Sleep disorders refer to individuals’ sleep problems—difficulties associated with sleep cycles that may cause a person to struggle to fall asleep, wake up during the night, wake up early, fall asleep during the day, have severe nightmares, act out his or her dreams, or stop breathing during sleep. Most sleep disorders can be managed with medications or changes to a person’s lifestyle.
Common types of sleep disorders include: delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), insomnia, narcolepsy, night terrors, REM sleep behavior disorder and sleep apnea. Each is described briefly below.
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS): Also called circadian rhythm disorder, DSPS occurs when a person’s internal clock is out of sync with the sleeping patterns of most adults, resulting in the person going to bed and waking up later than others. These individuals typically do not feel tired until 2 a.m. or later, which can be especially problematic if they try to follow normal work of school schedules, and in most cases are not helped by sleep aids. This is a long-term condition most common among adolescents.
- Insomnia: Individuals who have trouble falling or staying asleep, and who wake up too early in the morning, are said to have insomnia. This is a common problem associated with a lack of energy and excessive daytime sleepiness, and over the long term can cause insomniacs to feel tired, depressed or irritable, and have trouble paying attention, learning and remembering. Severe insomnia can also cause neurochemical changes that can lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety.
- Narcolepsy: This sleep disorder occurs when individuals are overwhelmingly tired and spontaneously fall asleep during the day. Narcoleptics can have trouble staying awake for expended periods of time regardless of how much sleep they get. Most patients are diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 25, and the severity of the condition varies.
- Night terrors: Night terrors refer to very scary, very intense nightmares that often cause sufferers to scream and thrash during sleep, though they typically do not remember these night terrors the next morning. Night terrors usually affect children between the ages of four and 12, and most children outgrow them by adolescence. In rare cases, adults may have night terrors, usually in response to extreme stress or anxiety; these episodes can sometimes be controlled by medications.
- REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD): This condition affects patients who do not experience the temporary paralysis most people during REM sleep, causing patients to act of their often-intense and -violent dreams by yelling, punching, kicking and jumping up from bed. This sleep disorder typically occurs in middle age and elderly patients, and is more common in men than women.
- Sleep apnea: This condition occurs when an individual stops breathing for short periods while sleeping; as it often wakes the person up frequently throughout the night, he or she is often drowsy during the day.