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Sleep Disorders - Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatments
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Sleep Disorders

What are Sleep Disorders?

Sleep disorders are one of the most common problems in medicine and psychiatry. A sleep disorder is a medical disorder that deals with sleeping patterns of a person. Sleeping disorders are a result of endogenous disturbances in a person’s internal clock or timing mechanism and can cause sleep waking. Primary sleep disorders are divided into parasomnias and dyssomnias. Parasomnias are characterized by the experience one has during sleep and includes: sleep terror disorder, sleepwalking, bruxism and nightmare disorder. Dyssomnias are abnormalities in the amount, quality, or timing of sleep the list that falls under this category are: primary insomnia, hypersomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and circadian rhythm sleep disorder.

Symptoms of Sleep Disorders

Since there are more than seventy sleep disorders, it is best to break them into manageable categories. These categories can best be described as: lack of sleep, disturbed sleep, and excessive sleep. The following symptoms can be an indicator that a person is suffering from one of the three categories:

  • Feeling tired
  • Inability to sleep
  • Stress
  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Snoring, snorting, gasping sounds
  • Restless sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Daytime fatigue

What Causes Sleep Disorders

The causes of sleep disorders are numerous and can include: a physical illness, depression, stress, anxiety, sleeping environment, drug abuse, smoking and drinking, and counterproductive sleeping habits such as taking naps through the day, going to bed early, and physical discomfort are all reasons for sleep disorders.

Addressing the three categories, the lack of sleep or insomnia is the inability to fall asleep that disturbs daily life. It is accompanied with feeling tired and worrying about getting to sleep. This problem can result from emotional instability in one’s life, excessive stress, a large consumption of caffeine and alcohol.

The second category is disturbed sleep, known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when breathing is interrupted during sleep. The cause of this can be a mechanical problem with the windpipe. A neurological disorder that affects nerves cells called obstructive sleep apnea, which causes the muscles to become relaxed, resulting in the windpipe collapsing, is a sub category of sleep apnea. This disorder is characterized by snoring and blocked airflow of the windpipes that will last anywhere from ten seconds to a minute. Other contributing factors to obstructive sleep apnea can be related to the use of alcohol, tobacco and use of sedatives.

REM sleep behavior disorder and restless legs syndrome are also a part of the second category. In REM sleep behavior disorder, the disruptions on the brain are caused during REM sleep, which is the dream phase of sleep. The signals in the brain that organized information can be interfered with. These signals are also sent to the muscles; creating a temporary paralysis. If these signals are interfered with, a person may act out their dreams during sleep.

Restless leg syndrome is common in the elderly and is a genetic disorder that causes a person to want to move their leg due to a tingling sensation. This can result in insomnia and is due in part to the jerking motions that the legs will make sometimes up to three times in a minute; with each jerk having the potential to wake a person up.

Excessive sleep includes the disorders narcolepsy, cataplexy, sleep paralysis and hypnagogia. Narcolepsy is inherited genetically and develops between the ages of fifteen and thirty. Narcolepsy is a condition that causes a person to fall asleep at any time of day ranging anywhere from a minute to thirty. Cataplexy deals with the muscles whether weakness in them or paralysis, the signs of this are sudden loss of balance due to weakness. Sleep paralysis is the inability to move the body while going to sleep and waking up. Hypnagogia hallucinations are dream like hallucinations that happen between being awake and asleep.

Diagnosis of Sleep Disorders

To diagnose a sleep disorder, a doctor will look a patient’s medical history. A study known as polysonogram can be used to survey the brain and muscle activity along with the heart rhythm and breathing during a patients sleep. This study can help narrow down the cause of the sleep disorder. Other test includes an overnight oximetry, which measures the oxygen saturation in blood. This test is used to see the oxygen level during an apnea. Other tests can measure the time it takes a person who suffers from narcolepsy to enter REM sleep during sudden episodes.

Treatment of Sleep Disorders

Treatment can be managed though a change in lifestyle management by maintaining a strict regime that includes exercise, sleeping routines, avoiding foods and drinks that cause wakefulness and sleepiness. Sedatives can be used for people who can’t sleep, but should only be used short term. Those who suffer from sleep apnea, a device called CPAP meaning continuous positive airway pressure, can be used to prevent obstruction of the airways. Surgery is a way to treat those who suffer from enlarged tonsils or other such removable obstruction. Others with sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy can take medicines that manage the symptoms.

How to Prevent and Manage Sleep Disorders

The best ways to prevent sleep disorders that are not genetic is by first maintaining a regular sleep wake schedule that serves to regulate the body’s actions. Getting a full night’s worth of sleep is a necessity that can stop the body from being sleep deprived and creating unhealthy sleep habits like daytime napping. For conditions that are genetic, seeking treatment is best as well as getting the proper medicine to maintain the symptoms of the sleep disorder.