A sleep disorder, also known as somnipathy, is a medical condition involving the sleep pattern of a person or an animal. While some sleep disorders could be mild in nature, some sleep disorders are serious threats to the usual physical, mental, emotional, and social functioning of a being.
Sleep disorders include conditions like insomnia, which is defined as habitual sleeplessness or inability to sleep; sleep apnea which involves one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while he sleeps; and narcolepsy, a condition characterized by an extreme tendency to fall asleep when one is in relaxing environment
According to Sleep Med Site, more than 70 million Americans suffer from disorders of sleep and wakefulness, over 18 million suffer from sleep apnea, and as many as 200,000 people from the American population have narcolepsy. The publication found that the sleep disorders are more usual in adults and in terms of gender, men are commonly predisposed to having the condition.
The signs of symptoms may vary among insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy. According to Help Guide, the signs of insomnia include:
- waking up often during the night
- the urge to take something like sleeping pills or supplements in order to get to sleep
- trouble falling asleep at night or going back to bed after waking up during the night
- a fragmented, exhausting, or light sleep
- sleepiness and low energy during the day
Sleep apnea, on the other hand, involves breathing issues during sleep. According to Web MD, the common symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- loud snoring
- sleepiness or lack of energy during the day or while driving
- waking up with a very sore or dry throat
- recurrent awakenings
- occasionally waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
- a restless sleep, morning headaches
- reduced interest in sexual activity
- mood changes
Narcolepsy has a different, but related set of symptoms. As per Mayo Clinic, these include excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden loss of muscle tone, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations. Cataplexy or the sudden loss of muscle tone is part of narcolepsy and can lead to several physical changes, such as slurred speech and weakness of the body muscles, which may last for a few seconds to a few minutes. The publication also noted that the narcoleptic hallucinations can be hypnagogic hallucinations, which happen as a person falls asleep, or hypnopompic hallucinations, which happen upon waking. Such symptoms may be vivid and frightening, as one may be half-awake when he begins dreaming and seeing the dreams as real.
Nutrition and physical activity actually play a vital role in the management of sleep disorders. According to EMedicine, there is no specific diet when it comes to treating insomnia; however large meals and spicy foods should be avoided within three hours before bedtime. In addition, patients should also avoid substances like alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, since they affect or disturb sleep. According to EMEdicine, alcohol may set up an illusion of a good sleep; however, it rather affects the sleep cycle adversely. The publication recommends avoiding nicotine and caffeine in the second half of the day, from late afternoon, since they stimulate brain activity, preventing a person from sleeping. Warm milk, which contains tryptophan, may help induce sleep.
When it comes to exercise, strenuous exercise should not be done during three hours prior to bedtime, since it could lead to insomnia. Generally, stimulating activities, such as tense movies, exciting novels, thrilling television shows, arguments, and vigorous physical exertion should be avoided three hours before bedtime.
Symptoms of sleep disorders can be managed with a non-pharmacological approach; however, if they remain unresolved, a visit with a physician for medical advice should be considered.