To maintain optimum health and keep your body running efficiently, science has repeatedly proven that humans need an average of eight hours of sleep each night.
Unfortunately, few people actually accomplish this feat.
The median amount of sleep has continued to dwindle over the years…
In America and Japan, the average person clocks in less than six hours of sleep each night.
Other developed countries are not far behind with the English and Germans averaging only seven hours.
Among the population in developing countries in India and Asia, sleep problems are quickly becoming an issue as well.
An hour or two less than the recommended time might not seem like a huge loss of sleep but over time it adds up and can create serious problems, the very least of which is grumpiness.
Sleep problems can lead to a myriad of health issues such as diabetes, stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure.
A lack of sleep can also make a person gain weight or become depressed and sleep problems can interfere with your sex drive and memory.
Long term lack of sleep can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and march you into an early grave.
We can generally associate our sleep problems with our lifestyles – we are busy working, raising families, spending time with friends and family, enjoying hobbies and staying up to date with the latest TV shows and movies…
There is just not enough time in the day to fill our lives with everything we want and need to do. This leads to many people sacrificing a little shut-eye in order to accommodate more of their to-do list.
However, not all of our problems with getting enough sleep can be attributed to our lifestyles. A lot of the sleep problems faced by people today can be directly linked to a variety of sleep disorders. According to the Center for Sleep Sciences at Stanford University, there are over 90 sleep disorders that can be diagnosed.
In this article, we will be discussing some of these sleep problems and what the disorders entail.
There are several sleep disorders that cause the body to move around a lot during sleep, or don’t allow the body to fall asleep because of movement.
Restless Leg Syndrome
One of the most common sleep disorders is Restless Leg Syndrome. RLS can cause a person to feel an uncontrollable urge to move their legs around while trying to fall asleep. This sleep problem is not an issue with the legs themselves but rather a neurological problem.
RLS can plague a person all day long, making long car rides or air travel hard. It makes working long hours in an office an uphill struggle.
RLS causes most problems at night when someone who suffers from it is trying to fall asleep.
Everyone who suffers from RLS will have a different experience with symptoms and problems. It has been described as feeling like bugs are crawling through your legs, an insatiable itch or like you can feel the blood flowing through your legs.
Because of these sensations, it can be almost impossible to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. This, of course, results in the person suffering from RLS getting less sleep than they need.
Bruxism is another problem that can occur throughout the day, but nocturnal bruxism is a sleep problem that occurs at night.
To simplify, nocturnal bruxism is basically the grinding of the teeth while asleep. It is an issue that affects almost 10% of adults and up to 17% of young children.
While sleeping, a person who suffers with bruxism will clench their jaw and grind their teeth. The clenching of the jaw can make it uncomfortable to sleep and hard to reach REM sleep. Sometimes, the sound produced by the grinding of the teeth will be loud enough to wake the person, resulting in loss of sleep.
This sleep disorder can also lead to jaw pain, headaches, earaches and broken or damaged teeth.
There are a variety of breathing disorders that can occur during sleep.
It goes without saying that while the loss of sleep from these disorders is no fun, it is very frightening to know that there are sleep problems caused by disordered breathing.
These breathing sleep disorders range from mild to severe but all should be checked by a doctor.
The most mild of breathing sleep disorders is snoring.
Snoring may not cause a significant loss of sleep for the person snoring but it can greatly affect the sleep habits of the snorer’s bed mate.
At times, a person can snore loud enough to startle themselves awake. While slightly amusing and undeniably annoying, snoring isn’t necessarily a problem in itself.
Severe snoring, however, can be a sign of a more serious problem such as one of the forms of sleep apnea.
There are multiple forms of sleep apnea and we will explain the sleep problems here. All of them cause sleep disturbances at night resulting in sleepiness and poor performance the following day.
Sleep apnea is the result of something causing your body to stop breathing intermittently while you are sleeping.
When we sleep, the tissues in our airways relax. In a person who suffers with obstructive sleep apnea, these tissues can cause a blockage in the airway and disturb breathing. When breathing is restricted, the levels of oxygen significantly drop and the person awakens for a brief moment allowing them to breathe again.
There are different severities of OSA depending on the number of episodes that occur each night. If breathing is obstructed 5-14 times in a hour, the severity is deemed mild. Obstruction 15-30 times in a hour is deemed as a moderate level of OSA. More than 30 breathing obstructions in a hour is deemed as a severe OSA disorder.
This form of sleep apnea causes sleep problems for nearly 10% of the population of the United States alone.
Another form of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea. While less common than obstructive sleep apnea, CSA still affects many people and causes sleep problems for them.
When a person suffers from CSA, they stop breathing for periods of time while they are sleeping, just as in OSA. The difference with CSA is that the person stops breathing because their brain neglects to send the proper messages through to the body to continue breathing.
People can also suffer from a mix of obstructive and central sleep apneas.
