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What are the Different Types of Sleep Disorders?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By Fiorite — On Nov 20, 2010

@ Babalaas- There is another type of REM sleep disorder that can be dangerous not only to the affected person, but to anyone that person shares a bed with. The reason that people dream during REM sleep is that the body goes into a state of paralysis. This allows a person to dream without acting out their dreams. This disorder prevents the temporary paralysis of REM sleep, making people lash out often violently while they are dreaming. These episodes can be quite extreme where people actually scream, talk, kick, and punch while they are asleep. They will often awaken disoriented with no idea what has just happened. My thought is this disorder could possibly describe many cases of demonic possession.

By Georgesplane — On Nov 20, 2010

@ babalaas- All of what you have been told is the truth. There are multiple different types of REM sleep disorders and symptoms vary. Narcolepsy is a REM disorder that can be debilitating. Narcolepsy is the result of getting too much REM sleep so that the body does not get enough deep sleep. Narcoleptics fall almost immediately into REM sleep without transitioning through the four other stages of sleep.

Lack of sleep can kill you, but I think it is a combination of a lack of REM and deep sleep. Death by sleep deprivation is a slow and agonizing death that results in disorientation, changes in hormones, and a breakdown of the body's basic functions. Continual sleep deprivation can result in health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. Regular sleep deprivation can also reduce life expectancy.

By Babalaas — On Nov 20, 2010

What are rem sleep disorders? Someone told me rem sleep disorder was narcolepsy, but someone else told me it was really bad night terrors that someone acts out. I was also told that people with rem sleep disorder could die from the disorder. I am just looking for a little clarity.

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