We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping—and although we take it for granted, sleep is an incredibly important part of our health.
Sleep is critical for brain function and for our immune system. It improves our heart health and makes us less likely to show signs of depression. It improves our athletic performance and even helps us regulate our appetite.
However, when we have chronic sleep issues, those health benefits aren’t quite as powerful. Certain types of sleep disorders can disrupt our normal pattern of rest and even affect our long term health.
But what is a sleep disorder? The American Psychiatric Association categorizes them as issues that disrupt the quality, timing, and duration of sleep, causing further issues during the daytime.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common sleep disorders and how they’re treated.
One of the most well-known sleep disorders, acute insomnia affects about one in four Americans each year, though most will recover without suffering from chronic insomnia. (Chronic insomnia happens at least three nights a week for three months or more.)
This disorder looks different for different people. Some can’t fall asleep and spend upwards of 30 minutes in bed before they are able to. Some wake frequently throughout the night and have trouble falling asleep again.
Treatments include sleeping pills for short-term use, or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI).
2. Sleep Apnea
Snoring seems like a small issue, and it normally is. However, sleep apnea is its more problematic relative. This disorder can have serious effects, including heart problems and even heart failure.
Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing for ten seconds or longer multiple times an hour. The disorder affects your sleep pattern because your brain pulls you out of deeper sleep to ensure you begin breathing and normalize your blood oxygen levels.
Sleepwalking commonly occurs in children and is less common in adolescence and adulthood. It can be provoked by a range of factors, including sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
Sleepwalking is usually harmless and requires no treatment, though you should engage in normal safety precautions like locking doors. A regular sleep schedule may help.
4. Sleep Paralysis
Sufferers of this frightening condition wake in the middle of the night unable to move or speak. Some even hallucinate shadowy figures or feel an oppressive sense of paranoia.
Most people don’t need treatment for sleep paralysis, as treating its underlying causes—such as narcolepsy or mental health problems—is typically enough to improve sleep. However, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants to decrease the frequency of these events.
5. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
A neurological movement disorder, RLS is characterized by the feeling like your legs need to move. This can come across as aches, tingling, or a prickling feeling on your legs. Unfortunately, these symptoms tend to come on when you’re resting or trying to fall asleep, which can affect the quality of your rest.
This sleep disorder treatment depends on the underlying cause, which can be issues like obesity, iron deficiency, or even other movement disorders, so you’ll need to speak to a doctor.
6. Circadian Disorders
When your biological clock isn’t in sync with environmental cues, you grow tired at inappropriate times—and you’re awake when you should be asleep at night. There’s a range of causes for circadian disorders, including jet lag, shift work, blindness, and delayed sleep-wake phase disorder.
This type of disorder will go away on its own with adherence to a regular sleep-wake cycle, though you can also take melatonin to help yourself fall asleep.
7. Sleep Bruxism
You may already know that bruxism is an excessive grinding or clenching of the teeth, but what is sleep bruxism? Just as it sounds, this disorder is teeth grinding in the night. It’s categorized as a sleep-related movement disorder, and it can appear alongside issues like snoring or sleep apnea.
Mild versions of this disorder may not require treatment, but for severe symptoms—including headaches and damaged teeth—you may want to see a dentist, who can recommend a mouth guard or dental correction.
Narcoleptics experience profound sleepiness during the day, often to the point of falling asleep in inappropriate places such as at a desk while working. This makes the disorder potentially dangerous, especially if it’s combined with cataplexy, in which the person physically collapses in times of intense emotion.
9. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
REM sleep is the phase of sleep in which rapid eye movement occurs. During this period, the brain is highly active and muscles are paralyzed to prevent us from acting on dreams.
With RBD, however, this muscle paralysis is nonexistent or incomplete. Someone with RBD may talk, punch or kick, or even jump from bed while sleeping.
Fortunately, a clonazepam prescription improves or eliminates the disorder in 90% of patients.
10. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
Unexplained and intense fatigue that won’t go away even with sleep sounds like a nightmare, but CFS sufferers undergo it every day. This disorder is likened to coming down with a long-term flu, one that makes it hard to even climb out of bed.
Treatments vary, but it helps to treat underlying conditions like depression. In addition, therapy with cognitive training and graded exercise may ease symptoms.
Treating Different Types of Sleep Disorders
As we’ve seen, treating these types of sleep disorders can be a tricky prospect, as treatments depend on the underlying causes and the patient’s symptoms. However, if you find yourself suffering from any condition on this list of sleep disorders, reach out to a doctor for help. They’ll be able to walk you through any schedule alterations or lifestyle changes you need before suggesting further medical treatment as applicable.