There are many things that indicate a person’s susceptibility to suffering from sleep apnea. Some of these factors include being male, being overweight, having a large neck or having a family member who suffers from sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is obviously dangerous as it makes a person stop breathing but it can also cause myriad other health problems that stem from this sleep disorder…
The constant cycle of being startled awake as you sleep can lead to exhaustion throughout the day. When you are plagued by bouts of oxygen depletion throughout your sleep cycle, the levels of oxygen circulating in your blood can become dangerously low.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders
There are several sleep disorders that stem from disruptions in your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is like an internal clock that governs many biological processes, including sleep schedules. There are several things that can knock this clock out of time and lead to sleep problems.
Shift Work Disorder
While working odd shifts may not seem like something that can alter the body’s physiology, science has shown otherwise. When a person works a shift that is out of sync with a normal waking schedule, their circadian rhythm is knocked out of place.
The human body has been programmed to operate best when the sun is up, and rest when the sun is down. Unfortunately, many people must work jobs that operate in the opposite way to the body’s natural rhythms. When a person needs to sleep during the daytime so that they are able to work overnight, their internal clock is disrupted resulting in this sleep disorder.
This isn’t to say that everyone who must work odd shifts will have sleep problems stemming from their circadian rhythm interruptions. Some people do just fine.
Irregular Sleep Rhythm
Most people are able to sleep in a traditional schedule, even if they are getting far less than the recommended amount of shut eye.
However, others suffer from a sleep disorder that causes their circadian rhythm to become completely jumbled.
People who suffer from this sleep problem are unable to sleep for long periods of time. Instead, their daily sleep is broken up into bits throughout the day. Because of this, they are often very sleepy throughout the day and seemingly wide awake at night.
Other Circadian Rhythm Disorders
There are a few other sleep disorders that fall into the circadian rhythm category.
Jet lag is one. While not a disorder in the truest sense of the word, jet lag is still caused by a shift in the body’s internal clock against external circumstances.
The phases of delayed sleep-wake and advanced sleep-wake are two other sleep disorders that are related to disruptions in the circadian rhythm.
In DSP, people do not have the ability to fall asleep at a normal time. Instead they fall asleep much later at night which leads to them being exceptionally tired throughout the day. This can result in issues at school or work as they will be unable to properly focus.
In ASP, people are unable to stay awake for long in the evening. They fall asleep a few hours earlier than everyone else which leads to them waking quite early as well. People with this disorder may miss out on many social events as they are unable to stay awake during the evening.
The sleep disorders in this category are characterized by people who suffer from disproportionate exhaustion. Some of the sleep problems in this area can be quite dangerous as they sometimes cause the sufferer to fall asleep unexpectedly.
Children’s cartoons have long shown narcolepsy at a comedic disorder when it is anything but funny. People who suffer from narcolepsy often live in fear, not knowing when they will next fall asleep. Will it be while they are speaking to a group? When they are walking their dog? Driving down the interstate?
People who live with narcolepsy are in a perpetual state of sleepiness and they can fall asleep at random moments with no way of preventing it.
Scientists are still at a loss when trying to determine the cause of narcolepsy and the people who suffer from it live difficult lives.
People who suffer from idiopathic hypersomnia tend to always feel tired, even though they likely get more than enough sleep at night.
Idiopathic hypersomnia can make it almost impossible to wake up in the mornings and sufferers tend to feel groggy for several hours and sometimes all day long.
Insufficient Sleep Syndrome
This sleep disorder is also known as sleep deprivation. When a person is forced to or chooses not to sleep for long periods of time, depriving their body of sleep, the result is this sleep problem.
It may not be intentional but circumstances dictate that a person must neglect sleep in order to do other things. Over time, that lack of sleep catches up to the person in the form of insufficient sleep syndrome and can cause many problems.
The number one sleep disorder that people suffer from is insomnia. Insomnia occurs when a person has problems falling asleep, staying asleep overnight, and trouble waking up in the morning.
People who suffer from insomnia have found that the sleep disorder causes problems in every area of their lives. Living with insomnia can cause issues with work, school, relationships, and general well being.
Not everyone who has the occasional bad night of sleep is suffering from full blown insomnia. We all have a bad night of sleep every now and then.
If a person has bouts of insomnia for a few months, they are said to be suffering from short term insomnia. This will generally go away on its own and is heavily influenced by external factors. When the situation changes, so might the sleep problems.
Should the insomnia problems persist for longer than six months, the diagnosis is likely going to be chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia can fall into two categories as well. Primary insomnia stands alone with no other problems associated with it. Secondary insomnia is linked to other health or mental disorders.
Signs Of A Problem
Some symptoms stemming from sleep disorders may include:
- Still feeling tired even after a full night of sleep
- Snoring (especially if a bedmate says that you stop breathing occasionally)
- Lack of focus or concentration
- Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep (lasting for more than a few weeks)
- Inability to get through the day without a nap
- Nodding off while driving or working
- Feeling depressed, anxious, or irritable
What To Do
Even if you are not currently suffering from a sleep disorder, you should always try to be aware of the amount and quality of sleep you are getting. Everyone deserves a good night’s rest and our bodies need it.
So many of our bodily functions are dependent upon our internal clocks running smoothly and that can only happen if we get proper sleep. Sleep disorders are not something that should be ignored. If you think you may be suffering from any sleep problems, reach out to your doctor for help.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of a variety of common sleep disorders.
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