The most common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, sleepwalking, night terrors, and narcolepsy. Many of these involve the lack of sleep, although some diminish the quality of sleep, which can be just as detrimental to the human body. Good sleep is vital to overall health, but a good night’s rest can be difficult to achieve with the number of common sleep disorders one may experience. Eight hours of sleep a night is generally recommended, but if those eight hours are not spent restfully, serious health problems can occur.
Insomnia is the most frequently-reported of the common sleep disorders. This refers to a lack of sleep, whether a person has trouble falling asleep or simply staying asleep. Insomnia can be short-term and overcome, or it can be a chronic condition. There is no exact cure or medical test for insomnia, but it can be treated with sleeping aids, whether over-the-counter or prescribed, and lifestyle changes, such as the avoidance of caffeine.
Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. Shallow breaths and the cessation of breathing altogether are common, usually in episodes which last a few seconds to a few minutes. Sleep apnea is typically a chronic condition that can be corrected with a mouthpiece or breathing apparatus which one wears while sleeping. Sometimes surgery can correct an obstructed airway, allowing a person to breathe easily and sufficiently while resting.
Sleepwalking is another of the common sleep disorders, and involves the body performing certain “awake” functions while fast asleep. These might include walking, brushing teeth, or even rearranging furniture. The clinical term for sleepwalking is somnambulism, possibly a genetic condition, and episodes can last for a few seconds or even as long as an hour or more. It is a common misconception that a sleepwalker should not be awakened. In fact, a sleepwalker risks injury during episodes and should be awakened.
Night terrors can cause restless sleep in a child or adult, as well as serious problems for a sleeping partner. This condition occurs when a sleeping person does not fully wake from sleep, but instead experiences extreme terror which can result in screaming, wailing or physically assaulting a sleeping partner. Night terrors severely diminish the quality of sleep and can result in any number of physical symptoms during the daytime.
Narcolepsy is very different from the usual common sleep disorders. It occurs when a person has a predisposition to fall quickly into and out of a deep phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. Most people who have narcolepsy are found to have a low level of a brain chemical called hypocretin, which helps a person wake up and be attentive.