Sleep Problems 101

Sleep Problems
Sleep disorders may seem like a light-hearted issue, but actually they can
wreak havoc on patients' lives.

Sleep problems are common, and they range far beyond just missing out on a good night’s sleep. To the legions of sufferers, even a relatively mild problems can be highly troublesome, and serious problem can have extreme consequenses.

The story is told of a woman who left her home one night, drove to the airport, bought a plane ticket, boarded a cross-country flight, and midway through the trip -- woke up! She had been asleep and unaware of her actions during the entire series of events. It's not known what pulled her out of her slumber, but suspicions point to the smell of airplane food.

We've all heard stories such as this about supposed sleepwalking episodes in which sleepers did uncanny things while sound asleep. They usually elicit a hardy chuckle or a shake of the head. In a way, though, these stories can give a false impression about the seriousness of sleep disorders.

Sleep researchers are divided about whether such extreme episodes are truly sleepwalking or are instead due to other factors, such as psychiatric disorders or amnesia related to medication. But one thing researchers do agree on is that even the less-bizarre sleep disorders can and do wreak havoc on sufferers' lives. For the people who suffer from them, sleep disorders are no laughing matter.

Sure, everyone occasionally misses out on a good night's sleep. But for a substantial portion of our population, an entire night of restful or uninterrupted sleep is something they only daydream about. Many of these people suffer from one of over 80 classified sleep disorders.

Most sleep problems are not diseases in themselves. Insomnia, for example, refers to difficulty in falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or waking too early. But insomnia is not a disease in and of itself. It is a symptom that can be caused by a host of lifestyle patterns and medical conditions. Insomnia, therefore, is considered a secondary sleep disorder (although for those plagued by insomnia, the term "secondary" hardly does it justice).

On the other hand, there are diseases, such as sleep apnea, that occur primarily during or in association with sleep. These are considered primary sleep disorders. The primary sleep disorders include:

  • sleep apnea
  • narcolepsy
  • hypersomnolence
  • restless legs syndrome
  • periodic limb movement disorder
  • sleepwalking
  • night terrors
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • bruxism (grinding your teeth)

In addition to insomnia, the secondary sleep disorders include circadian rhythm disorders, situations in which your body's sleep-wake cycle is out of sync with the times you need to be awake and the times you need to be asleep.

So how do you know what type of sleep problem you have? A starting point is to review your own sleep habits for the possibility of a sleep disorder. Try answering "yes" or "no" to the following questions.

Yes No
1. When you get in bed at night, do you often have trouble falling asleep?

2. Does it seem like you just can't fall asleep until very late at night?

3. Do you find it very difficult to wake up before 10 a.m.?

4. Do you tend to fall asleep early in the evening and then wake up before the sun comes up?

5. Do you find yourself waking up several times throughout the night?

6. Do you wake up earlier in the morning than you need to and have trouble falling back to sleep?

7. Do you ever wake up in the night screaming, yelling, crying, or in an otherwise terrified state without knowing why?

8. Have you ever just collapsed on the spot the instant after hearing a funny joke, seeing a great sports play, or otherwise being excited?

9. Have you ever been told that you snore loudly and seem to stop breathing temporarily during the night?

10. Have you been told that you walk in your sleep?

11. Have you ever awoken to find yourself out of bed without remembering how you got there?

12. Have you been told that you move a lot in your sleep?

13. Have you ever injured yourself or anyone else while you were sleeping?

14. Do you feel tingly, prickly, itchy, or otherwise uncomfortable feelings in your legs as you start to fall asleep?

If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, you may have a primary or secondary sleep disorder. To get a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment you need to see a physician, preferably one knowledgeable about sleep disorders. This article will address the primary sleep disorders, starting with sleep apnea on the next page.

For more information on how to get a good night's sleep, see:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.