Types of Sleep Disorders - The Sleep Process
Although many people have problems falling asleep now and then, it is important to remember that persistent trouble sleeping can be very serious, and a possible indication of a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders are nothing to take lightly. If you suspect that you, your partner, or your child has narcolepsy, sleep apnea, or any other sleep disorder, talk with your doctor. There are many types of sleep disorders and, in many cases, a combination of factors may cause sleep problems. The most common type of sleep disorders are:
Insomnia is the perception or complaint of inadequate or poor-quality sleep. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) people with insomnia may experience:
- difficulty falling asleep
- waking up frequently during the night, and finding it hard to go back to sleep
- waking up too early in the morning
- unrefreshing sleep
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder in which a person experiences unpleasant sensations in the legs described as creeping, crawling, tingling, pulling or pain. The feelings can occur in one or both legs, often in the calf area, but they can also be felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle, or even the arms. These sensations are strongest when the person with RLS lies down or sits for prolonged periods of time. They often get worse at night. People with RLS say that when the sensations occur, the urge to move their limbs becomes intense.
Periodic Limb Movement
NHLBI says many people with Restless Legs Syndrome also have a related sleep disorder called periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS). PLMS is characterized by involuntary jerking or bending leg movements during sleep that typically occur every 10 to 60 seconds. Some people may experience hundreds of such movements per night, which can wake them, disturb their sleep and awaken bed partners. According to the National Sleep Foundation, over a third of all people aged 65 and older experience PLMS, with men and women equally affected. A number of medications have been shown to be effective in treating PLMS. If PLMS is causing problems, your doctor or an accredited sleep disorders center can provide more information on the best treatments.
One specific sleep disorder that can be dangerous, even deadly, is sleep apnea. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that millions of Americans may be affected with this problem.
In many cases of sleep apnea, breathing actually stops for up to ten seconds or longer at a time. This can occur when muscles in the mouth and throat relax and obstruct the airway. It can also occur when the diaphragm and chest muscles stop working correctly. Whenever this happens, the sleeper then wakes up gasping for air. In the most serious cases of sleep apnea, this can happen dozens, even hundreds of times a night. Many times, however, the sleeper does not remember it.
Narcolepsy is another sleep disorder which causes people to have frequent "sleep attacks" at various times of the day, even if they have had a normal amount of sleep the night before. These attacks last from several seconds to more than 30 minutes. There may also be loss of muscle control during emotional situations, hallucinations, temporary paralysis when they awaken and disrupted nighttime sleep. NIH says symptoms usually appear during adolescence, with a variety of medications including stimulants, antidepressants or other drugs used for treatment, depending on the individual.
Parasomnias are the name given to a group of sleep disorders that disturb not only our sleep, but the sleep of those around us. According to the Sleep Foundation (SF), they include:
- Sleepwalking - Sleepwalking occurs when a person appears to be awake and is moving about but is actually asleep.
- Sleep talking - Sleep talking can range from simple sounds to long speeches. It is harmless according to SF. The major problem may be that it wakes up others and can cause them consternation. A person who sleep talks has no recollection of the actions.
- Sleep terrors - Sleep terrors differ from nightmares, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). The person will be screaming and act like they are trying to escape. They may appear to be awake but act confused and can't communicate. These disorders generally strike children, with most outgrowing them by the time they reach adolescence. The AACAP also says they tend to run in families and impact boys more than girls.
To schedule a consultation with one of our board certified sleep specialists, call the Sleep Disorders Institute at (202)-281-3232.