Sleep Disorders: Sleep Apnea, Restless Leg Syndrome, Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, and Narcolepsy

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common disorder that involves difficulty breathing when asleep. The word “apnea” literally translates from the Latin to “without breathing.” A familiar symptom of sleep apnea is snoring, which occurs during the night when a person is gasping for air. Though snoring is common, just because you snore it doesn’t mean you necessarily have sleep apnea. Nonetheless, this gasping that causes snoring prevents healthy sleep, particularly because it reduces the time spent in restorative deep sleep (Carskadon & Rechtschaffen, 1994). The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute estimated in 2006 that one in fifteen people suffer from sleep apnea. Other indicators of sleep apnea include waking up tired, being overweight, the distribution of fat in the stomach and neck areas, menopause, and heredity. Recent population health studies have found that those with untreated sleep apnea have a five times higher morbidity rate than those with treated sleep apnea. (Nieto, Young, Lind, Shahar, Samet, et al., 2000). If you think you or someone you know might have sleep apnea, see a doctor and get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment. 

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is characterized by an irresistible urge to move the body in order to stop an uncomfortable or odd sensation, often described as a burning, itching, or tickling. It usually affects the legs, but can also occur in the arms or torso. It is estimated that restless leg syndrome affects seven to ten percent of Americans, with approximately two percent of the population experiencing severe symptoms. Restless leg syndrome occurs in females twice as often as in males, and is more common with those who are Caucasian, iron deficient, pregnant, elderly, or obese. Some cancers, depression, and a sedentary life style have also been linked to restless leg syndrome. This syndrome is treatable, and can often be assuaged by a healthy lifestyle as well as moving around once you begin to experience symptoms in the night. Restless leg syndrome can also be treated with medicine. If you think you have this disorder, you should consult with your physician.

 Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Delayed sleep phase syndrome is a preventable sleep problem that is widespread among adolescents. This syndrome describes the inability to fall asleep and wake up at preferred times. For instance, teens naturally have their sleep cycle shift towards later in the night.  So teens often find themselves unable to fall asleep until late in the night and unable to wake up with their alarm in the morning. Delayed sleep phase syndrome is caused by erratic sleep habits that confuse your body and prevent it from developing the desired times of falling asleep and waking up. The syndrome is often characterized by staying up late and sleeping in on weekends, then waking up early on weekdays and taking an afternoon nap. This erratic schedule can make it extremely difficult to wake up in the morning. Treatments are behavioral, and include becoming more aware of the importance of consistent sleep patterns and modifying your sleep schedule appropriately.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a less common sleep disorder characterized by excessive tiredness even after getting an adequate amount of sleep, and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep at inappropriate times (Carskadon et. al, 1994). This behavior is frequent, often occurring several times a day. Those who suffer from narcolepsy also undergo frequent awakenings during nighttime sleep. Some narcoleptics experience the sudden loss of muscle tone, which can cause physical collapse with retained consciousness. This phenomenon often occurs in response to highly emotional situations. Other symptoms of narcolepsy include the temporary inability to talk or move immediately after waking up, vivid and often frightening hallucinations, and, more commonly, appearing conscious while not remembering any events that occur. If you think that these symptoms apply to you, see a physician immediately because this disorder can be dangerous.