Sleep disorders are comprised of a group of conditions that affect one’s ability to sleep well on a regular basis. Disruptions in sleeping patterns or habits can negatively impact a person’s health. The human body usually experiences four stages of sleep collectively known as NREM 1, 2, 3 (Non-Rapid Eye Movement cycle 1, 2, and 3) and REM 4 (Rapid Eye Movement cycle 4). During normal sleep, one cycles through the REM and non-REM (NREM) stages numerous times a night. Stage 1 is the lightest stage, while stage 4 is the deepest stage.

When one is repeatedly interrupted and cannot cycle through the sleep stages normally, fatigue and irregular concentration can occur.

Numerous benefits to the body occur when one sleeps well (ex. repair and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system). Sleep disorders are also more prevalent in adults over the age of 65. As we get older, we tend sleep more lightly and get less deep sleep. Aging is also linked to shorter time spans of sleep, although studies have shown that one still need as much sleep when younger.  This is also not to say that younger people do not suffer from sleep disorders. According to researchers in the College of Medicine at University of Ibadan, obstructive sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder that can affect all age groups.

Dangers of Sleep Disorders

Sleep is an important component of our daily routine. Getting enough quality sleep at night, at the right time, is essential for survival just as much as consuming food and water are. From the brain to hormone levels, sleep affects the performance of every organ system in the body. A chronic lack of sleep or getting poor quality sleep can cause the following conditions:

  • Accidents (Sleep deprivation was a factor in some of the biggest disasters in recent times, such as the 1979 Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Meltdown and much more. A lack of sleep has also increased the number of various accidents, injuries, and mishap)
  • Impairment to attention, judgment, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem-solving skills
  • An increase to the risk of medical disorders (e.g. heart attacks, heart failures, irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes)
  • Lowers sex drive
  • Depression
  • Aging of the skin
  • Memory loss & forgetfulness
  • Weight gain
  • Increases risk of mortality
  • Weakens the immune system
  • Worsens respiratory diseases
  • Negativelyn affects the production, secretion, and levels of hormones

Causes of Sleep Disorders

There are many conditions and disorders that may cause sleep disturbances. In many cases, sleep disorders develop as a result of an underlying medical condition or health problem. Possible causes of sleep disorders include:

  • Allergies and respiratory problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Nocturia or frequent urination
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Nightmares, sleep talking, or sleepwalking
  • Traumatic childhood experiences
  • Genetics
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (People who have TBI are disproportionately at risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea, excessive daytime sleepiness, and insomnia)
  • Alcoholism
  • Mood disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Psychosis
  • Sleeing sickness (a parasitic disease which is transmitted from the Tsetse fly)

What are the Symptooms of Sleep Disorders?

Symptoms of sleep disorders varies differs depending on the type of sleep disorder and its severity. Furthermore, the symptoms may also differ when caused by another condition. The general symptoms include:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Strong urge to take naps during the day
  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Lack of concentration
  • Depression

Sleep disorders are broadly classified into six major categories: Insomnias, Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders, Hypersomnias, Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders, Parasomnias, and Sleep-Related Movement Disorders. There are approximately 80 different types of sleep disorders, but the most common types of sleep disorders are insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy. Here are some of the common types of sleep disorders accoridng to the six major classifications:

  • Insomnia Disorder – A chronic difficulty in falling asleep or maintaining sleep when no other cause is found. Symptoms usually happen 3 or 4 times a week to longer than one month. It causes distress to the individual and interferes with their daily life routine. It may also be comorbid with or secondary to other disorders.
  • Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorder – Interferes with the timing of sleep and the body’s sleep-wake cycle
    • Jet Lag
    • Shift Work Sleep Disorder
    • Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder
    • Advanced Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder
    • Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder
    • Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder
  • Hypersomnias – Consists of daytime sleepiness or difficulty to stay awake during the daytime. Those inflicted typically sleep more than 9 hours in a 24-hour period. Nearly half of all adults will have symptoms of a hypersomnia disorder at a point in their lives.
    • Klein-Levin Syndrome
    • Narcolepsy
    • Idiopathic Hypersomnia
    • Insufficient Sleep Syndrome
  • Parasomnias
    • Night Terrors
    • REM Behaviour Disorder (RBD)
    • Sleep Enuresis (a.k.a. bedwetting)
    • Confusional arousals
    • Nocturnal Eating Syndrome
    • Sleep Hyperhidrosis
    • Catathrenia
    • Abnormal Swallowing Syndrome
    • Sleep-related Laryngospasm or Vocal Cord Dysfunction
    • Nocturnal Paroxysmal Dystonia
    • Exploding Head Syndrome
    • Sleep Hallucinations
    • Sleep Paralysis
    • Sleepwalking
    • Somniloquy
    • Hypnagogia
    • Nightmare Disorder
    • NREM Parasomnias
    • REM Parasomnias
    • Sexsomnia
    • Sleep-Related Eating Disorder
  • Sleep-Related Movement Disorder
    • Myoclonus
    • Nocturnal Leg Cramps
    • Restless Leg Syndrome
    • Rhythmic Movement Disorder (RMD)
    • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
    • Sleep Starts/Hypnic Jerks
  • Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders
    • Obstructive Sleep Apnea
    • Central Sleep Apnea
    • Chronic Snoring
    • Sleep-Related Hypoventilation
    • Sleep-Related Hypoxemia

Diagnosis of Sleeping Disorders

Diagnosing a sleep disorder is critical in understanding how to treat and cope with it. The following forms of diagnosis detect the underlying reasons of the onset of a sleep disorder:

  1. Physical Exam – If you suspect that you have a sleep disorder, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Your doctor can perform a physical exam and help you identify the difficulties you have with sleeping.
  2. Sleep Diary – Keeping a sleep diary or log for two weeks may be helpful to your doctor.
  3. Blood Testing – Sleep disorders may arise from illness or underlying medical/health conditions, so your doctor may order for blood work and tests to rule out other conditions.
  4. PSG/Sleep Study – Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist or sleep disorder clinic if you are suspected to have a sleeping disorder. A sleep specialist will review your symptoms and may suggest that you undergo a sleep study or polysomnogram (PSG). PSG is a multi-component test that electronically transmits and records specific physical activities while you sleep.
  5. EEG – EEG testing is employed in the diagnosis of brain disorders and medical investigations of seizures, tumors, strokes, and dementia. EEG gives an indication of electrical activity inside the brain.
  6. Actigraphy – A procedure in which a small instrument (the actigraph) is worn on the wrist or ankle,
    Actigraphy is frequently used to diagnose DSPS. The data captured/recorded on the actigraph is later analyzed to assess the sleep-wake cycle.
  7. Other examinations include: Multiple latency tests; Stanford sleepiness scale; Epworth sleepiness scale; Fatigue Severity Scale; Insomnia Impact Scale; Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index; Psychiatric Tests

Treatment for Sleeping Disorders

Treatment for sleep disorders is administered depending on the type of underlying cause. Such interventions usually consist of a combination of medical treatments and lifestyle changes. Treatments for sleep disorders generally can be grouped into four categories:

  • Behavioral and Psychotherapeutic Treatment
  • Rehabilitation and Management
  • Medication
  • Other somatic treatments