Defining Sleep Disorders

Defining Sleep Disorders

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The state of our sleep is becoming an issue of global concern. In 1942, adults were averaging a healthy 8 hours of sleep per night; today, that average has dropped to just 6.8. Studies reveal that sleep disorders are on the rise, with factors like growing obesity rates and nighttime technology use accelerating these trends. Poor sleep quality may ultimately lead to reduced cognitive function, decreased sex drive, heart conditions, mental health issues, weight gain, and more.


If you’re practicing good sleep hygiene and still experiencing frequent sleep disturbances, you may be struggling with a diagnosable sleep disorder. By visiting a doctor and having a sleep study performed, you can determine whether or not you are suffering from a treatable sleep condition. 



If you regularly have trouble falling asleep or sleeping throughout the night, it is likely that you are suffering from insomnia. Seniors, women, and individuals with particular mental and physical health conditions are more likely to struggle with insomnia than others. Up to 20% of the population struggles with short-term insomnia, which may last for up to three months. Chronic insomnia, which affects up to 10% of the population, is diagnosed when a patient experiences sleep disturbances at least three times a week over the course of three months or more.


Individuals who are struggling with insomnia may find that meditation, breathing exercises, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other non-medical techniques help them achieve better sleep. If these techniques are insufficient in treating the condition, over-the-counter drugs or prescribed sleeping pills may be used to reduce symptoms.



Hypersomnia disorders are conditions that involve excessive or dysregulated sleeping.


Narcolepsy, one form of hypersomnia, often causes overwhelming fatigue and difficult-to-manage daytime sleep attacks in one out of every 4,000 individuals. Though these individuals sleep enough each night, their sleep attacks require treatment. Stimulant medications and SSRI antidepressants are most often used to treat this condition.


Many other individuals who sleep for longer durations of time are considered “long sleepers.” These individuals require up to 12 hours of sleep to feel good each day. Treatment generally will not reduce these individuals’ need for more daily rest. 

If you are sleeping for long periods of time each day and are still waking up unrefreshed, it is possible that you are suffering from another condition, such as depression or a thyroid problem. Rare hypersomnia conditions, such as idiopathic hypersomnia and Kleine-Levin syndrome, may need to be ruled out as well. Consult your doctor to determine the cause of your oversleeping.


Circadian Rhythm Conditions

You don’t have to be suffering from jet lag to experience an altered circadian rhythm cycle. Many individuals struggle with sleep-wake phases that are either delayed, advanced, irregular, or shifting. An altered sleep cycle can lead to increased daytime fatigue and difficulties in adhering to a conventional schedule.


A circadian rhythm disorder may or may not have a significant impact on your daily life. Your doctor may present you with different treatment options, such as light therapy, melatonin capsules, cognitive behavioral therapy, a sleep diary, and other sleep hygiene tips as ways to re-regulate your circadian rhythm.



Parasomnias are normal and abnormal nighttime occurrences that may affect the quality of your sleep. Sleep paralysis, for instance, is the normal state of being unable to move the body as one falls asleep or wakes up. Frightening hallucinations, which may accompany sleep paralysis, have the potential to greatly disturb the sleeper. Other types of parasomnia include nightmares and night terrors, sleepwalking, sleeptalking, bedwetting, exploding head syndrome, REM sleep behavior disorder, and more. Though many individuals experience these issues on an infrequent basis, consult your doctor if they are regularly impacting the quality of your sleep. Therapeutic treatments or medications may be available to help you.


Sleep Breathing Conditions

Snoring and sleep apnea are the two most common sleep breathing conditions.


Snoring can occur on its own or as a symptom of sleep apnea. Though snoring is often the result of difficult-to-control factors like age, allergies, and genetics, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your substance use, and sleeping in a different position may reduce or eliminate your snoring.


Sleep apnea, on the other hand, requires more vigilant treatment. This condition is generally diagnosed via a sleep study. Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common type, results from the airway becoming blocked during sleep. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, is caused by errors in the body’s respiration feedback system. The two apneas can also appear together. In addition to losing weight and making other healthy lifestyle changes, a doctor will generally recommend the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Some patients may also be treated with oral appliances or surgery.


Sleep Movement Conditions

Sleep movement disorders include restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, and teeth grinding.


In restless leg syndrome, individuals experience discomforting itching, burning, crawling, or pulsing sensations in the legs while asleep and awake. Symptoms are worse at night and are temporarily relieved by the moving the limbs. The condition, which is frequently genetic, often begins after the age of 40. Iron deficiency, ADHD, and other health conditions and medications have been known to trigger the syndrome. If treating the underlying cause does not resolve the condition, doctors may recommend lifestyle changes as well as symptom-reducing medications.


Periodic limb movement disorder involves the involuntary movement of the limbs during sleep. Patients are often totally unaware of the condition and may only describe insomnia-like symptoms, such as daytime fatigue. A sleep study is generally used to diagnose this condition, which is often treated with medications like anti-Parkinson drugs.

Bruxism, more commonly known as teeth grinding or jaw clenching, affects many sleepers. Fitted dental guards, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, biofeedback, and Botox have been used to help reduce nocturnal jaw clenching and teeth grinding.In Conclusion: Whether you suffer from a sleep disorder or not, it is important to practice good sleep hygiene. Reduce your use of stimulants like nicotine and caffeine in the hours before bedtime. Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption as well. Limit daily naps to 30 minutes or less, and strive to do at least 10 minutes of exercise each day. Avoid using bright electronics in the hour before you go to bed and make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature for sleeping. By practicing good sleep hygiene and visiting a doctor to discuss your concerns, you can improve your ability to get a restful night’s sleep.



Photo: © artinspiring /

Editor, 12.10.2017