A sleep disorder is a broad term. There are over 100 specific sleep disorders that can be categorized as follows:
- difficulty falling asleep or sleeping poorly, such as occur with insomnia or sleep apnea
- difficulty staying awake, such as excessive daytime sleepiness
- falling asleep at inappropriate times, such as narcolepsy
- sleeping too much, hypersomnia
- odd behaviors during sleep, as might occur with night terrors or sleep walking
Problems with sleep might last only a few days (transient), 2 to 3 weeks (short-term), or persist over months (chronic). Chronic sleep disorders can lead to poor performance during that day at work or school and lead to other health problems.
You should see your doctor about a sleep disorder if it lasts more than a few weeks and interferes with daily living.
Insomnia describes difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking early. It may be due to a variety of causes, such as physical illness (hyperthyroidism), depression or anxiety, excessive caffeine use, alcohol, drugs, or as a side effect of certain medications.
Insomnia is commonly due to trying to sleep in a poor environment with an uncomfortable bed or too much light, noise or movement. It may also result from habits that make it difficult for sleep to occur during regular sleep hours, such as taking daytime naps, going to bed too early or spending too much time in bed.
Sometimes the sleep loss from insomnia leads to stress that can make sleep even more difficult to achieve.
Excessive daytime sleepiness
Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) may be due to a variety of causes, including narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome (RLS) and sleep apnea. Sleep apnea should be suspected in people who snore loudly, wake frequently during the night and awake in the morning feeling unrefreshed.
Excessive daytime sleepiness may occur when someone does not maintain a consistent sleep and wake schedule. This occurs when traveling between times zones (jet lag) and with shift workers on rotating schedules, such as nurses, pilots, and night crews.
Idiopathic hypersomnia is a term used when excessive sleepiness occurs without an identifiable cause.
Odd behaviors during sleep
Unusual behaviors during sleep are called parasomnias and are fairly common in children. They include sleep terrors and sleep walking.
Diagnosis of a sleep disorder
Most people are aware that they have a sleep disorder, but it is important to make a specific diagnosis to recommend an effective treatment plan.
A medical exam and history are important for identifying any possible medical conditions causing sleep problems. The history will include details about the hours of sleep or wakefulness, details about one's sleep environment, medication use and other details. A sleep diary can be helpful for tracking sleep patterns.
Sleep studies may be ordered depending on the sleep disorder that is suggested by the history and medical exam. A polysomnogram (PSG) is one of the most commonly ordered sleep studies used to diagnose sleep apnea.
Treatment of sleep disorders
The treatment your doctor recommends will depend upon the type of sleep disorder, its duration, its impact on your life, responses to past treatments, and the existence of other medical conditions.
Sleep medications may be recommended to help induce sleep for short periods of time. Commonly prescribe sleep medications, including Ambien, Lunesta, Rozerem, Sonata, and trazadone (Desyrel). Overuse of sleep medications can create a dependancy on sleep medications. "Hypnotic-dependent sleep disorder" is a term used to describe insomnia that occurs when someone become reliant on certain sleep medications.
Excessive daytimes sleepiness may be treated with medication that help to maintain wakefulness during the day, such as Provigil (modafinil) and Nuvigil (armodafinil).
Some sleep disorders may go away without treatment.
The following steps can help establish quality sleep for anybody, and are a key step towards treating sleep disorders.
- Establishing regular sleep habits, such as going to bed and waking at the same time every day.
- Sleeping in quiet comfortable room
- Regular exercise
- Avoid caffeine or excessive alcohol consumption
Reference: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Last updated May 2017