Sleep disorders are conditions that prevent a person from getting restful sleep.  As a result, they can cause daytime sleepiness and dysfunction. There are approximately 80 different types of sleep disorders. About 70 million Americans suffer from them. 

Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep and their oxygen drops, sometimes hundreds of times during the night. There are two types of sleep apnea: 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the more common of the two. It is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses during sleep.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is less common.  The airway is not blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center. This type is called central apnea because it is related to the function of the central nervous system. 

Sleep apnea is most often treated by sleeping with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy. This device supplies a low flow volume of pressurized air through a mask worn over the nose and/or mouth. The air pressure splints open the airway while sleeping to stop the tissue from collapsing in the rear of the airway. Sleep apnea is not only a nuisance disorder or just a matter of inadequate sleep.  It also contributes to very real medical conditions due to long term cardiovascular stress and low oxygen that occurs during sleep apnea.

Insomnia

Insomnia is a sleep disorder of difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep. People with insomnia have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty falling asleep
  • waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep
  • waking up too early in the morning
  • having un-refreshing sleep
  • having at least one daytime problem such as fatigue; sleepiness; problems with mood, concentration; accidents at work or while driving

Insomnia varies in how long it lasts and how often it occurs. Insomnia can be short-term (acute insomnia) or can last a long time (chronic insomnia). It can also come and go, with periods of time when a person has no sleep problems. Acute insomnia can last from one night to a few weeks. Insomnia is called chronic when a person has insomnia at least three nights a week for a month or longer. Sleep Apnea can be one cause for insomnia because when you stop breathing you are awakened to breathe again and may find it difficult to fall back asleep.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder caused by the brains inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. The main characteristics of narcolepsy are excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, which is a sudden loss of muscle tone. The disorder is also often associated with sudden bouts of sleep attacks, insomnia, dream-like hallucinations, sleep paralysis, disturbed sleep patterns, leg jerks, nightmares, and also restlessness. Patients with narcolepsy sleep a “normal amount” but cannot control the timing of sleep onset. Narcolepsy patients must be examined and diagnosed by a physician, and can be treated with medication and behavioral therapy.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Also known as periodic leg movements and nocturnal myoclonus. Characterized by periodic episodes of repetitive and highly stereotyped limb movements occurring during sleep. The movements are often associated with a partial arousal or awakening; however, the patient is usually unware of the limb movements or frequent sleep disruption. Between the episodes, the legs are still. There can be marked night-to-night variability in the number of movements or the existence of movements.

Parasomnias

The term "parasomnia" refers to all of the abnormal things that people do in their sleep, apart from sleep apnea and other diagnosed sleep disorders. Some examples are sleep-related eating disorders, sleep walking, night terrors, sleep paralysis, and REM behavior disorder. Parasomnias can have negative effects on people during the daytime, and also contributes to excessive daytime sleepiness. The cause of parasomnias is unknown, but studies have shown that it run in families and is probably a genetic factor in most cases. It is often said that awakening a "parasomniac in action" in an aggressive manner like yelling and shaking them, can sometimes trigger an aggressive or violent response. Therefore, professionals advise that you gently redirect the person back to bed by guiding them and speaking softly. Practicing good sleep hygiene and making behavioral and lifestyle adjustments are often the initial course of treatment.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that cause tingling, pulling, creeping, or painful sensations in the legs at night. This sensation is brought on by resting such as lying down in bed, sitting for prolonged periods such as while driving or at a theater. RLS typically occurs in the evening, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Often, people with RLS want to walk around and shake their legs to help relieve the uncomfortable sensation.