Sleeping is a biological process essential for life. Sleeping disorders are conditions that disrupt sleep patterns of humans. Some of them are serious enough to interfere with the physical, social, emotional and mental functioning of those who suffer from them, while others are hardly a nuisance. Here we are discussing the most common sleeping disorders with their causes and treatments.
There are different common sleep disorders that prevent us from having a restful sleep. They affect our daily lives and come with various symptoms quite different from each other. Some of the most common is insomnia, sleep apnea, sleepwalking, narcolepsy or hypersomnia, and cataplexy. Some experts also classify nightmares or bedwetting within this group.
Generally, it is possible to classify sleep disorders into four distinct groups: dyssomnias, parasomnias, sleep disorders of the circadian rhythm, and sleep ailments. However, this classification is not perfect, and there is some debate about what problems belong to each of the groups.
The most common sleeping disorders with their causes and treatments:
Each person needs certain hours of sleep to feel rested, although the norm is between 7 and 9 hours. However, with insomnia, the sufferer has an inability to fall asleep and stay asleep all night. Approximately half of the world’s population is considered to have experienced its symptoms on occasion, and around 10% of the inhabitants of the first world claim to suffer from it chronically.
Causes and treatment
The causes of insomnia vary greatly from person to person. Thus, some individuals may suffer from lack of sleep due to an underlying psychiatric or physical condition such as depression or anxiety; while in other cases, this disease may be due to factors such as stress or the environment. In some cases, it even appears for no apparent reason.
Because of this, the treatments for insomnia vary according to each case. If the lack of sleep is caused by excessive worry, for example, the patient will have to learn techniques to manage stress.
In any case, if insomnia is very serious and chronic, it is possible for a doctor to prescribe pills to help the person fall asleep and maintain sleep while searching for a cause and solution to the problem.
2. Sleep Apnea
It is a common disorder in which the person who suffers from it makes a pause in breathing during sleep. It is usually a chronic disorder due to breathing interruption as it occurs in the REM phase, causing the person not to rest properly.
The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which is due to an obstruction in the airways that prevent air from passing. It has been estimated that 20% of the world population suffers from OSA. The occurrence of the condition is usually more frequent in overweight people.
Causes and treatment
Virtually anyone can develop sleep apnea. However, there are some factors that make this disorder more likely. Among the most important are being overweight, advanced age, or frequent consumption of alcohol or tobacco.
On the other hand, due to genetics, some individuals are more likely to suffer from this sleep disorder. Some of the causes of this type may be having a tongue or tonsils that are larger than usual or an excessively narrow throat.
Depending on the severity of apnea, treatment may consist of simply adopting healthy habits. Generally, in less severe cases, the combination of diet, exercise, and the abandonment of toxic substances such as tobacco or alcohol are able to reduce the symptoms considerably.
In more severe cases, however, the person may have to undergo specialized treatment to improve the quality of their sleep. The most common include the use of masks that inject air under pressure into the airways, surgery, or the use of devices to keep the mouth open at night.
This neurological disease is due to a brain abnormality that alters the neural mechanisms of sleep. It consists of sudden episodes of sleep during waking hours, being able to fall asleep for 2-5 minutes anywhere and waking up feeling clear. It can happen while driving, talking or even while walking. Between 135,000 and 200,000 people in the US are suffering from this syndrome.
Causes and treatment
Although the exact causes of narcolepsy are not known today, several scientific studies have identified some neurotransmitters that appear to be directly associated with this disorder. It has been proven that patients with narcolepsy have lower than normal levels of a substance called hypocretin.
Some research shows that patients with narcolepsy have up to 95% less hypocretin-producing neurons than individuals without this disorder. This neurotransmitter is responsible for maintaining the waking state, so this could be one of the main causes of the onset of the disease.
However, today it is not clear what can cause the loss of hypocretin-producing neurons. There does not appear to be a genetic component in the disease. On the contrary, it is believed that it may have to do with an autoimmune response, the presence of tumors, or some type of head trauma.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for narcolepsy, since the loss of hypocretin cannot be reversed and is considered a condition that will be present for life. However, the use of some drugs, coupled with changes in lifestyle, can help people with this disorder to have a practically normal life.
As for pharmacological treatments, the most common is the prescription of stimulants that help the patient stay awake during the day. Although they have some side effects, the improvement in the quality of life that occurs when using these substances is very significant.
On the other hand, sometimes consultant prescribes other substances such as antidepressants and sleeping pills. When combined, both types of medications help the person to sleep better at night, feel more rested, and avoid feeling extreme fatigue during the day.
Finally, it has been proven that certain lifestyle elements such as exercising regularly and following a normal sleep schedule can help reduce narcolepsy symptoms considerably.
Sleepwalking occurs mostly in (40% of) children. It’s usually due to fatigue or sleep disruption. In adults, it can happen as a result of mental disorders and alcohol, among other things. These people can get up, walk normally, and perform complex actions while sleeping. These episodes are usually very brief (between 5 and 15 minutes). Whenever they regain consciousness or feel awake again, they will go back to sleep; if not, they can continue sleepwalking wherever they go.
Causes and treatment
The causes of sleepwalking are not entirely clear. But the occurrence of these episodes during sleep has been related to factors such as the following:
- Family history of sleepwalking: the suffering of this disorder has an important hereditary component, since about 80% of children who have it have a direct family member who has this problem.
- Immature development of the brain.
- Conditions that alter the continuity of sleep, such as sleep apnea or snoring.
- Lack of sleep or interruption in the usual sleep schedule.
- Fever and taking of some medications: both high fever and the usage of some medications can help the deeper stages of sleep to be even deeper and increase the chances of having a sleepwalking episode.
In addition, in the case of adults, other possible causes of sleepwalking have been noted, such as consumption of alcohol or narcotic substances, stress, fatigue and anxiety, mental disorders, consumption of some medications or drugs such as sedatives, or hypnotics intended for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, conditions such as epilepsy, seizures, restless legs syndrome, etc, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia of Lewy bodies.
In elderly patients, sleepwalking may be a consequence of neurocognitive disorder, in which mental function decreases due to a disease.
There is no treatment for sleepwalking because when this is occasional, it usually resolves itself or disappears, correcting the factor that may be causing its appearance. However, when necessary or indicated by a medical specialist, sleepwalking treatment may include:
- Treatment of the illness or condition that is causing sleepwalking, such as mental disorder or underlying disease.
- Taking short-term tranquilizer medications, which can help reduce sleepwalking episodes.
Nightmares are coherent but terrifying dreams which arouse anxiety and terror until the dreamer gets back to real life. It affects around 80%-90% of people at a point in time. In addition, 1 out of 5 people has frequent nightmares.
Causes and treatment
Nightmares are may occur due to chronic stress, anxiety, trauma, irregular sleep patterns, alcohol consumption/withdrawal, etc. Eating just before bedtime or displeasing experiences in real life also.
Pharmacological treatments have not been very successful in the treatment of nightmares. Studies and research have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy is another method of treatment.
Unfortunately, besides these, people may suffer from other sleep disorders as well. In fact, there are about 100 types of sleeping disorders.
You Can Also Read – What is Insomnia? How can it affect to Your Sleep?
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