It’s common for most people to occasionally experience poor-quality sleep, but there may be a problem if it’s consistent. If you still feel tired when you get out of bed in the morning, have trouble staying awake during the day or are regularly fatigued, you may be struggling with a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders are a serious health concern that should be addressed with a qualified healthcare provider.
Here we’ll list the most common sleep disorders, their symptoms, causes and possible treatments. We encourage you to consult your physician if you or someone you care about experiences these symptoms. Better sleep and better health are possible if these sleep disorders are properly treated.
Bruxism, more commonly known as teeth grinding, can be caused by high levels of stress or anxiety. Symptoms of bruxism include headaches and a sore jaw upon waking in the morning. For many people with bruxism, the solution is to visit the dentist to be fitted with a special mouth guard to wear while sleeping.
The most common sleep disorder, insomnia, typically consists of a difficulty falling and staying asleep. People with insomnia might wake in the middle of the night and have trouble falling asleep again, or they may wake earlier than expected and be unable to return to sleep. This sleep disorder has many possible causes including anxiety, depression, stress, drug or alcohol abuse, as well as certain medications. Treatments for this sleep disorder typically include medication and behavioral therapy, often using some combination of the two.
Symptoms of insomnia can include:
- Accidents at work or while driving
- Decreased quality of life
- Decreased work or school performance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- General lack of energy
- Mood disturbances
- Relationship problems
- Sleep that doesn’t feel refreshing
While most people may occasionally experience insomnia, it becomes a sleep disorder when it occurs chronically. Health care professionals consider insomnia to be chronic when it occurs over a 3-month period.
Narcolepsy is a neurological condition in which the body poorly distinguishes between sleep and wakefulness. It causes patients to fall into a state between full wakefulness and sleep as they go about their daily activities. They may fall asleep suddenly, even in mentally stimulating situations.
Some narcolepsy patients also have cataplexy, a condition that causes fainting-like episodes in response to strong emotions. Hallucinations and difficulty maintaining a nightly sleeping schedule are also common with narcolepsy.
The cause of narcolepsy is thought to be unusual activity in the part of the brain responsible for regulating REM sleep. Narcolepsy patients typically must be treated with medication.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
This disorder occurs when the part of the brain that keeps us immobile while sleeping fails to function. People with REM sleep behavior disorder may show a wide range of behavior during periods of REM sleep, which can include acting out movements while lying down or even jumping out of bed. Scientists are still investigating why this relatively rare condition happens to some people. REM sleep behavior disorder is usually treated with medication.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
RLS is characterized by the irresistible urge to move limbs. Despite the name, it doesn’t only involve the legs. People with RLS usually feel an uncontrollable urge to move their limbs whenever their bodies are in a relaxed state, such as in the evenings as they begin to feel sleepy, causing them to move and kick hundreds of times each night. Women are more likely than men to have RLS.
Possible causes of RLS can include pregnancy, certain medications or it can be hereditary. Caffeine and alcohol use may potentially affect the symptoms. The symptoms may be alleviated with regular exercise and, if applicable, reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption. In some cases, a healthcare provider can prescribe medication.
Sleep apnea causes the throat to close during sleep, which can stop breathing several times throughout the night. This condition ranges from mild to severe. Patients may experience daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, frequent fatigue or even depression, while the rest of the household may experience the loud snoring associated with sleep apnea. This sleep disorder is typically treated with regular use of a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP), which continuously pushes air down the airway and into the lungs.
Factors that can make someone susceptible to sleep apnea include:
- Age: Older people are more likely to develop sleep apnea as throat muscles weaken with age
- Weight: Those that are overweight are more likely to develop sleep apnea than those at a healthy weight
- Large tonsils/adenoids
- Frequent alcohol use
- Natural Causes: Sleep apnea may run in families and is associated with physical traits such as a narrow throat or an enlarged tongue.
Unlike nightmares – unpleasant dreams that typically have some sort of narrative content – sleep terrors are the experience of terror and immediate danger that appears to happen separately from dreams. During sleep, a person experiencing a sleep terror may scream and make sudden, violent movements. Upon waking, the person can be confused, disoriented, agitated or fearful, and may be difficult to comfort. Illness, sleep deprivation, post-traumatic stress disorder and some medications can lead to sleep terrors.
This disorder is far more common in children than in adults. Mild cases can be treated by creating a quiet sleep environment; more severe cases may be treated using medication. Children who have sleep terrors generally outgrow them.
As the name states, sleepwalking is simply walking while asleep. Difficulty waking in the morning and daytime sleepiness are typically some of the only symptoms of sleepwalking. This sleep disorder can be brought on by a variety of causes, such as fever, illness, certain medications and poor quality sleep.
Treatments for sleepwalking are usually behavioral. A health care provider may recommend maintaining a regular sleep schedule, creating a quiet sleep environment and reducing the amount of liquid consumed near bedtime. Sleepwalking is more common in children than in adults and usually goes away naturally, possibly due to changes brought on by normal brain development.
Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can be detrimental to our health if left untreated. If you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder, we recommend you speak to your primary care physician first. They can not only identify any sleep disorders, but can also identify the causes and best course of action to help you achieve better, healthy sleep.