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Sleep disorders

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Sleep disorders are a broad range of different conditions that involve the sleeping patterns of an individual. Among the commonly cited examples include insomnia, sleep walking or somnambulism and sleep paralysis. They vary in effects but some are serious enough to affect the physical, mental or emotional well-being of an individual. These problems may affect the ease of difficulty of falling asleep, the quality of sleep, the period of sleepiness experienced, as well as behaviors produced while sleeping. The amount of sleep one needs often affects the extent of sleep disorders and generally, we need less sleep as we grow older. It is not currently known exactly what benefits the body receives from sleeping, but there are serious detriments to health arising from the lack of it, that makes sleeping disorders a real concern for many people.

SLEEP DISORDERS SYMPTOMS

The symptoms of sleeping disorders will vary from one condition to another since sleeping disorders encompass a large number of different disorders and conditions. Common symptoms include difficulty in attaining sleep, waking up tired, nightmares, difficulty sleeping at night or preference to sleep in unusual hours, sleep walking or sleep talking, snoring, mental confusion while awake, and constant tiredness.

Doctors can use a polysomnograph in order to more accurately observe various factors while a patient sleeps. This test records various conditions such as brain activity, rapid eye movement or REM, breathing patterns, heart and pulse rates, as well as muscle tension. These may help doctors see symptoms which the patient cannot observe while sleeping.

Sleep disorders can be classified in many ways. One group of sleep disorders, known as dyssomnias, involves difficulty in sleeping as well as oversleeping. This also involves disorders where sleeping schedules are disrupted. The three major classifications of dyssomnias include intrinsic dyssomnias or those which result from conditions within the body, extrinsic dyssomnias where the disorder arises from external environmental or pathological agents and dyssomnias which involve the circadian rhythm or body clock. Dyssomnias include insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, hypersomnia, and delayed or advanced sleep phase disorders such as jetlag.

Another group of sleep disorders are parasomnias. These disorders involve the abnormal behaviors, movements, emotions and dreams that can occur in various stages of sleep such before sleeping and waking, during sleep and in between sleep stages. These sleep disorders can be further divided into NREM parasomnias and REM parasomnias. NREM parasomnia occurs during the period between wakefulness and NREM sleep while REM parasomnia occurs between wakefulness and REM sleep. NREM parasomnia includes sleepwalking, night terrors, teeth grinding, restless leg syndrome, and confusion. Alcohol, illness or lack of sleep can trigger these sleep disorder as the brain is described as between a state of being awake and asleep. These involve involuntary activations of cognitive processes or motor skills as well as the autonomic nervous system. REM parasomnias on the other hand include REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, where patients act out dreams and perform complex motor skills while asleep and often causing injury to themselves or others. They may start talking or shouting as well. This type of sleep disorder is often associated with neurological disorders and usually occurs during the later half of sleep. Some sufferers surround themselves with pillows or sleep on a mattress on the floor to avoid injury.
Sleep Disorders
Image: Sleep Disorders

SLEEP DISORDERS CAUSES

Some other illnesses and disorders can cause sleep disorders such as alcoholism, depression, psychosis, and mood disorders. Lifestyle changes such as working graveyard shifts can also affect sleeping patterns and the ability to sleep. Muscular pain can also make sleeping difficult and environmental noise can often easily disrupt and prevent sleeping. Drug withdrawal can also cause in the loss of ability to sleep, particularly those who have gone "cold turkey" or stopped abruptly. Hormonal changes due to menopause or the onset of menstruation can also affect sleep. Genetics and aging also play a part in the occurrence of sleep disorders, as 50% of people over 65 years old have some form of sleep disorder. Psychological disorders can also affect the brain and cause sleep disorders.

SLEEP DISORDERS TREATMENT

Treatment for sleep disorders can be categorized as behavioral or psychotherapeutic treatments, disorder management, pharmacological, or other somatic treatments. Doctors often prescribe medication as its effects are often instant and observable, however, not all sleep disorders may easily be treated with drugs and the risk of abuse is always present. Often a mix of the different treatments works best depending on the doctor’s observation of the condition. Some may require external equipment such as mouth guards for teeth grinding or braces for sleep apnea to keep the head from tilting too much. Sometimes proper management is required to be able to live with certain disorders.


Keep a record of your own sleeping habits containing times of sleeping and waking, sleeping hours, food eaten and drugs taken as well as emotions before and after sleeping. This may help your doctor diagnose your sleeping disorder.

Sleeping patterns should be done as close to a regular schedule as possible in order for the body to get used to sleeping on time. When traveling, allot enough time for the body to recover from jetlag and get it used to the new time zone. Make sure that the sleeping area is also conducive for sleeping. Thus, external light and noise and other distractions should be minimized if not eliminated from the sleep area. Room temperature should not be too hot or too cold either. Also, do not dwell on problems before sleeping, as anxiety often keeps the body tense and wakeful. Avoid eating too much before sleeping, as it may develop into an upset stomach, which may keep you from sleeping properly. Caffeine also stimulates the body and is used in many food products to wake us up, however, avoid these types of food and drink before sleeping to avoid disrupting sleep patterns. Exposing yourself to sunlight upon waking up may also help reset the body’s circadian rhythm and may help normalize your sleeping schedule.
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