Sleep is something many people take for granted. But it is something we all need to get enough of. A sleep disorder can constitute a serious disruption in our lives. Some sleep disorders are insidious enough that you may not even know you have a problem. You are tired and you don’t know why. A disorder such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), for example, can keep you from reaching a sound sleep for many nights without you being aware of what is causing your lack of rest.
Sleep disorders are probably a fairly recent development in human evolutionary history. The earliest members of our species probably had more than enough work to do every day just to ensure their survival. All that work (and no play) probably made “Jack” plenty sleepy enough that getting to sleep and staying that way were not too much of a problem.
Today things are quite different. Problems are still everywhere to be found, but they are completely unlike those our pre-historic ancestors shared. Today’s pressures and stresses are not released in physical displays of prowess against wild beasts. We no longer conquer our foes with energetic flourishes. Today’s problems are met with conscious effort on a more subdued level, so our emotional release is frequently not “released” as readily. Instead, some of it gets bottled up inside. If our world is a bit less natural than it was back then, our disease conditions are following suit.
Sleep disorders come in several different varieties. There are, of course, several relatively severe psychological problems that can cause sleep disorders, such as psychoses, or severe mood disorders. There are also possibilities such as alcoholism or diseases such as trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) that is caused by a parasite.
Insomnia is a general category of sleep disturbance, where there is no easily determined cause for the sleeplessness. It is serious, perhaps even more so because no cause can be identified.
There are some causes that might seem to be minor problems–unless you are one of those consistently bothered by them. Such problems include teeth grinding, bed wetting, sleep walking, and something known as sleep terrors, which are characterized by a sudden awakening, exhibiting a cry or scream and the feeling of fear. These terrors could be associated with a specific nightmare or completely unassociated and unexplained.
Some of the more common examples of sleep disorders seen today include these sometimes seriously debilitating problems:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) where breathing is disrupted: Airway obstruction causing unconscious gasping for air, resulting in a lack of needed deep sleep.
Hypopnea Syndrome: Unusually shallow breathing or slow rate of respiration, which results in diminishing levels of oxygenation of the blood.
Snoring, which becomes rough enough or loud enough to awaken the subject, or limit needed deep sleep.
Unexpected movement-related problems:
Rapid Eye Movement Behavior Disorder (RBD) or REM Sleep Disorder (RSD), where the subject physically acts out a dream sequence with possibly violent movements, endangering anyone sleeping next to them.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), where sudden involuntary movements disrupt sleep.
Circadian body rhythm disruptions:
Nocturia: Frequent need to go to the bathroom overnight.
Situation-based issues such as jet lag, or Shift-Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD).
Insomnia: Periodic or chronic inability to sleep with no determined cause.
Somniphobia: A psychological fear of falling asleep.
Many sleep problems can be self-treated in a number of ways. Exercise is the most effective treatment, as fatigue is an excellent inducer of sleep. Regular exercise is the best. But while exercise may help make you tired enough to fall asleep, a disorder like Obstructive Sleep Apnea, where an airway obstruction occurs, may still cause you problems. Left untreated, severe OSA has been shown to result in three-times more likely heart problems. An effective treatment for OSA can include a device that facilitates air flow.
Your doctor can prescribe sleep inducing medications that can help for most problems. But these are best used on a temporary basis due to possible addictive dependency problems or side effects, especially from cumulative continued use. The very young and the elderly have been shown to be more at risk of side effects with many of these medications.
The most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals today are benzodiazepines, nonbenzodiazepines, barbiturates, and melatonin, a natural hormone.
There are some natural herbal remedies for sleeplessness. But they, too, should be used in moderation. However, they may be a little safer than some pharmaceuticals if you are at risk for medication side effects. Several natural substances do induce sleep, including valerian, chamomile, and vervain. These are available individually or in specific sleep-inducing preparations from your local health food store. But there are cautions to be aware of regarding treatment problems even for so-called natural substances. Allergic reactions need to be accounted for.
There are as many as 12-15 known side effects common to the most popular prescription sleep-inducing pharmaceutical medications. If you are on one of them, consult the literature packaged with it or your doctor who prescribed your medication for the specific side effects to watch out for. You are at an increased risk from these side effects if you are already known to have conditions such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Natural remedies are also subject to allergic reactions. If you are allergic to ragweed, for example, you have an increased likelihood of being allergic to chamomile. No matter how sleepy chamomile may make you, if you suddenly can’t get enough air in your lungs we can guarantee that you won’t feel much like going to sleep. Learn. Ask questions. Read up. Check back to this website for more information.
Don’t take a sleep-inducing medication when you don’t have enough time to get quality sleep. Taking it at 2 a.m. is a bad idea if you have to get up at 6:30.
Don’t take more than you need, and don’t stay on it longer than you need to.
Don’t take sleeping pills while drinking alcohol. It could be fatal.
Find another way; get more regular exercise.
If nothing is working, see your doctor. Don’t just assume the problem will go away. It’s a problem. And it’s one you really shouldn’t try to live with.
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