeine, alcohol consumed before going to sleep etc. can be recorded in the diary.
There are many diseases, disorders and diseases that result in disturbances with sleep. Sleep disorders develop due to a health problem in many cases. The causes can be different for each individual but the end result is always a disruption of sleep and the body natural sleep cycle being ruined. The causes for sleep disorders can be of various kinds and many times more than one cause can play the role in disrupting the sleep cycle of an individual. The causes for the disruption of the sleep cycle can be as follows:
Nocturia: Frequent urination or nocturia can disrupt an individual’s sleep by causing them to wake up at night time. Diseases in the urinal tracts and imbalance in the hormones can factor into causing this condition. If the frequent urination is causing bleeding or pain in the groin it is advised to seek immediate medical attention.
Respiratory problems and allergies: Colds and allergies seem to keep people awake at night. Upper chest infections make it hard to breathe at night. Blockage of the nose also makes it difficult to breathe. Being unable to breathe through the nose can result in difficulty with sleeping.
Chronic pain or physical disturbances: Aching body or constant pain can make it hard to have a good night’s sleep. Some common causes for this pain are chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, persistent headaches, inflammatory bowel diseases and pain in the lower back. The movement of the body causes the aching part to hurt and disrupt the sleep.
Psychiatric disorders: Psychiatric disorders such as stress, anxiety or depression can also lead to loss of sleep. Nightmares, sleepwalking and talking in sleep also disrupt the sleep of an individual. Panic attacks or anxiety attacks can cause excessive sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dizziness among other symptoms. These symptoms make it hard for the individual to fall asleep.
The doctors will conduct physical examinations to gather information regarding the symptoms and medical history of both the patient and their family. They will also conduct various test such as:
Polysomnography: Polysomnography is a sleep study that evaluates body movements, oxygen levels and brain waves to find out how these factors cause the disruption of the sleep cycle.
Blood tests: Blood tests are most commonly used to diagnose the health conditions such as narcolepsy that might be causing the issues with sleeping.
Electroencephalogram: Electroencephalogram is a test that evaluates the electrical signals of the brain and helps the doctors detect problems regarding this activity of the brain.
The Epworth sleepiness scale: This is a questionnaire given to the patient to fill out certain questions regarding their sleep cycle and how often would they fall asleep in certain situations.
Multiple sleep latency tests (MSLT): Multiple sleep latency tests are used to measure the sleepiness during the daytime. In this test, the patient will be given five opportunities to take a nap in a dark and quiet room at an interval of two hours.
These tests and other physical exams help in determining the right type of treatment for the patient.
Treatment for sleeping disorders may vary depending on the type and the problems causing the issue. Mostly non-medical treatments are used instead of prescribed medications. The treatment can also be a combination of various treatments because in some cases, the patient can also have more than one disorder causing disruption of the sleep cycle. In cases such as sleep apnea, a surgery is considered by the doctor. In most cases, the treatment requires the use of medications and making changes in the lifestyle of the patient.
- Medical treatment
The doctors will prescribe the patient medications if the lack of sleep is severe. Usually, the doctors prefer to treat the patient non-medically and medications may sometimes have side effects. Sleeping pills and other drugs for putting a patient to sleep are not available over the counter and require a prescription by the doctors. The doctors will also prescribe melatonin supplements. If the sleep deprivation is due to a respiratory problem such as a cold the doctor will prescribe the patient with cold or allergy medications. In case of sleep apnea, the doctors will provide the patient with a breathing device and will conduct surgery. The doctors will also provide medications for any other health issue if it interferes with the patient’s sleep. If patients grind their teeth at night the doctor will provide them with a dental guard.
- Lifestyle changes
The most common treatment for sleep disorders is to make changes in the patient’s lifestyle. Decrease the amount of caffeine consumed in a day especially in the evening or night. Caffeine tends to keep a person awake and high caffeine consumption can result in severe lack of sleep. The doctors will also suggest decreasing the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. If nocturia is the cause for patient’s lack of sleep, the doctors will suggest drinking less water before going to bed. Creating a regular sleeping schedule and sticking to the schedule helps in fixing the body clocks and the sleep cycle of a person. Regular exercise also helps in reducing stress and anxiety in a person. Regular exercise will also help in tiring out the body which means the likelihood of falling asleep increases but avoid any form of workout 2 hours before going to bed. Reducing the intake of sugar and adding more green vegetables to the diet may improve your sleep cycle. Eating smaller low carbohydrate diets before going to bed also helps. Usually going to bed and waking up at a certain time each day can improve the quality of sleep significantly. During the weekends do not oversleep as it may make it more difficult to revert back to your schedule on the weekdays. Maintain a comfortable and a proper environment before you go to sleep including a comfortable room temperature. Avoid the consumption of alcohol or nicotine before going to bed. Avoid watching television or looking at a backlit screen before going to bed.
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