Understanding Sleep Problems

The International Classification of Sleep Disorders lists roughly 80 different sleep disorders. Here’s a look at several of those conditions.

Photo by Jennifer Altman
Jack Li prepares for his sleep study.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Jet Lag: Traveling through time zones confuses the circadian system, signaling the body to be tired in the daytime and alert at night.
Shift-Work Disorder: Unusual shift hours force the body to stay awake when it’s dark outside, creating a misalignment between the circadian rhythm and the outside world. Sleep-hygiene techniques and medication help manage the symptoms.

Idiopathic Hypersomnia
A rare sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) that persists despite long periods of sleep. The cause is unknown.

Insomnia
Difficulty falling asleep (onset) and/or staying asleep (maintenance). Transient insomnia is brief and often happens because of stress or other life circumstances; chronic insomnia is disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week and lasts at least three months.

Narcolepsy
For narcoleptics, the sleep cycle begins almost immediately with the REM stage, and fragments of REM can occur involuntarily throughout waking hours. Manifestations include sudden paralysis (known as cataplexy), waking hallucinations and other debilitating symptoms.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Occurs when an airway blockage causes an individual to repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night. OSA continually interrupts the sleep cycle and deprives the brain of oxygen. Bedtime treatments include a dental appliance that pushes the jaw forward, or a mask that assists with oxygen flow known as CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure.

Parasomnias (abnormal sleep movement and behavior disorders):
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: A rare and dangerous condition in which the body loses its ability to paralyze during REM sleep, causing the sufferer to act out dreams. Often a precursor to a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.
Non-REM Parasomnias: Behaviors and movements unrelated to dreaming include sleepwalking, sleep eating, sleep paralysis, bed-wetting, sleep talking, bruxism and RLS (more below).

Teeth Grinding: Sleep bruxism, or nocturnal tooth grinding and clenching, can cause facial pain, morning headaches, earaches, jaw pain, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders and damaged teeth. Treatment includes physical therapy and an oral appliance for night use.
Restless Leg Syndrome: Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, RLS is characterized by an overwhelming and unpleasant urge to move the legs when resting.

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