In medical terms, sleep disorders are an irregularity in the amount or quality of sleep that a person achieves. Sleep disorders are also persistent problems. They may be physiological problems that cause the sufferer mental distress. Sleep disorders have the ability to interfere with the sufferer’s ability to cope with day to day living, affecting both their work and their social life.
There are around 70 different types of medically recognized sleep disorders. The disorders are usually categorized based on their cause. There are two main areas of disorder, parasomnias and dyssomnias.
Two common sleep disorders under the parasomnias category are nightmare disorders and sleep terror disorders. Nightmare disorders are quite common in children and can affect up to 50% of children. The sufferer is repeatedly awoken from his or her sleep into a fully aware state. The sufferer usually remembers the nightmare, which makes him or her reluctant to go back to sleep. Nightmares in children and adults are usually triggered by stress.
Sleep terrors may be so severe that the sufferer wakes up crying and shaking. Disorientation and confusion may also occur when the sufferer awakens. The sufferer does not usually remember the dream and is likely to fall asleep again immediately. When he or she awakes, the sufferer may also not be able to remember the incident.
Another parasomniac condition is sleepwalking. With sleepwalking, the sufferer freely moves around. He or she may even eat food, talk to people, and use the bathroom.
If a sleepwalker is awakened, he or she will be extremely disorientated and have no memory of the incident. Around 30% of children have sleepwalked, and the behavior usually appears around the age of seven to 12 years old. It is a very rare condition in adults unless it occurred when they were children.
Dyssomniac sleep disorders are more common. These include insomnias, which affect around 35% of Americans. Insomnia is an inability to fall asleep or to remain sleeping. There may be events in the sufferer’s life that lead up to the insomnia. Anxiety and frustration over one's inability to achieve sleep may also be a factor.
Hpynic jerks can also cause sleeplessness. Cramps or twitchy limbs can cause the sufferer to repeatedly awaken during the night. Hypnic jerks or restless legs syndrome (RLS) may ease when the sufferer is less tense, usually in the early hours.
Breathing problems are a common cause of many sleep disorders. Known as sleep apnea, these sleep disorders may be caused by blockages in the airways. Sufferers may awaken gasping for air many times during the night. They may also keep other people awake due to their snoring.
There are many different treatments available for the diverse range of sleep disorders. If the disorder lasts for over a month, it is considered a medical problem. A doctor should be consulted either to arrange medication or to refer the sufferer to a specialist.