Sleep disorders are medical problems with sleep patterns. Some are serious enough to interfere with normal physical, emotional and mental functioning. Sleep disorders can be caused by a variety of problems such as teeth grinding to night terrors. If there are no known causes for the sleep disorder it is often referred to as insomnia.
Types of Sleep Disorders
There are several types of sleeping disorders including dyssomnias which is a broad category characterized by insomnia or hypersomnolence with examples of narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, sleep disordered breathing, hypersomnia, and circadian rhythm sleep disorders.
Parasomnias include abnormal movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions and dreams including sleepwalking, tooth-grinding, sleep talking, bedwetting, sleep sex and exploding head syndrome. Medical or psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, mood disorders panic, alcoholism.
Sleeping sickness is another type of sleeping disorder.
Symptoms of Sleep Disorders
The most obvious sign of a sleep disorder is day time fatigue. Difficulty falling asleep, or waking during the night, sleep feeling light, fragmented or unrefreshing, or the need to take supplements to get to sleep may be signs of insomnia.
Sleep apnea has symptoms such as frequent pauses breathing during sleep, snorting or choking during sleep, chest pains, headaches or nasal congestion. Intense dreams, feeling of paralysis, seeing or hearing things when drowsy may be signs of narcolepsy.
Diagnosing Sleep Disorders
Often a number of tests are carried out to diagnose someone with sleep disorders. These are a sleep diary to track sleep patterns, a questionnaire to assess daytime sleepiness, a test measuring brain and muscle activity including breathing during sleep, actigraphy which is a test to assess sleep-wake patterns, and a mental health exam may be necessary as sleep disorders may be a symptom of depression, or anxiety.
Treatment of Sleep Disorders
Sometimes treatment can be as simple as getting into a good routine, a regular bedtime and getting up at the same time, be it a weekend or a weekday. Avoid napping, stressful activities and vigorous exercise before bed, try relaxation techniques, make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. Get up if you can’t sleep, go to a different room, avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bed. Sleep apnea may be a case of losing weight , and snoring may be solved by laying on one side. For narcolepsy it may be the case that naps should be taken, or stimulants may be prescribed, antidepressants may be used to treat cataplexy, or feelings of paralysis upon waking. Restless leg syndrome could be treated by cutting out caffeine, having a warm bath or relaxation exercise before bed.
Sleep disorders are caused by a number of different reasons and can have several very different effects on a night sleep. Understanding what is causing restless sleep will then enable a proper treatment plan. Having a healthy diet, and ensuring caffeine filled drinks or alcohol are avoided before bed should help remove many complications in sleeping, and ensuring a proper environment is important. Some medications are available but they are more for treating the underlying cause as opposed to the sleep disorder.
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