Many of us have experienced difficulty sleeping at one time or another. This is normal and usually temporary, due to stress from outside factors. But if sleep problems are a regular occurrence and interfere with your daily life, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders are more than just sleepiness. They can adversely impact on your quality of life. Your performance at work may suffer from poor concentration, your relations may be affected from irritability and moodiness, and you might feel as though you cannot make it through the day because you have no energy.
Sleep disorders are associated with a higher risk of chronic health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity. There are profound links between disturbed sleep and Atrial Fibrillation, Congenital Long QT Syndrome, impotence, cognitive decline and depression.
“Problems with sleep are very common. They may occur because of poor sleep habits and insufficient time in bed, or as the result of a specific sleep disorder such as snoring, obstructive sleep apnoea or insomnia. Addressing all of these issues is the key to improving the health, safety, productivity and quality of life of affected people.” – The Sleep Health Foundation
Sleep disorders include (but are not limited to) the following conditions:
When asleep, the area at the back of the throat sometimes narrows. The same amount of air passing through this smaller opening can cause the tissues surrounding the opening to vibrate, which in turn can cause the sounds of snoring. The narrower the airway, the louder the snoring becomes. While often regarded as just an annoyance to the sufferer or their bed partner, snoring can cause significant sleep disturbance. Loud snoring causes the sufferer or bed partner to wake frequently and the quality of sleep to be reduced. In itself snoring can be a sleep problem, but it is often an indicator of another, more serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
Snoring is a good indicator of the possibility of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). OSA is characterised by the temporary blocking of the airway during sleep. It occurs when the tongue and other soft tissues in the back of the throat collapse and partially or totally block the airway. This reduces or completely blocks the flow of air through the throat into the lungs. This process is associated with an increase in breathing effort and typically a drop in the body’s blood oxygen levels. This brain reacts by waking or briefly arousing the body to restore muscle tone and breathing starts again. In most cases, the person suffering from OSA is unaware that they are waking up. This pattern can repeat itself hundreds of times over a night, causing fragmented sleep. This leaves the person feeling excessively sleepy during the day.
Individuals with excessive sleepiness suffer from drowsiness and reduced concentration which can lead to changes in mood and personality and overall reduction in quality of life. If left untreated, OSA can have serious medical implications. OSA can contribute to high blood pressure, an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. A number of other symptoms that can be associated with OSA include headaches and dry mouth on awakening, sweating during sleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking frequently during the night to urinate, worsened heartburn and reflux at night, and sexual dysfunction.
Restless Leg Syndrome
People with Restless Leg Syndrome often report a “creeping” or crawling”sensation in the legs, which is relieved with movement. The symptoms are most commonly experienced when the person is lying down and trying to relax. As a result, most people with RLS have difficulty falling and remaining asleep. Left untreated the condition causes exhaustion and daytime fatigue.
Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep
Many people with RLS also have a related sleep disorder call Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep (PLMS). PLMS is characterised by involuntary limb movements during sleep, which occur every 10 to 60 seconds. Some people may experience hundreds of such movements per night, which can wake them and disturb the sleep of both the sufferer and bed partner. People who have PLMS have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep and may experience extreme sleepiness during the day.
Insomnia refers to difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night with difficulty returning to sleep, and/or waking up too early in the morning. Insomnia can be classified as transient (less than one month) or chronic. Chronic insomnia occurs most nights and last a month or more. Some of the wide range of causal factors include poor sleep hygiene, stress, anxiety, depression, sleep-wake schedule problems (i.e. shift work or jet lag), various medical conditions and use of certain medications. Insomnia may cause problems during the day, including tiredness, difficulty concentrating and irritability.
The term parasomnia covers a variety of unusual physiological and behavioural phenomena which can occur during sleep, ranging from unusual movements and behaviours to dreams / nightmares, night terrors, sleep-walking and sleep-talking.
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes excessive sleepiness. People may also experience vivid dreaming at night, feeling paralyzed upon awakening from sleep, and cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness in response to strong emotion).