Sleep is a very critical part of your everyday routine. An adult above the age of 18 must get 7 to 9 hours of sleep, while for ages 13-18 the hours of sleep shouldn’t be less than 9.25, and for ages 5 to 12 years it should be at least 10-11 hours. Getting quality sleep at the right time and in the right amount is very necessary to ensure a healthy and active body. It is as essential as water and food for the body because without sleep the pathways in the brain cannot be maintained, which are responsible for learning and creating new memories. Moreover, lack of sleep makes it harder to concentrate and respond quickly.

Sleep is also very vital for many brain functions such as communication of nerve cells with each other, and the removal of toxins from the brain. Sleep affects all organs of the body including the brain, heart, immunity, metabolism, etc. Lack of quality sleep increases the risk of various health problems such as blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, depression, as well as obesity. Hence, it is very crucial to understand that quality sleep is a body’s requirement and not a luxury. So, any sleep disorders need to be handled with the same criticality as any other health disorder.

Types of sleep disorders

Some broad categories of common sleep disorders are: 

Sleep Apnea: In this disorder, the normal breathing of a person is interrupted during sleep. These can further be classified into two broad categories – Obstructive sleep apnea which is caused because of blockage in the airways; and Central sleep apnea which results because the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Sleep apnea is often categorised by snoring, sleepiness during the day, fatigue, restlessness, sudden awakenings, gasping or choking at night, dry mouth, sore throat, night sweats, headaches, etc. 

Insomnia: The most common type of sleep disorder in which a person experiences difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep, as well as does not feel refreshed post sleeping, in spite of being a setting that is appropriate for sleeping. These are further of two types – Primary insomnia which occurs independently of other health problems; and Comorbid insomnia which happens because of pain, medication, drugs, alcohol, etc. Insomnia symptoms include unexplained tiredness, fatigue, low mood, irritability, and a problem in concentrating. 

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): In this disorder, there is a severe and irresistible urge to move legs. It happens because of sitting or lying down for a long period of time. The symptoms include the urge to move legs along with a tingling, pulling and uncomfortable sensation. 

Circadian Rhythm Disorders: This type of disorder is characterized by disruptions in the internal body clock which is responsible for the biological processes in the body and functions per 24 hours. Disorders such as delayed sleep, jet lag, advanced sleep, shift work, etc. are all caused because of interruption in the body clock. 

Parasomnias: These disorders involve undesirable, abnormal or abrupt behaviours that occur while going to sleep, during sleep, or when aroused from sleep. These may occur during rapid eye movement (REM) or non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. A person suffering from parasomnias nightmares, sleep terrors, sleepwalking, confusional arousals, sleep eating, bedwetting, etc. 

Narcolepsy: A neurological disorder that happens because of the reduction of a brain component that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. People suffering from narcolepsy experience extreme sleepiness during the day and uncontrollable episodes of sleeping during the day in spite of having slept adequately. 

Causes of Sleep Disorders

Some basic causes of sleep disorders are:

  • Health conditions such as heart problems, lung disease, etc.
  • Nerve disorders
  • Pain
  • Mental illness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Medicines
  • Genetics
  • Increasing age

Moreover, certain lifestyle patterns and diet also impact sleep quality, such as:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Caffeine
  • Night shift working
  • Frequent travelling through oddly timed flights – late night or early morning 

Symptoms of Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can be of multiple types and hence, the symptoms for each depend on the condition and cause of the disorder. However, some general sleep disorder symptoms include:

  • Consistently not being able to fall asleep at least for 30 minutes post-bedtime
  • Disturbed sleep with intervals of awakening at night
  • Rising abruptly during peak morning hours
  • Unexplained sleepiness during the day or desire to sleep during odd times
  • Snoring, gasping, choking, snorting, etc, during sleep
  • Creeping, tingling and crawling sensations in the legs which are relieved by moving or massaging legs
  • Sudden and unexplained jerking of arms or legs during sleep
  • Muscle weakness while experiencing anger, fear or laughter
  • Unexplained, vivid imaginations or dreams while falling asleep 

Treatment of Sleep Disorders

Treatment of sleep disorders depends on case-to-case and the type of disorder one is experiencing. However, some general steps that contribute towards a healthy and undisturbed sleep are:

  • Good sleeping habits such as routine bedtime, positive sleep environment, avoid daytime naps, etc.
  • Healthy lifestyle and diet habits such as low caffeine, less alcohol, more green vegetables, balanced carbs, regular exercising, etc.
  • Reduce exposure to electronics including laptops, mobile phones, etc. especially 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapies, meditation or other relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety
  • CPAP machine for sleep apnea
  • Bright light therapy for the morning
  • Sleeping pills (only to be taken if advised by a doctor)
  • Mind-relaxing teas
  • Undertaking hobbies to relax the brain muscles
  • Listening to calming music

That said, it is important to manage and correct sleep disorders to ensure a healthy life since sleep disorders have a detrimental effect on the quality of life and functioning of the organs.