Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for feeling refreshed and alert during the day. When we sleep, our body rests and restores energy levels. However, sleep is an active state that affects both our physical and mental well-being. A good night’s sleep is often the best way to help a person cope with stress, solve problems and get a full recovery from illness. But, with all the stresses of everyday life, not everyone can now afford to have the needed eight hours sleep. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is what an average adult needs to maintain an optimal mental and physical health.
Sleep is prompted by natural cycles of activity in the brain and consists of two basic states: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of Stages 1 through 4. During sleep, the body cycles between non-REM and REM sleep. Typically, people begin the sleep cycle with a period of non-REM sleep followed by a very short period of REM sleep. Dreams generally occur in the REM stage of sleep.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, over 40 million Americans a year will suffer from some sort of sleep disorder. Many of them will go undiagnosed, or turn to over-the-counter sleeping aids for relief. While insomnia is the best-known sleep disorder, over 100 types of sleep disorders actually exist. In order to get a proper diagnosis, it’s important to understand the symptoms and causes of the most common forms of each sleep problems which also include sleep apnea, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), and narcolepsy.
Insomnia is itself often a symptom of other problems. Typical patterns of insomnia include the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, waking up earlier than usual, and daytime fatigue. Most people with insomnia even fall asleep in inappropriate situations, like when they are driving. If this does occur, it may signal that a medical disorder (such as sleep apnea) is the cause of insomnia.
Excessive daytime sleepiness is the primary symptom of sleep apnea. Some people will deny sleepiness but still, they feel fatigued throughout the day. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, snorting, and gasping sounds when one sleeps. More often, it is first noticed by a sleeping partner. Restless sleep is also typical, as are headaches in the morning.
The primary warning sign of Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS is the irresistible urge to move the legs shortly after getting into bed, in the middle of the night after awakening, or even when wide awake during the day. The sensations of discomfort can be quite varied. Kicking or twitching leg movements during sleep, and sometimes while awake, may be warning signs.
Excessive sleepiness during the day, alleviated by naps, is a symptom of narcolepsy. Dreaming during naps and experiencing dream-like hallucinations while asleep are also warning signs. Loss of muscle control called cataplexy that occurs with emotion, such as laughing or anger, and the inability to move during sleep or when one has already awakened (called sleep paralysis) are also symptoms.
To determine if someone has a sleep disorder, first pay attention to a person’s sleep habits and lifestyle or daily routine. If a person with sleep disorders is planning to visit a doctor, it is helpful to record sleep habits. Sleep history will help the patient and the doctor find the cause of the sleep problems. A person with a sleeping disorder can address most common sleep problems through lifestyle changes and improved sleep hygiene, but it is important to see a doctor or a sleep specialist for a diagnosis if sleep does not improve.