The human body is like a battery: It needs to be recharged from time to time after burning stored energy, and sleep is the primary method. Studies have shown that adequate amounts of sleep can improve memory, increase life expectancy, sharpen the mind’s attention span and even show physical benefits like increased heart health and weight control. Alternatively, a consistent lack of sleep can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Getting enough sleep is doable for most of us, but it can be a concern for a subset of the population dealing with a sleep disorder. Seventy million Americans suffer from one of roughly eighty different sleep disorders.
Most of these different disorders are rare and are addressed by a doctor on an individual basis, but there are a few more common disorders that affect larger amounts of people. Because several of these often go unreported and untreated, it’s important to know the basic signs for proper identification. Here are a few of the most common sleep disorders out there:
Insomnia and Narcolepsy
Insomnia, or the chronic inability to fall or remain asleep, is by far the most common sleep disorder. It includes people who struggle to fall asleep, wake up frequently and struggle to get back to sleep, consistently wake up earlier than desired in the morning, or simply suffer from frequent unsatisfactory sleep. In many cases, these issues trickle down into daily life and result in tiredness, moodiness and issues with concentration.
Roughly one in 10 adults experiences some form of persistent insomnia, and about half the adult population goes through at least an isolated bout of insomnia at some time in their life. Treatments for chronic insomnia vary depending on severity and individual circumstance, though a good list can be found through the National Sleep Foundation.
Narcolepsy is a disorder that affects one’s ability to control their sleep. Those suffering from narcolepsy may fall asleep during the day without warning, and are often tired even while they’re awake. In extreme cases, narcolepsy can affect muscular and neurological impulses. Narcolepsy can be related to issues with insomnia, though this is not always the case.
Less common than insomnia but potentially more severe in some cases, sleep apnea involves breathing that frequently starts and stops during sleep. There are two observed types of sleep apnea: obstructive (OSA) and central (CSA).
Obstructive sleep apnea, caused by any blockage of the throat muscles that keeps air from flowing correctly, is the most common form of the disorder. A primary symptom of OSA is loud snoring, and daytime fatigue issues similar to insomnia are also common due to the frequent interruptions in sleep it causes.
Central sleep apnea is less common, and occurs when the brain doesn’t properly alert the muscles to continue the breathing process. Frequent awakenings during the night are even more common for those with CSA. It’s possible for someone to have both OSA and CSA simultaneously – this condition is referred to as complex sleep apnea syndrome. Severe cases of any of these disorders will require medical attention.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is characterized by a typically insurmountable urge to shake or move the legs. RLS affects many people outside the realm of sleep issues, but a portion of those suffering tend to see flare-ups mostly during long periods of stillness, especially sleep.
Just like insomnia and sleep apnea, people with RLS often feel its effects during the day in the form of tiredness, grumpiness and difficulty concentrating. Most look to treat moderate RLS with home practices such as stretching, massage and ice or heat packs, but extreme cases may require specialized medical care.
- National Sleep Foundation. https://sleepfoundation.org/
- “Common Sleep Disorders.” The Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Common_Sleep_Disorders
- “Sleep Apnea.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/basics/definition/con-20020286