Five Common Sleep Disorders

Man with a sleep disorder
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According to the American Psychiatric Association, sleep disorders are major disturbances of regular sleep patterns that lead to distress and disrupt functioning during the day. Not only are sleep disorders extremely common, affecting virtually everyone at some point in their lives, but they can also lead to severe stress and other health consequences.

Just how common are sleep disorders?

According to a major survey by the National Sleep Foundation, more than half of Americans reported experiencing at least one symptoms of insomnia several times a week during the previous year.

Highlighting another significant danger of sleep disorders, the survey also indicated that 60 percent of respondents had driven while drowsy during the last year.

Some of the most common types of sleep disorders included:

Insomnia

Insomnia is by far the most common sleep disorder, affecting nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults at least one night each week. Common symptoms of insomnia include difficulty getting to sleep and waking before it is time to get up. Many factors can contribute to insomnia including stress and underlying medical conditions. Typical treatments include sleeping pills and behavior therapy. Practicing good sleep habits can often be useful in treating mild cases of insomnia.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is the second most common sleep disorder and affects approximately 20 million Americans. This disorder causes people to stop breathing abruptly while they are asleep. During this brief period, carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, and the sleeper wakes suddenly to gasp for breath.

The length of time that the sleeper stops breathing can vary from a few seconds to so long that the individual's skin may actually turn blue from oxygen deprivation.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that leads to periods of intense sleepiness during the daytime. People suffering from narcolepsy often experience bouts of overwhelming sleepiness and may fall asleep for brief periods of time during the day.

These sleeping periods may last from a few seconds to several minutes and in some cases may last up to an hour or more. Those with narcolepsy can fall asleep in the middle of a conversation, during a meal or even while driving a vehicle.

Affecting as many as 250,000 Americans, narcolepsy is a chronic condition that typically begins during adolescence. In addition to sleepiness, narcolepsy is frequently accompanied by cataplexy, which involves a sudden loss of muscle tone and control that can last seconds or minutes. Other symptoms include hallucinations and paralysis during sleep.

Sleepwalking & Night Terrors

While insomnia and sleep apnea are more frequent in adults, other sleep disorders such as sleepwalking and night terrors are far more common in young children. Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is characterized by periods of getting out of bed while asleep.

Night terrors are most frequently seen in very young children (between the ages of 2 and 6), but people of any age can be affected by this sleep disorder.

Typical symptoms include excessive sweating, shaking and apparent fear. You can learn more about night terrors in this article from About.com’s pediatrics expert, Vincent Iannelli, M.D - More About Night Terrors.

References:
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed. DSM-IV-TR) Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

National Sleep Foundation. (2005). 2005: "Sleep in America" Poll. Found online at https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-polls-data/sleep-in-america-poll/2005-adult-sleep-habits-and-styles

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