About 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems. Sleep deprivation is associated with injuries, chronic diseases, mental illnesses, poor quality of life and well-being, increased health care costs, and lost work productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Psychology Today” estimates the prevalence world-wide as 150 million. Sleep disorders are becoming more and more common, with significant impact on physical and mental health.
Sleep related disorders are more prevalent in women and the elderly. Sleep problems are more often found among people with lower education, people who are not living with a partner, and those who report lower self-rated quality of life. They are strongly linked to rates of anxiety and depression; several of these associations—particularly the link between poor sleep and depression and anxiety—are similar to those associations that have been found with sleep problems in developed countries, “Psychology Today” states.
Sleep disorders are divided into the following types: Insomnias, or inability to fall or stay asleep; Hypersomnias or excessive sleepiness; Parasomnias, or unpleasant occurrences upon falling asleep, during sleep or upon waking; Breathing related sleep disorders; Circadian Rhythm disorders, in which sleep/awake cycles are out of synch; and Sleep Movement disorders, which cause movement before or during sleep.
Insomnias: “Sleep Education” cites three types of insomnias: insomnia, which we will explore in further detail; childhood insomnia, in which a child will not go to sleep without an enforced bedtime; and short sleep, which describes people who function optimally with about five hours of sleep. Most people are somewhat familiar with insomnia. This is when a person is unable to fall asleep, stay asleep or waking too early. Many mistake the occasional night(s) with poor sleep with insomnia. This is not the case. Insomnia is considered short term if lasts three months, and long term if beyond three months.
Insomnia involves both a sleep disturbance and daytime symptoms. The effects of insomnia can impact nearly every aspect of your life. Studies show that insomnia negatively affects work performance, impairs decision-making and can damage relationships. In most cases, people with insomnia report a worse overall quality of life. Long term insomnia may significantly impact thought processes and ability to function day to day. In some cases, serious mental impact develops including hallucinations (see article on hallucinations for details).
Hypersomnias: People who live with hypersomnias may fall asleep several times daily, including at inappropriate times (at work) or dangerous situations (while driving). As in insomnia, hypersomnia causes unclear thought processes. The most familiar hypersomnia is narcolepsy, a lifelong sleep disorder that makes you feel overwhelmingly tired, and in severe cases, have sudden uncontrollable sleep attacks. Narcolepsy can impact nearly every aspect of your life. It is dangerous because you can have excessive sleepiness or a sleep attack at any time of the day, in the middle of any activity including eating, walking or driving. Operating a vehicle with untreated narcolepsy can be very dangerous and some states even have laws against it. Narcolepsy has a typical onset between fifteen and twenty-five years of age. Symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness; one may feel refreshed after a short nap, but the sleepiness quickly returns; Hallucinations involving all five senses; Sleep Paralysis, where one loses the ability to move and feel paralyzed when you are falling asleep or waking up. This usually lasts a few seconds or minutes. This can be frightening, but it is not associated with an inability to breathe. Sleep paralysis can sometimes be paired with hallucinations, which are especially upsetting; Disturbed Nighttime Sleep, when people with narcolepsy waken frequently during night and are unable to go back to sleep; Memory Problems; and Cataplexy, or sudden loss of muscle tone which includes the musculature used in speech.
Other hypersomnias include; Ideopathic Hypersomnia which causes debilitating day time sleepiness despite normal or even more sleep at night; Insufficient Sleep Syndrome, in which a person is consistently unable to get enough sleep, resulting in sleep deprivation; and Long Sleepers who despite quality sleep, require more sleep than most others. Given restraints on sleep time such as need to wake for work/school, these individuals may have difficulty feeling awake and active during the day.
Sleep Related Breathing Disorders: This class of sleep disorders is straightforward and includes Obstructive Sleep Apnea, during which the sleeper briefly stops breathing multiple times; Snoring; Child Sleep Apnea; Infant Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea which is actually caused by a brain or heart issue rather than airway blockage. Again, a lack of restorative sleep over long periods of time may result in significant physical and mental issues.
Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders: An article on Circadian Rhythm Disorders appears on the NPA website. These occur when the natural life rhythms are disrupted, impacting the body’s natural asleep-awake cycles.
Parasomnias: “Sleep Education” describes parasomnias as a group of sleep disorders that involve unwanted events or experiences that occur while you are falling asleep, sleeping or waking up. Parasomnias may include abnormal movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions or dreams. Although the behaviors may be complex and appear purposeful to others, you remain asleep during the event and often have no memory that it occurred. If you have a parasomnia, you may find it hard to sleep through the night. These include confusional arousals, in which the sleeps awakens unsure of where they are and how they came to be there; sleep terrors detailed in a separate article; sleep eating disorder; REM sleep behavior disorder, in which vivid dreams are acted out in sleep; sleep paralysis where one is unable to move their body upon falling asleep or waking; nightmares; bed-wetting; sleep hallucinations; exploding head syndrome detailed in article of same name; and sleep talking.
Sleep Movement Disorders: This group of sleep disorders is self-explanatory, and can make falling asleep, staying asleep and feeling rested a challenge. These include Restless Leg Syndrome, in which a person feels itching or burning sensation in their legs when they lie down, making it difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep; Periodic Limb Movements, marked by a series of uncontrollable limb movements during the night, usually the lower leg, which significantly impact sleep; Sleep Leg Cramps, which occur usually I the lower leg or foot; Sleep Rhythmic Disorder occurs mostly in children. It consists of rhythmic movements such as rocking, head rolling or head banging during sleep.
As you may have noticed, some disorders include symptoms which are frightening, disorienting, or result in sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation may cause hallucinations, making the sufferer see, hear, smell, taste or feel things that are not there. This may result in claims of paranormal activity. Disorientation may cause feelings of having been “taken” by unseen forces. Sleep paralysis is quite frequently perceived as a spirit holding the body down. Night terrors are also often perceived as spirits or demons trying to harm. Similarly upon seeing your child banging their head in their sleep or a loved one flailing in their sleep, the same conclusion may be drawn. Again, these questions should be raised during debunking process should these claims be made.