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Different Types of Sleep Disorders and the Risks of Going Untreated

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Medical Assistant Graduate

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Jamie Troccoli
Vocational Nursing graduate

The importance of getting enough quality sleep cannot be understated. Everyone should focus on improving the ability to sleep soundly for a healthy amount of time every day. However, those with a sleep disorder may find that this task is much easier said than done.

An estimated one in three adults doesn't get enough sleep (1). Although many of these individuals may attribute their lack of sufficient sleep to lifestyle decisions or stress, approximately 50 to 70 million adults in the United States suffer from sleeping disorders (2). While ranging in severity, the factors that impede sleep all share a similar trait: they rob people from experiencing a decent night's sleep.

What Is a Sleeping Disorder?

A sleeping disorder is any physical or mental condition that specifically prevents a person from sleeping. Sleep disorders result from stress, health problems, mental illness, and genetic factors. More than 80 different sleeping disorders exist (3). This high number can make it somewhat difficult to pin down which one a person might have. Visiting a doctor or undergoing a sleep study can pinpoint which disorder a person is suffering from and what an individual may need to do to reverse or lessen its effects.

What Happens When I Don't Get Enough Sleep?

Sleep disorders carry many risks. The most common ailment is fatigue while they're awake. Daytime fatigue is often due to not getting a healthy amount of sleep, for example, seven to nine hours per day for healthy adults (4). Lack of sleep and sleeping disorders overall can lead to more severe problems in the future.

Other problems that may arise from lack of sleep include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Higher risk for diabetes.
  • Higher risk for cancer.
  • Compromised heart health.
  • Lower sex drive.
  • Significant cognition issues.
  • Weaker immune system.
  • Weight gain.

Many people experience occasional problems sleeping. But when these problems become a recurring issue that causes a decline in your quality of life, you should either visit a sleep professional or develop healthy sleep-friendly habits if applicable.

Different Types of Sleeping Disorders

Different types of sleeping disorders affect people, and everyone's experience is unique. Explore several of the most common sleep disorders that you or someone you know may experience:

Insomnia

Insomnia is one of the most common sleeping disorders. This sleep disorder prevents you from sleeping altogether or makes it difficult for you to stay asleep. Insomniacs experience this sleep disorder in varying degrees of severity. Many people have mild insomnia cases that last for a shorter period or occasionally. Those with chronic insomnia may experience the symptoms multiple nights a week for many weeks or months.

Many factors can cause insomnia. Health conditions such as asthma, heartburn, or depression are known to increase insomnia risk. Medications and substance use are other factors that cause secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia differs from primary insomnia in that it results from a separate issue. Primary insomnia can result from factors that directly cause the disorder, such as outside stimulants, jet lag, and stress.

Narcolepsy

On the other end of the spectrum, narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes you to sleep or be severely drowsy at undesirable times. Narcoleptic episodes can happen at any waking moment for those who suffer from it. This condition may also cause a person to experience sleep paralysis, hallucinations, or other sleeping disorders.

Unfortunately, chronic narcolepsy has unknown causes, and there is no cure for it. However, medication can make narcolepsy's effects more manageable.

Parasomnia

Parasomnias include sleeping disorders that involve irregular physical behaviors during sleep. Parasomnias can consist of anything from sleepwalking to grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw. The course of action to remedy the situation depends on the type of parasomnia. Sometimes sufferers can use home remedies or develop counteractive habits. One example is avoiding drinking during the hours before sleeping to prevent bedwetting. Other problems may require the help of a doctor or somnologist to address them properly.

A professional should diagnose any parasomnia that causes pain, extreme fatigue during the day, or potential harm to oneself or others.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome can affect your sleep by causing you to move your legs uncontrollably. While this syndrome isn't classified as a sleeping disorder, since it impacts life awake, it often causes sufferers to lose their sleep quality. RLS can cause your legs to twitch after you lay down to sleep, which can keep you from falling asleep or wake you up from sleep.

The cause of RLS is still unknown. RLS sometimes runs in families and appears during pregnancy. However, correlation does not always mean causation. The likelihood of developing RLS increases with age.

Those who want to lessen their RLS symptoms might benefit from studying their health habits. One can decrease RLS symptoms by cutting out caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Some medications worsen the effects of RLS, so be sure to consult your doctor about your concerns. Some people diagnosed with severe RLS can benefit from a physical therapist or a doctor-prescribed medication treatment plan.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

A person suffering from REM sleep behavior disorder can physically act out dreams during sleep. REM sleep behavior disorder sometimes results in speaking, shouting, or screaming. Often, this sleep disorder involves moving limbs during sleep. The effects of this sleeping disorder can prove dangerous for the individual and anyone sharing the bed.

If you have an REM sleep behavior disorder that becomes severe, you should consult with your doctor and discuss your symptoms. If you or someone sharing your home is worried that your REM sleep behavior disorder might cause an injury, consult a medical professional. Many doctors can treat this sleep disorder with medication.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that affects breathing while sleeping. Several types of sleep apnea exist, but they all cause irregularities in breathing during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most prevalent type. This type causes your throat to relax during sleep and obstruct your air passageways. The other primary type of apnea is called central sleep apnea, and it involves a person's brain failing to control the muscles needed for proper breathing. Sometimes these two types happen simultaneously.

