Sleep disorders are any form of illness or disability that disrupts normal, healthy sleeping patterns. A wide variety of conditions fit the definition of a sleep disorder, and they can range from mild, easily treatable issues to life-threatening illnesses. In some instances, a sleep disorder develops as a complication of another disease or condition.
Insomnia, the inability to sleep, is perhaps the most common sleep disorder. Insomnia may involve periods of sleep and wakefulness throughout the night, waking up too early or the inability to fall asleep at night. It can be caused by a variety of factors, and when it lasts for four weeks or longer, it’s known as chronic insomnia.
Another fairly common and potentially dangerous sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea. In this disorder, breathing is interrupted briefly but multiple times during sleep as the airway gets blocked. Sleep apnea not only disturbs the quality of sleep, but it can eventually lead to dangerous complications like heart disease and memory problems.
A variety of other illnesses are classified as sleep disorders as well. In children, bed-wetting is a common sleep disorder. Some adults have sleep interrupted by a frequent urge to urinate. Narcolepsy is a brain disorder that causes sleepiness during the day. Some people have restless legs syndrome, which affects their ability to sleep at night. In addition, there are a number of conditions that can cause sleeping problems as a complicating symptom. This includes disorders that affect breathing, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Epilepsy, chronic pain syndromes like fibromyalgia as well as allergies are other conditions that can affect the ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Treatments for sleep disorders vary widely, depending on the cause and severity. Some mild forms of insomnia can be treated through adopting better bedtime habits or using over-the-counter sleep aids. People with apnea may require breathing devices to help them breathe normally while they sleep at night.
SOURCES: National Sleep Foundation; American Academy of Family Physicians