An estimated 50-70 million Americans chronically suffer from a sleep or circadian disorder. Sleepiness is a serious health concern and cannot always be mitigated by healthy sleep habits. Sleep disorders are real and need to be addressed by a sleep specialist.
What do sleep disorders look like?
Sleep disorders are often invisible and may be hard to detect. Sleepiness may manifest as issues with behavior, mood regulation, memory, concentration or sustained attention. It’s important to learn about the real signs and symptoms of common and serious sleep disorders.
What kind of doctor should I visit about a possible sleep disorder?
Be proactive! Not all doctors are familiar with sleep disorders. Your journey will likely begin with your primary care doctor, but it’s important to consult a Board-Certified Sleep Specialist (locate an AASM Accredited Sleep Center). Find a sleep specialist familiar with your possible condition’s symptoms and treatments.
What are sleep disorders?
These are some of the more common and serious sleep disorders:
(1) Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders are neurological disorders in which the sleep-wake cycle is out of sync with the day-night cycle. As a result, individuals may experience insomnia-like symptoms at night and excessive sleepiness during the day, greatly impacting typical work, school and social schedules.
Circadian rhythm disorders include Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder, Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder, Irregular Sleep Wake Disorder and Shift Work Disorder.
(2) Idiopathic Hypersomnia is a chronic sleep disorder involving persistent sleepiness lasting more than three months without abnormal tendencies to enter REM sleep.
In addition to excessive daytime sleepiness, symptoms include daily sleep amounts of 10 hours or more and extreme sleep inertia, difficulties waking up with alarm clocks, feeling groggy for long period of times.
Idiopathic hypersomnia is diagnosed when a person displays symptoms for at least three months, the disorder has a significant impact on the person’s life, and other causes of excessive daytime sleepiness have been excluded.
(3) Insomnia is a chronic or acute sleep disorder characterized by a complaint of difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, waking up too early, or feeling unrefreshed after waking.
Chronic insomnia affects nearly one out of five adults and is a risk factor for depression, substance abuse and impaired waking function.
(4) Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS) is a rare and complex neurological disorder characterized by recurring periods of excessive amounts of sleep, altered behavior, and a reduced understanding of the world. The disorder strikes adolescents primarily but can occur in younger children and adults.
At the onset of an episode the patient becomes progressively drowsy and sleeps for most of the day and night (hypersomnolence), sometimes waking only to eat or go to the bathroom. Each episode lasts days, weeks or months during which time all normal daily activities stop.
Individuals are not able to care for themselves or attend school and work. In between episodes, those with KLS appear to be in perfect health with no evidence of behavioral or physical dysfunction.
(5) Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder of the sleep/wake cycle that usually develops during childhood or young adulthood.
Symptoms of narcolepsy include excessive daytime sleepiness, fragmented nighttime sleep, cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness triggered by emotions like laughter, surprise, annoyance or exhilaration).
Sleep paralysis (temporary inability to talk or move when falling asleep or waking up) and hypnagogic hallucinations (vivid hallucinations that may be terrifying while falling asleep or waking up) may also occur. One in 2,000 people have narcolepsy worldwide.
(6) Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a chronic disorder characterized by inability to maintain adequate ventilation during sleep due to sleep-related increase in upper airway resistance. Breathing during wakefulness, though, is satisfactory.
Sleep-disordered breathing, including obstructive sleep apnea, affects more than 15 percent of the population.
(7) Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) or Willis-Ekbom disease (WES) is a neurological movement disorder that is often associated with a sleep complaint. RLS may affect up to 15 percent of the population.
People with RLS suffer an almost irresistible urge to move their legs, usually due to disagreeable leg sensations that are worse during inactivity and often interfere with sleep.
RLS sufferers report experiencing creeping, crawling, pulling, or tingling sensations in the legs (or sometimes in the arms), which are relieved by moving or rubbing them. Sitting still for long periods becomes difficult. Symptoms are usually worse in the evening and night and less severe in the morning.
Periodic leg movements, which often coexist with restless leg syndrome, are characterized by repetitive, stereotyped limb movements during sleep. Periodic limb movement disorder can be detected by monitoring patients during sleep.
Edited by Jody Smith