Losing sleep can cause all kinds of problems (in all aspects of your life) but many sleep disorders can be treated effectively once diagnosed. About 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disturbances. Even if you’ve been sleeping poorly for years, it’s never too late to start helping yourself.
If left untreated, a sleep disorder will interfere with your work, your driving, your relationships, your social activities and can have lasting effects on your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
More than 1500 people die each year in fatigue-related crashes. People with untreated sleep disorders are at a much higher risk for these kinds of fatal car wrecks.
A good sleep is essential to your overall health and wellness.
If you are experiencing chronic sleeping problems, it is recommended that you visit your doctor or trusted health professional for help.
What Characterizes a Sleep Disorder?
A sleep disorder, as defined by the National Institutes of Health, includes:
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Falling asleep at inappropriate times
- Sleeping for excessive hours
- Abnormal behaviour during sleeping
Common Types of Sleep Disorders
There are over 100 types of sleep disorders but we will list only the most common ones. Sleep disorders are serious and the list of them is long and complicated. We have simplified a large portion of that information for you, but it is still important to check with your physician or find a sleep clinic in your area if you suspect that you have a sleep disorder.
Some of the most common sleep disorders can be treated through a combination of lifestyle changes, medication and/or an improved sleeping routine
Sleep apnea is a breathing problem and occurs when someone’s breathing is interrupted during his or her sleeping cycle.
Signs of sleep apnea are: waking frequently throughout the night, disrupted breathing, holding one’s breath, gasping, gagging or choking for air during sleep.
There are three types of sleep apnea. They are:
OSA – Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This is the most common type of sleep apnea and is caused by an obstruction in the airway that actually stops the flow of air in both the nose and the mouth. Throat and abdominal breathing continue as normal.
OSA is usually accompanied by snoring, and will cause the sleeper to awaken snorting or gasping for breath. Normal sleep will resume after each episode.
CSA – Central Sleep Apnea
Central Sleep Apnea is much less common and can lead to much more serious complications such as irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack and/or stroke.
CSA is a brain signal problem and not an obstruction in the airway as in OSA. The signal in the brain that instructs the body to breathe is delayed. And again, different from OSA, CSA is characterized by all breathing (nose, mouth, throat and abdominal) ceasing for a period of time.
Consequently, these periods of interrupted breathing can cause problems with enough oxygen being provided to the blood, tissues and brain. This lack of oxygen is what causes all of the problems that are associated with CSA.
Mixed Sleep Apnea
Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of OSA and CSA. This means that the breathing is obstructed as well as there being a brain signal problem.
Mixed sleep apnea most commonly occurs in infants or in young children who have abnormal breathing control.
Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder and can be life-threatening if left untreated. Sleep apnea treatment has a 70% success rate, and about 40 million Americans have undiagnosed sleep apnea. It is a progressive disorder, meaning that it gets worse as you age.
If you think you might have sleep apnea, go to a sleep center or have your trusted health practitioner recommend one to you. Don’t delay! You will be amazed at how much healthier you will feel after treatment.
RLS – Restless Leg Syndrome
Tingly, uncomfortable, creeping and prickly sensations in the legs characterize Restless Leg Syndrome. It is a neurological disorder that creates uncontrollable urges to keep the legs moving.
Symptoms can include:
- Sensations in the legs that create an overwhelming urge to get up, walk around or move the legs constantly
- Sensations occur or worsen in the evening especially when lying down, sitting, resting or relaxing for long periods of time
- Small movements of the toes, legs or feet that are visible throughout the night
- A very restless and unfulfilling night’s sleep
PLMS (Periodic Limb Movement Syndrome) is characterized by a sudden jerking or bending of the feet or legs. This interrupts the normal sleeping pattern and the restfulness of sleep. These movements usually occur every 5 – 90 seconds and last between half a second and 10 seconds.
The PLMS movements range from small shudders of the ankles and toes to the kicking and flailing of the arms and legs. This periodic jerking often wakes the sleeping individual or disturbs the sleep of his or her sleeping partner.
Both of these common sleep disorders are highly treatable with lifestyle changes and sometimes with medication. 90% of people treated for RLS or PLMS have experienced relief from their symptoms. The benefits (for you and your bedmate) of a full, uninterrupted night’s rest are EASY to imagine!
Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder. It affects the ability of the central nervous system to regulate sleep. Narcolepsy is the second leading cause (after Obstructive Sleep Apnea) of excessive daytime sleepiness.
If you have narcolepsy, some of the symptoms you may be experiencing could include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep intermittently throughout the day
- Hypnagogic hallucinations – hallucinations while falling asleep or when just waking
- Sleep paralysis – inability to move your limbs (temporarily) when falling asleep or upon waking
- Short-lived muscle weakness (cataplexy)
- Automatic behaviour – continuing normal function (such as talking, cleaning, putting things away etc.) during sleep episodes. People who experience automatic behaviour have no memory of such conversations or activities.
It is typically believed that people who have narcolepsy are perpetually sleepy, but they actually do not sleep more than the average person. The difference is that a person with narcolepsy cannot control the timing of their sleep pattern.
If you have fallen asleep at what you might call ‘strange times,’ as in while cooking, driving or having a conversation, you might have narcolepsy. Research suggests that about 1 in 2000 people are affected by narcolepsy and you may have first experienced these symptoms between the ages of 15 and 30. It’s usually a genetic condition.
If you have experienced any of these symptoms, it is important to see your physician or a sleep specialist. Narcolepsy can have very serious repercussions upon your physical wellbeing, your relationships, your job, and your concentration and recall levels.
Treatment for narcolepsy includes a combination of counseling, behavioural changes and medication.
Parasomnias is a term that includes a variety of ‘disorders of arousal’ or disruptive sleep events. These include:
- Sleep-related eating or drinking disorders
- REM sleep behaviour disorder (where a person acts out their dreams)
- Sleep walking or sleep talking
- Partial seizures
- Sleep terrors and nightmares
- Violent behaviour during sleeping
A person waking from their ‘parasomnic event’ will not usually recall their experience. Parasomnias are often attributed to stress, depression, medical illnesses or other psychological states of unhealthiness.
Find a sleep specialist near you who can discuss with you the types of treatment that are available. They will advise you based on your individual symptoms.
Sleeping Well Will Change Your Life
The importance of a good night’s rest can never be overemphasized. Sleep, besides rejuvenating us on many levels, supports you to have a long, active and healthy life. People who sleep poorly experience problems in many areas of their lives.
You can change how you well you rest each night. Consult your trusted health practitioner or find a sleep clinic or sleep specialist near you, and give yourself the gift of restful sleep.
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