Did you know that there are over 80 sleep disorders? From insomnia and narcolepsy to night terrors and sleep apnea, we’ve assembled the ultimate list of sleep disorders and covered our top tips for getting a better night’s sleep.
We may not know precisely why we need sleep, but what science has proven abundantly clear is that we certainly need it.
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control states that up to 35% of the nation’s adult population fails to get enough sleep each night. All of those collective sleepless nights add up to a real problem. A lack of sleep can crush productivity and increase fatigue.
Getting behind the wheel while drowsy can even be as dangerous as drunk driving.
Of course, most of us do not choose not to sleep enough each night, and for many Americans, sleep seems to elude them. Sleep disorders are common and grow more so as American lifestyles continue to surround them with screens and increased mental stimulation before bed.
What many don’t realize is that there are over 80 different sleep disorders, with some requiring proper diagnosis and treatment and others simply dissipating over time.
While we do not recommend self-diagnosis of any disease, being familiar with the signs and symptoms of these 80 disorders may be the wake-up call several need to see a medical professional about their sleep problems.
If you or a loved one is struggling to get enough sleep to make it through the day, or require naps and caffeine to keep going, consider this list of sleep disorders and their associated symptoms. There are too many to truly discuss in detail here, so we’ll cover them by type.
Insomnias & Hypersomnias
These disorders are commonly associated with an inability to fall asleep and stay asleep in the night, or excessive lethargy in the middle of the day. Due to their similarity, they are paired together on this list.
Insomnia needs little explanation. It remains most common sleep disorder for many and involves a lack of ability to fall asleep. Those who have insomnia often report a restless mind, inability to become comfortable in bed, or this who cannot sleep for more than a few hours.
Insomnia is also differentiated from short sleepers, who are adults who tend not to rest for longer than six hours.
Short sleeps often consider their lack of sleep as a sign of insomnia, but in a few rare cases, there is no sleep disorder to be found here.
Hypersomnias are disorders that pertain to daytime fatigue and may be felt regardless of whether or not you got enough to sleep the night before.
The most well-recognized of hypersomnias is narcolepsy, which can be characterized by sudden bouts of extreme lethargy during the day, and uneven sleep throughout the day and night.
To be clear, narcolepsy bears little resemblance to the presentation it so often gets in the media. Those who are living with this disorder are not likely to pass out mid-sentence or fall over on their walk home.
However, these sudden spells of tiredness can be dangerous when performing important and redundant tasks. It is not uncommon for a narcoleptic to fall asleep at the wheel, or while sitting in a particularly dull meeting.
Aside from narcolepsy, other hypersomnias include Idiopathic Hypersomnia, Kleine-Levin Syndrome, and occasionally, long sleepers.
When it comes to sleep, your breathing pattern is one of the most important aspects of a good night’s rest. Slow, consistent breathing keeps your heart rate low and helps your body enter deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
REM sleep can be blocked, however, by several sleep disorders. With these, you may still sleep a full seven or eight hours but remain tired from the lack of REM sleep.
Sleep apnea is the most commonly diagnosed breathing disorder. Those who suffer from sleep apnea often struggle with their tongue or sinuses constricting to the point where breathing stops.
The body will send a jolt to the system to open up the passageways, which succeeds in keeping you breathing, but often interrupts REM sleep.
Sleep apnea can be treated in quite a few ways, including adjusting your sleeping position, using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, or by utilizing one of several oral surgeries.
Sleep apnea has several variants. Central sleep apnea occurs when the body fails to breathe due to a neurological issue as opposed to a physical one, and sleep apnea also occurs in children and infants, which is diagnosed differently.
Parasomnias encompass a wide swath of sleep disorders that don’t involve breathing or a failure to rest. Much like the macabre-sounding name, these disorders can involve horrifying experiences of paralysis, nightmares, night terrors, and other phenomena.
Parasomnias are heavily researched, if not entirely understood. Their pervasive nature often leads to their hyperbolic portrayal in movies and televisions shows. To clear the record, here are just a few of the disorders under parasomnias, as well as their symptoms:
Night terrors are experiences of vivid, horrifying feelings either immediately after waking up or just beforehand. Night terrors are often equivocated to nightmares, which isn’t exactly a fair comparison. Nightmares are bad dreams. Night terrors are feelings of pure fear. Symptoms of a night terror include cold sweats, screaming, paralyzing fear, and associated nightmares.
Sleepwalking is another disorder of this kind. While the name is derived from the most common behavior, sleepwalking as a term encompasses any complex action a person takes while remaining asleep. This can include walking, as well as talking and operating machinery. Sleepwalkers won’t suffer any problems when awoken, so despite the common adage, it is perfectly acceptable and even recommended that you wake up a sleepwalker.
Confused arousals are experiences of confusion and memory loss when waking up. Confused arousals are often more unpleasant for those who sleep with those who have the disorder, rather than the person. Those with confused arousals often do not know where they are or what they were doing for several seconds to several minutes after awakening.
Sleep paralysis is the last parasomnia condition we’ll be covering. When sleeping, the body naturally paralyzes the body to keep movement to a minimum when dreaming and interacting with our dreams. For those who have sleep paralysis, that frozen state often doesn’t go away when they awaken.
Sleep paralysis usually only lasts a few seconds or longer but can be an intense experience for the sufferer. Sleep paralysis, like other parasomnias, can be somewhat treated by sleep specialists, but for many, the conditions become a part of a daily routine.
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders (CRSDs)
Our final subgroup in this list of sleep disorders are disorders that have to do with your circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm can be loosely defined as your biological clock. Your body naturally secrets hormones and other chemicals to wake you up and put you to sleep about the same time each day. You may have experienced a problem with your circadian rhythm if you’ve traveled to a different time zone.
This so-called jet lag occurs because of a disruption of that natural process, which is dependent upon external factors like temperature and light to operate properly.
Sleep disorders involving your circadian rhythm include Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD), which is when the body naturally wants to sleep at the same time each day, but not the desired time.
There is also Free-Running Disorder, which is when the body continuously wants to push the natural desire to sleep either earlier with each passing day, or later.
Finally, Irregular Sleep-Wake Disorder (ISWD) is expressed with a complete lack of consistency in circadian rhythm. Those with ISWD will sleep and rise at seemingly random times.
Treatment for CRSDs often involves bright lights to help the biological clock know when it is time to sleep and when it is time to rise. If you find yourself struggling to sleep at the right time each night, consider exposure to light as often as possible during the day.
Your circadian rhythm is heavily influenced by light, so in your bedroom, consider utilizing blackout curtains and making the room as dark as possible when it is bedtime. If you need to, consult a sleep expert and talk about what’s keeping you up at night.
Continue laying down and rising consistently, regardless of whether or not you sleep, and soon enough, your body should follow suit.
Our list here only scratches the surface at the massive list of sleep disorders. Our understanding of sleep and its requirement in a healthy life is ongoing, and it can easily be assumed that many disorders and advancements will be made in the years to come to help us all get a good night’s rest.
Until then, sleep as consistently as you can in a darkened room, and ensure your schedule is giving you the required seven to eight hours you need each night.