An individual might notice the following sleep apnea symptoms:

  • Headaches in the morning.
  • Dry mouth in the morning.
  • Loud snoring.
  • Frequently waking up.
  • Being excessively tired during the day.

Other symptoms may include gasping for air while asleep or taking prolonged stretches between breaths. The easiest way to tell if someone has sleep apnea is whether the individual snores loudly. However, sleep apnea does not always cause snoring. Look for signs of fatigue and sleepiness throughout the day.

Those experiencing these symptoms should meet with their doctor to discuss testing for sleep apnea. A doctor may require a person with obstructive sleep apnea to undergo CPAP therapy. Patients might be issued a dental or oral device to prevent or lessen the effects of obstructive sleep apnea. If these less-invasive therapies and methods don't show results, a doctor may suggest surgery for people with difficult sleep apnea cases.

Snoring

Not all snoring is a sign of sleep apnea. Air vibrating the tissues in the throat causes snoring. Many people experience some level of snoring in their lives, but sometimes snoring can become a chronic issue. Heavy snoring can be disruptive to your sleep, leaving you not feeling as well-rested as you want to be in the morning.

Although extreme snoring commonly connects with obstructive sleep apnea, other factors that can cause heavy snoring include the following:

  • Alcohol consumption before falling asleep.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Sleeping on your back.
  • Being overweight.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Throat anatomy.

If you notice increased fatigue throughout the day or difficulty concentrating, you may want to visit your doctor to ensure your snoring isn't a sign of a larger problem, such as sleep apnea.

What Are Sleep Studies?

A polysomnography session, also known as a sleep study, is used to help diagnose sleeping disorders. A medical professional trained to treat sleep disorders can use the data gathered from a sleep study to prescribe medication or a course of treatment to help lessen the severity of a sleep disorder or reverse it entirely.

A sleep technician will measure a patient's oxygen levels, brain waves, heart rate, and breathing rate during a sleep study. This test is often conducted overnight at a hospital, a sleep center, or one's home.

The ultimate goal of a sleep test is to teach you how to sleep better or recognize and take away the factors causing you to lose sleep. It's a noninvasive study that may prove valuable to those who don't know what is causing them to lose sleep or experience symptoms that point to lack of sleep.

How to Sleep Better

Although you can take several steps to increase your sleep quality, if you're experiencing signs of a more significant health issue affecting your sleep, you should visit your doctor.

Discover the following tips to help teach your body how to sleep better.

Shut Off Your Devices

If you're in the habit of looking at your phone for some time before you go to sleep, you may be able to sleep better if you reduce your nighttime screen time. Your phone emits blue light, which can interfere with your circadian rhythm. Natural sunlight also contains blue light, which our brains use as a sign that you should be active. Set a bedtime turnoff for your phone an hour or two before you go to bed. You can also purchase special glasses that block blue light.

Avoid After-Dark Caffeine

Carbonated beverages, coffee, tea, and chocolate -- many products contain caffeine. Caffeine gives your body energy, which is not ideal if you're planning to fall asleep. Try to cut out caffeinated products six hours before you go to bed at night to give your body time to cycle through the caffeine you've introduced into it.

Stop Napping

A short, strategic nap can be a powerful tool you can use to stay energized and refreshed throughout the day. But if you're taking naps that last too long or occur too late in the day, you can disrupt your body's internal clock.

Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule

If you're in the habit of falling asleep and waking up at different times, consider making a stricter sleep schedule. Pick a time to turn out the lights and a time for your alarm to go off and stick to those times. After a week or two, you may find your body has adjusted to the new schedule, and your sleep may improve as a result.

Create a Sleep-Centric Space

Using your bedroom only for sleep creates a correlation between the two activities in your brain. Spending too much waking time in bed can muddle this connection. Try to create a sleep-centric space by removing distracting devices from your sleeping area, eliminating light, or using scented aromas that relax you -- anything that calms your mind and body so that you can get a good night's sleep.

Everyone should strive to increase the quality of sleep. Sleep is an integral part of our bodies' health. When a sleeping disorder disrupts your body, it can affect much more than your day after waking up. Watch for the warning signs of sleeping disorders, and don't hesitate to visit your doctor if you believe you might be suffering from one.

If you're passionate about helping others overcome their sleep disorders and gain better nights of sleep, consider enrolling in Concorde's Polysomnographic Technology program. With Concorde, you can earn a diploma in this field in as few as eight months.* Learn more about this dynamic program in the field of polysomnographic technology.

*Program length can vary by location. See specific Campus Catalog for program length.

Footnotes:

  1. "1 in 3 adults don't get enough sleep," Centers for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html
  2. "Sleep and Sleep Disorder Statistic," American Sleep Association, https://www.sleepassociation.org/about-sleep/sleep-statistics/
  3. "Sleep Disorders," MedlinePlus, https://medlineplus.gov/sleepdisorders.html
  4. "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?" National Sleep Foundation, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need#:~:text=National%20Sleep%20Foundation%20guidelines1,to%208%20hours%20per%20night
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