Health Guide: Sleep Disorders

It is estimated that close to 20% of the population will experience some type of sleep disorder in their lifetime. The effects of lack of sleep are many and can include depression, anxiety, mood disorders and a lack of overall health and ability to function. Getting good sleep is not, as many would believe, a luxury. It is an essential biological function that, when the body’s needs are not met, can have disastrous results. The following provides information on the most common sleep disorders, as well as treatment information and resources.

General Sleep Tips

Sleeping well is as much about your environment as it is about your state of mind. First, the bedroom should be slightly cooler than it is during the day and comfortable, as research has shown that warmth makes it difficult to sleep. It is also best if the bedroom is quiet and dark, as noises and light can not only make falling asleep difficult, but can also make reaching a deep sleep nearly impossible. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try doing breathing exercises to take your mind off sleeping. If that doesn’t work after 20 minutes, try getting up and engaging in a quiet activity. For many people, the act of trying to fall asleep can become so frustrating that it makes it even harder to fall asleep.

  • Tips for Sleeping Better This article provides several tips on how to get a good night’s sleep and information on why those tips work.
  • 50 Tips for Falling and Staying Asleep This article provides information on the most helpful sleep tips, some of which are relatively unknown.
  • How to Sleep Well This site provides ways to help yourself fall asleep and how to ensure your environment is suitable to staying asleep.

Jet Lag

Jet Lag, also known as desynchronosis, occurs when you leave a time zone and enter another. This change in time disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms, making one excessively sleepy during the day and unable to sleep at night. One of the best ways to combat jet lag is to simply adapt to the time zone of the area you will be travelling to before you leave. However this isn’t possible for many travellers. In this case, the best treatment is to stay outdoors, in sunlight, once you arrive at your destination and eat meals that correspond with the local time. This can help to trick your body into adjusting to the new time zone quickly.

  • Jet Lag Provides information on what jet lag is and how to treat it.
  • Jet Lag Symptoms and Treatments Provides detailed information on how to identify jet lag and how to treat it.
  • Jet Lag Prevention This gives a detailed overview on what can be done to avoid the dreaded effects of jet lag when travelling.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder in which the patient falls asleep at inappropriate times, typically during the day. While most people do not get into REM sleep until at least an hour and a half after they fall asleep, narcoleptics experience REM within ten minutes of falling asleep. This disturbs the body’s normal sleep patter. Treatment for this sleep disorder varies by person, although most patients end up taking some kind of stimulant during the day to keep them from falling asleep unexpectedly.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea occurs when a person temporarily stops breathing several times while sleeping, disrupting the amount of rest they get. Excessive snoring is a common symptom of this disorder, though this is usually coupled with severe daytime sleepiness. Treatment is usually comprised of a CPAP machine, used during sleep that helps to diminish the episodes of pauses in breathing. There are also certain mouth pieces available that can push the jaw into a better position, reducing the blockage of air. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to fix the problem.

  • Sleep Apnea This provides an overview of what sleep apnea is and what causes it.
  • Treating Sleep Apnea Offers a detailed list of the possible treatments for sleep apnea.

Snoring (Somnoplasty)

Snoring is one of the most common sleep disorders. While it is usually only noticed by others, typically a significant other, snoring can be so severe as to wake the person doing it, causing disrupted sleep cycles. It is caused by irregular airflow that causes vibration in the respiratory structures. It is estimated that at least 30% of adults snore, typically due to an obstruction of the nasal passageway or relaxants such as alcohol. Snoring can be treated with dental appliances, pressure on the airways, surgery, certain medications and, in moderate cases, simply by changing the position in which one sleeps.

  • Snoring This provides a definition of snoring, its causes and how it differs from sleep apnea.
  • Snoring Treatments and Drugs This article offers several treatment options that may be discussed with a doctor to treat snoring.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a relatively new sleep disorder. It is characterized by the irresistible urge to move one’s legs while they are at rest, which of course typically occurs at night. This inability to keep still can often make not only falling asleep difficult, but staying asleep nearly impossible. This disorder can usually be treated with a combination of sleep aids and medications that reduce the nerve reaction in the legs or reduce sensation, typically medications made for Parkinson’s disease. In some cases, over the counter antihistamines can be usefully in treating RLS.

  • Restless Leg Syndrome This site provides detailed information on this disorder, including an informative definition.
  • Types of Restless Leg Syndrome This article details the two different types of RLS: primary and secondary.
  • RLS Treatment This site details the different treatment options for RLS including lifestyle changes and medications.

Sleepwalking (Somnambulism)

Sleepwalking, otherwise known as somnambulism, is caused by a low conscious sleep stage that allows for one to perform activities that they would usually do while awake. These can include harmless things such as walking around a house, cleaning or simply sitting up in bed. However, it can also lead to more dangerous actions, such as attempting to drive, responding to nightmares or cooking. Patients often have no memory of these actions, and episodes can last for up to thirty minutes. This disorder can be treated with medications, though safety-proofing the home of a sleepwalker is usually the best option. In the event that a loved one is found sleepwalking, it is typically best to gently ease them back to bed rather than attempt to wake them, as this can cause severe disorientation.

  • Sleepwalking Provides an overview of this disorder and possible treatment options.
  • Sleep Walking In Kids This article provides information on how sleepwalking is common in children and how to treat it.

Bruxism (Tooth-grinding)

While most people grind their teeth at some point in their life, nocturnal bruxism causes the majority of the health issues caused by tooth grinding. This is one of the most common sleep disorders and is classified as a habit rather than a reflex. It can cause tension in the jaw, headaches and significant wearing of the teeth, especially the enamel, which causes dental issues. Treatment varies for this disorder, though it usually involves a depressant medication to relax the muscles and a mouth guard to protect the teeth and jaw.

  • Bruxism Provides information on the causes and treatments for this disorder.
  • Treating Bruxism This article details treatment options for bruxism.

While these sleep disorders are the most common in the medical community, there are several others. If you or someone you love is experiencing excessive fatigue or noticeable problems with falling or staying asleep, it is important to discuss the information with a health care provider.