Sleep is essential for mental and physical health. But what happens when there’s a problem with your sleep? In this lesson, we’ll examine some common sleep disorders, including insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and parasomnia.
Naomi is having trouble sleeping. She stays up half of the night, tossing and turning because she just can’t get to sleep.
It’s been this way for months, and she’s tired of it! She just wants to get to sleep!Jim, meanwhile, has no trouble getting to sleep. But his wife complains that he snores all night long, and when he wakes up in the morning, it feels like he didn’t sleep at all.Finally, Carrie has her own issues. She can sleep through most things, but sometimes she wakes up somewhere other than her own bed, like on her couch. She sometimes has bruises that she doesn’t know how she got.
Naomi, Jim, and Carrie are all suffering from sleep disorders, or issues with sleep. There are many, many types of sleep disorders, and they can affect many different types of people. Let’s look closer at some of the common sleep disorders.
Narcolepsy & Insomnia
Remember that Naomi has trouble falling asleep. She can lie in bed for hours at a time and not fall asleep. It’s driving her crazy!Naomi is suffering from insomnia, which involves disruptions in sleep patterns. The word ‘insomnia’ comes from the Latin for ‘no sleep,’ and that’s just what happens with insomnia patients: they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
For example, Naomi has trouble falling asleep at night, but some people have no issues falling asleep. The problem is that they wake up during the night, so they can’t get a full night’s sleep.Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in Americans. It can come in two varieties: acute insomnia lasts only a short period of time, like one night or a few nights. But remember that Naomi has been having issues for months. When insomnia lasts for more than a few nights, it is known as chronic insomnia.
Chronic insomnia can go on for weeks, months, or even years.Some people think that narcolepsy, a condition where the brain can’t regulate sleep-wake patterns, is the opposite of insomnia. This is because when people think about narcolepsy, they think of people who fall asleep suddenly, at any time and in any place.
Sudden sleep attacks are one symptom of narcolepsy, but they aren’t the only one. In fact, many people might be surprised to know that insomnia is another symptom. The same thing that can make a narcoleptic fall asleep in the middle of a conversation can also keep them up at night; that is, they aren’t able to control when they sleep.
Sleep Apnea ; SIDS
Remember Jim? He snores, which drives his wife crazy, and even though he doesn’t have insomnia, he doesn’t feel refreshed when he wakes up. It’s like he hasn’t gotten any sleep, even though he has been in bed for a full nine hours.
Jim has sleep apnea, a condition involving pauses in breathing during sleep that last at least ten seconds. In other words, as he sleeps, Jim stops breathing over and over. That’s scary and can be life threatening!Snoring is a major symptom of sleep apnea, as is feeling unrefreshed after sleep and waking up during the night.
Jim will want to see a doctor, who might prescribe a machine to help him breathe regularly while sleeping.What could cause sleep apnea? Doctors aren’t really sure of the causes, but there are some risk factors. These include having a large tongue, being overweight, having an overbite, smoking or drinking, and being over 40. Jim, for example, is overweight and in his 50s, so he has two risk factors.Another life-threatening disorder that can strike while asleep is sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, which is the leading cause of death in infants aged one month to one year.
As the name implies, doctors don’t know what causes otherwise healthy babies to suddenly die, but it usually happens when the babies are asleep. To prevent SIDS, doctors recommend that babies are always placed on their back to sleep, not on their stomach.
What about Carrie? She wakes up in different parts of her house and sometimes wakes up with bruises and bumps that she didn’t have when she went to sleep.
Parasomnias are sleep disorders that involve unusual movements, behaviors, and emotions that occur during sleep. The word ‘parasomnia’ comes from the Greek word for ‘beyond’ and the Latin word for ‘sleep,’ and that’s just what happens: people with a parasomnia go beyond what is normal during sleep.Carrie, for example, is suffering from sleepwalking, which involves a person walking around while asleep. Carrie and others like her don’t remember anything from the sleepwalking episode when they wake up. Sleepwalking usually occurs early in the night, though some people experience it closer to when they wake up.Contrary to a popular urban legend, it is completely safe to wake a person who is sleepwalking.
They are likely to be confused and disoriented, but it is not dangerous. However, sleepwalking itself could be dangerous, since the sleepwalker can hurt themselves while walking around. Remember that Carrie sometimes wakes up with bruises that she doesn’t remember getting: these are likely a result of walking into things.Sleepwalking isn’t the only parasomnia. Nightmares are a common parasomnia that involve having an unpleasant dream that causes a negative emotional response, like fear or sadness.
Night terrors, which are sometimes compared to or confused with nightmares, are severe emotional reactions during sleep. Often, a person suffering from night terrors screams or thrashes about. ‘Terror’ is the right word: these people are terrified!What’s the difference in nightmares and night terrors? First of all, night terrors generally tend to be more intense, though they both can cause high levels of anxiety and fear. But the biggest difference is in a person’s memory of the event.
Because someone having a nightmare often awakes from REM sleep, they usually remember the nightmare. But most people do not remember night terrors, which usually occur in deeper, non-REM sleep.What should Naomi, Jim, and Carrie do? For all sleep disorders, seeing a doctor or going to a sleep clinic can help a person with diagnosis and treatment.
Sleep disorders involve issues with sleep. Insomnia involves sleep disturbances, while narcolepsy happens when the brain can’t regulate sleep-wake cycles. Both sleep apnea and SIDS can result in death.
Finally, parasomnias involve unusual movements, emotions, and behaviors while sleeping. Examples of parasomnias include sleepwalking, nightmares, and night terrors.
After completing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Define sleep disorders
- Identify insomnia and narcolepsy
- Recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea and SIDS
- Describe parasomnias like sleepwalking or night terrors