What Constitutes a Sleep Disorder? And How Do You Know If You Have One?

Anyone who regularly wakes up feeling tired, or at least not feeling well-rested, should seriously consider visiting their doctor. They might be suffering from one of many sleep disorders – or, as the medical professionals now more accurately call them, “sleep-wake” disorders.

Sleep-Wake Disorder: Understanding It

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “At least 40 million Americans each year suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders each year, and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems.” This is not just a matter of waking up grumpy or tired – it is a serious mental and physical health ailment, especially if the loss or deprivation of sleep becomes chronic. For more on the signs, causes, effects and treatments for such sleeping problems, read this article.

Sleep-Wake Disorder: Drowsiness

Drowsiness is the simplest and clearest sign that someone is not getting enough sleep or, more likely, the right kind of sleep, especially the deep sleep that is so critical to rebooting and refreshing the body, mind and spirit. Everyone gets a little sleepy now and then, but if it becomes chronic and impacts their ability to work or function, there could be more to it than just not having gotten a good night’s rest. While drowsiness is often caused by some kind of trauma to the head, and can be a symptom of a concussion, for most people it is a warning sign that they are suffering from some kind of sleep-wake disorder. If traditional get-to-sleep routines or naps do not cure it or ameliorate it, then it is time to investigate with a doctor if there is something that is interrupting their sleep.

Sleep-Wake Disorder: Hypersomnia

For some people, sleeping too much is a problem – especially when even after spending many more hours than usual in bed and asleep they are still tired. This problem of sleeping too much is known as hypersomnia. People who suffer from this often go to bed t the normal time and fall asleep easily – they just can’t seem to get up or wake up after what for most people would be a full night’s rest. 

Sleep-Wake Disorder: Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a very serious sleep disorder. This is when someone falls asleep for no apparent reason and often without warning – sometimes even when driving their car. That situation can lead to fatal consquences. People with narcolepsy have difficulty holding down jobs, completing normal tasks or just getting through the day. Narcolepsy can be genetic, or it can be the result of a chemical deficiency. 

Sleep-Wake Disorder: Sleepwalking

Movies and cartoons often make jokes about sleepwalking or set up comedic situations involving people who get up and walk about and do little daily tasks but while still in a deep sleep. Sleepwalking, however, is not a joking matter. Although most frequent in children under 12, people of any age are susceptible to this disorder. Sometimes it is caused by anxiety, but there are other causes as well.

Sleep-Wake Disorder: Night Terror

Not all nightmares are just bad dreams. There are people, especially children, whose nightmares are so real, so terrifying that they become “waking dreams” that cause them to thrash about, get up and walk out of their bedroom or even their house, or do other things that can injure themselves. Many who suffer from night terrors do so with their eyes wide open – but are so overcome by their terror that their brain does not recognize the real world. Night terror is like sleepwaking, but far more serious – and dangerous. 

Sleep-Wake Disorder: Restless Leg Syndrome

Uncontrollable muscle movements can be embarrassing when people are awake, but if they happen when they are asleep they can disturb their rest. The most common of these is called Restless Leg Syndrome, and, as the name suggests, involves the involuntary shaking or twitching of one or both legs. 

Sleep-Wake Disorder: Sleep Apnea

Difficulty breathing, or the frequent interruption of breathing, can ruin a night’s sleep. It can also lead to or be a sign of many other serious health issues. Snoring is the common sign that someone is suffering from some type of sleep apnea, as this type of sleep-wake disorder is known. Not everyone who snores is in danger, but it is a sign that something is blocking their respiratory process during sleep. There are medicines, masks and machines than can help people deal with this problem, and which will allow them and others who might share their bedroom get a good and healthy night’s rest.