Anyone who has experienced difficulty sleeping at night knows that it is a frustrating struggle. A lack of rest can also have detrimental effects on your mood, brain function and overall health. Yet it is a common problem.
An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by sleep disorders. Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with a greater risk for heart attack and stroke, diabetes, obesity, memory loss, depression and more.
What Are the Most Common Sleep Disorders?
There are many different types of sleep disorders recognized by experts in the field of sleep study.
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
- Sleep Paralysis
- Restless Legs Syndrome
- Circadian Rhythm Disorders
- Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
This is the most common sleep disorder. Insomnia involves difficulty falling and remaining asleep. People with insomnia also often have trouble getting up in the morning, daytime fatigue and other symptoms of sleep deprivation. Some people experience temporary insomnia for a short period, but it can also be a chronic disorder.
Insomnia is often related to other mental or physical conditions. Successful treatment for this disorder includes cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) and prescription sleeping medication.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This sleep disorder is often associated with loud snoring. Sleep apnea is potentially dangerous though. Those who suffer from OSA experience short, yet continual periods during which they stop breathing. While they are asleep, muscles in the mouth and throat relax, allowing soft tissues to constrict the airway. The body and brain are consequently deprived of oxygen for 10 seconds or more. The brain sends a signal to the rest of the body, shocking it awake enough to free the airway and start breathing again.
Many people with sleep apnea do not remember snoring loudly or waking up throughout the night. However, they do feel unrested and fatigued during the day because of the constant interruptions in their nightly sleep patterns. If sleep apnea goes untreated, it can lead to hypertension, heart problems, stroke or sudden death.
Find out How to Know If You Have Sleep Apnea.
The cause of this sleep disorder is ineffective neurological control of sleep and alertness. The most common symptoms of narcolepsy include tiredness, sleep paralysis, cataplexy and sensorial hallucinations. People with narcolepsy may fall asleep at inappropriate times or lose control of their muscles in response to strong emotions. They also may feel unable to move their body when transitioning between wakefulness and sleep.
The onset of narcolepsy is typically between the late teenage years and early 20s. Sleep testing is needed to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment often includes medication.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
For people who struggle with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, dreaming is also a physical activity. They do not experience paralysis during REM sleep, but act out intense or violent dreams. Instead of resting while asleep, people with RBD move their arms and legs, get up from bed and even do things they would normally do while awake. This may include talking, walking, yelling, hitting and kicking. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder becomes alarming when the sleeping person engages in dangerous behavior or acts out violence. This sleep disorder can be dangerous. Some people affected by RBD have reported injuring themselves or others while asleep.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is often confused with other parasomnias. For that reason, diagnosing this disorder requires overnight sleep evaluation at a certified clinic. Successful treatment may involve medication prescribed by a specialized doctor.
Parasomnia is an umbrella term for unconscious behaviors, including sleep terrors, sleepwalking as well as eating or sexual activity while asleep. Parasomnias are regularly connected to other medical and sleep conditions. Treatment may require medication or safety measures to help control overnight behaviors.
Some people experience temporary paralysis when falling asleep or waking up. Sleep paralysis is a common yet frightening disorder. The symptoms of sleep paralysis can ease with a variety of treatment options.
Restless Legs Syndrome
RLS is a sleep disorder that is described as a strong, irresistible urge to move the legs while sleeping. It can feel like aching, muscle tension, tingling or crawling along the legs and feet. This discomfort eases when the person moves, stretches or rubs their legs. Restless Legs Syndrome makes it difficult to fall asleep or sleep through the night.
RLS can be brought on by long periods of inactivity, iron deficiency or obesity. It is also a common side effect of pregnancy. Restless Legs Syndrome often causes tiredness, irritability and concentration problems. Effective treatment may include iron supplements or medication.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders
This group of sleep disorders occurs when someone’s sleep cycle is unregulated. Circadian rhythm disorders are more common among people who are blind, work shifts, works in the dark or regularly affected by jet lag. Regularly practicing good sleep hygiene can help address this type of sleep problem. Treatment may include melatonin supplements.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)
This movement disorder is described as continual jerking limbs or cramping in the legs during sleep. It is often mistaken for restless leg syndrome, but is different in that movements tend to be repetitive or rhythmic. PLMD can be disruptive cause people to feel tired and unrested.
How Are Sleep Disorders Diagnosed?
The first step to successful sleep disorder diagnosis and treatment is talking with your doctor. Tell your primary physician about the difficulty you are experiencing at night and during the day. The next step may likely be clinical or in-home sleep testing.