Part 7: Sleep Disorders

    Part 1: Sleep Disorders

    Just how prevalent are sleep related disorders in American society today? Experts say that over 40 million Americans currently suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, and another 20 million Americans go through occasional sleeping issues. These disorders and their associated sleep deprivation cause interference with driving, work, and even social situations. Plus, the economic toll is surprisingly significant, accounting for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs annually. In addition, the associated costs from lost productivity along with other related factors are even costlier.


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    Doctors have identified over 70 different sleep disorders, the majority of which can be effectively managed once they are accurately diagnosed. However, is it by far the most common of sleep disorders (insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome,) that we will delve into here.


    It’s no secret that most people occasionally suffer from some sort of short-term insomnia. This issue can be the result of stress, diet, jet lag, social issues or a wide range of other factors. Insomnia almost always affects well-being and job performance the day after the sleep problem arises. Some 60 million Americans currently experience some degree of insomnia frequently - some for extended periods of time, which generally leads to even more serious sleep deficits. Age also tends to cause increased insomnia, and affects men and women differently, with 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women being sleep deprived. Insomnia has proven to be the single most significant disabling symptom of an underlying medical disorder.

    Doctors often prescribe some sort of sleeping pills for short-term insomnia. However, most sleeping pills become largely ineffective after several weeks of use, and long-term use can actually interfere with healthy sleep. Most forms of mild insomnia can frequently be prevented or even outright cured just by practicing good, healthy sleep habits. For more serious cases of insomnia, sleep experts are experimenting with a number of new treatment options, including light therapy and other ways to alter circadian rhythms

    Sleep Apnea

    Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that causes interrupted breathing during sleep. It usually occurs due to fat buildup or loss of muscle tone as we get older. These changes cause the windpipe to collapse during breathing, while certain muscles relax during sleep. This is called obstructive sleep apnea, and is typically associated with loud snoring (not everyone that snores suffers from sleep apnea). Sleep apnea can also manifest if the neurons which control your breathing happen to malfunction during sleep.

    During the onset of obstructive sleep apnea, the person's attempt to breathe in air causes suction that collapses the windpipe. When this happens, the air flow can be blocked for anywhere from 10 seconds to a full minute while the person struggles to begin breathing again. When the blood oxygen level drops, the brain answers by waking the person up enough to cause a flexing of the upper airway muscles and open the windpipe. The person may gasp or snort, then continue snoring. This cycle can be repeated hundreds of times a night.

    The continual awakenings that sleep apnea causes leaves sufferers perpetually sleepy and can even lead to personality changes like irritability or depression. Sleep apnea also deprives the person of oxygen, which can cause morning headaches, a loss of sex drive, or even a noticeable decline in mental functioning.

    Sleep Apnea is also linked to irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks. People with severe and untreated sleep apnea are two to three times more likely to have car accidents than the general public. In some individuals who are at high-risk, sleep apnea can potentially lead to sudden death from respiratory arrest during sleep.

    Current estimates indicate that currently, over 18 million Americans suffer from varying degrees of sleep apnea. However, most have not had the problem properly diagnosed. Patients with the common symptoms of sleep apnea, such as obesity, excessive daytime sleepiness, and loud snoring, should have their doctor refer them to a sleep center that can perform a special test called a polysomnography. This test, which usually requires an overnight stay in a sleep lab, will record the patient's heartbeat, brain waves, and breathing for an entire night. If sleep apnea is confirmed, there are several treatments available.

    Less severe forms of sleep apnea can often be overcome with weight loss or by preventing the person from sleeping on their back. With more severe forms of sleep apnea, some people may find the need for special breathing devices called B or C-PAP or even possible surgery to stop the obstruction. According to sleep experts, those suffering with sleep apnea should not take any sedatives or sleeping pills, which may prevent them from awakening enough to breathe.


    Another very serous problem is the sleep disorder known as Narcolepsy, which currently affects an estimated 250,000 Americans. Those who suffer with narcolepsy experience repeated "sleep attacks" at random intervals during the day, even if they have had a normal amount of sleep. These episodes can last from several seconds to over than 30 minutes. Those who suffer from narcolepsy can also experience cataplexy, which is a loss of muscle control during emotional situations, temporary paralysis when awoken, hallucinations, and interrupted night-time sleep.

    Narcolepsy symptoms seem to encompass certain features of the REM sleep stage that manifest while the sufferer is awake. This indicates that narcolepsy is a probably a disorder pertaining to sleep regulation. The symptoms of narcolepsy usually appear in adolescence, but often take many years to have an accurate diagnosis. The disorder is most often hereditary, but on occasion, it is linked to certain types of brain damage from a neurological disease or a head injury.

    When narcolepsy is diagnosed, antidepressants, stimulants, or other drugs may help control the symptoms, preventing the dangerous and embarrassing effects of falling asleep at inappropriate times. Taking naps at certain times of the day also may reduce the excessive daytime sleepiness.

    As far as advancing treatments for this debilitating sleep disorder, a research team that worked with canines in 1999, was able to identify the gene that causes narcolepsy – a breakthrough that could bring a cure within reach. The gene, identified as hypocretin receptor 2, codes for a protein that lets brain cells receive directions from other cells. The defective versions of the gene encode proteins that are not able to recognize these messages, which may cut the cells off from messages that encourage wakefulness. The researchers have identified the same gene in humans, and are currently searching for defective versions in people with narcolepsy.

    Restless Legs Syndrome

    Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), is a genetic disorder causing irritating tingling, prickling or crawling sensations in the legs and feet which causes an impulse to move them in order to get some measure of relief. This disorder is fast becoming one of the most common sleep disorders, and has shown dramatic increases with older people. The disorder currently affects about 12 million Americans, and eventually leads to continual leg movement during the daytime and sometimes severe insomnia at night. Severe RLS is found most commonly in the elderly, but symptoms can emerge at any age. In some cases, RLS has been linked to other conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes or anemia.

    Many RLS patients also suffer from an associated and potentially devastating disorder known as Periodic Limb Movement Disorder or PLMD, which causes recurring jerking movements of the limbs, particularly the legs. These jerking movements happen every 20-40 seconds, causing continual awakening, which leads to extremely fragmented sleep. In a recent study, RLS and PLMD accounted for one third of the insomnia in patients over age 60. RLS and PLMD often can be effectively treated by drugs that have an effect on the neurotransmitter known as dopamine, which suggests that dopamine abnormalities are an underlying causation of the symptoms associated with this disorder.

    (Sources: American Sleep Association, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, The National Institutes for Health and Bedbug.com)

    This informative series of sleep articles is brought to you by SecureSleep™, the bedding encasement specialists, insuring that you can go to sleep with the piece of mind knowing you are protected from bed bugs and allergens. SecureSleep™ promotes Sleep Hygiene and Health. We are proudly endorsed by the American Sleep Association who recommends using SecureSleep™ encasements, an effective anti-bed bug/dust mite mattress and pillow cover.

    Related Articles

    Part 1: Sleep Basics - Why Do We Need Sleep

    Part 2: How Much Sleep is Enough Sleep

    Part 3: What are the Benefits of Sleep

    Part 4: Importance of REM Stage Sleep and Dreaming

    Part 5: What are Circadian Rhythms

    Part 6: Disease Associated with Sleep

    Part 7: Sleep Disorders (this article)

    Part 8: Clean Sleep Environment