According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 40 million people in the United States alone live with chronic long-term sleep disorders. Because sleep is controlled by chemical signals in the brain, any disruption of these signals can impact the amount or quality of sleep. Many sleep disorders are symptoms of or related to other long-term health concerns.
Scientists and doctors have identified more than 70 sleep disorders that can affect humans, causing a lack of sleep, disturbed or interrupted sleep, or too much sleep. Below are some of the most common sleep disorders.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, affecting around one-third of all people at some point in their life. Insomnia sufferers experience prolonged (three months or longer) difficulty falling asleep and/or maintaining sleep. It’s usually caused by stress, medications, drug- or alcohol abuse, mental health issues, or anxiety. Insomnia may be treated with lowered stress levels, medication, or cognitive behavioral therapy.
During sleep, the airways can become blocked, resulting in loud snoring and interrupted sleep. Often, sufferers of sleep apnea aren’t away there’s an issue until a partner points it out. Those with sleep apnea will often wake up with a headache, and experience daytime drowsiness. Sleep apnea is commonly treated with a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine to keep the throat open so the airway cannot be blocked.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Sleep experts are stumped by the causes of this unusual condition, but research suggested it’s inherited. Pregnancy and some medications can also cause RLS. During RLS, the body is overcome with an irresistible urge to move the limbs. RLS sufferers may kick and turn and move hundreds of times during the night, disturbing their own sleep and anyone they share a bed with. There’s no cure for RLS, but regular exercise and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake have had a positive effect.
While many other sleep disorders are characterised by reduced sleep, narcolepsy is the opposite. Sufferers of this condition may fall asleep suddenly and unexpectedly, and are unable to stay fully away throughout the day. Narcolepsy is caused by abnormalities in the areas of the brain that control REM sleep, and medication exists to help with the condition.
Most common in children, the causes of sleepwalking still elude scientists. During the lighter stages of sleep, a sleepwalking person will get up, walk around their home, maybe even open doors or try to eat food. They may also mumble or speak, but the words will likely be gibberish. It’s a harmless condition, but can be dangerous if the sleepwalker injures themselves. Environmental changes like keeping to a regular sleep schedule, reducing liquids before bedtime, and sleeping in a cool, dark room have proven to help stop sleepwalking.
REM sleep behaviour disorder
On first appearance, this condition is similar to sleepwalking. What’s different is that it occurs during a different sleep phase – the REM phase, when you’re dreaming. A person experiencing REM sleep behaviour disorder will act out their dreams, often with violent movements and at risk to themselves or others. It’s extremely rare and can be treated with medication.
Do you or anyone you know suffer from one of these sleep disorders? Find out how Sleepezi can help with a good night’s sleep.