Garden-variety insomnia affects more than 30% of Americans, according to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research. But while it’s easily the most common sleep disorder, it’s certainly not the only one.
Problems Falling Asleep
In addition to insomnia, which can be caused by a lot of different things, more unusual problems can prevent you from resting.
Narcolepsy is a disorder wherein the sufferer’s brain has trouble regulating the natural circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake rhythm. It is best known by the symptom of sudden attacks of inappropriate daytime sleepiness. (And we don’t just mean during a boring meeting about Q3 profit reports.)
Treatment options for narcolepsy include counseling and medication. The Stanford University of Medicine’s Center for Narcolepsy points out that most narcoleptics have yet to be diagnosed, so if you have strong attacks of daytime sleepiness, talk to your doctor.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Despite the disorder’s funny name, the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation (RLSF) estimates that up to 10% of people live with this unfunny condition, characterized by a maddening urge to move your legs when resting.
There’s no sure-fire cure (or even sure-fire diagnostic test), but the RLSF does provide a lot of information and suggestions for alleviation of symptoms.
Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome
If you’re such a “night owl” that you can’t handle a 9-to-5 job, you may have an actual condition—Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS)—in which your sleep circadian rhythm is on a permanent time delay.
The condition is real but somewhat rare, occurring in about 1 out of 700 people. Its opposite, Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (being an extreme morning person), is even rarer.
Problems Waking Up
Sleep paralysis, which is often a feature of narcolepsy (but can occur separately from it), happens when you awaken from sleep but find yourself unable to move or open your eyes. It’s frightening to experience, but temporary.
When you dream, a certain function of your brain prevents you from getting up and acting out your dream actions in the waking world. Sleep paralysis happens when this function kicks in at an inappropriate time.
Problems during Sleep
Sleepwalking (and Other Unusual Behaviors)
In a way, sleepwalking is a pediatric disorder, being much more common in children. However, it can still persist into adulthood.
Sleepwalking is something of a misnomer, since it’s not just limited to walking—it’s associated with other unusual behaviors during sleep, such as sleep talking and even sleep eating.
This condition occurs when breathing is interrupted during sleep, whether by a defect in the brain, or a physical constriction of the throat, most often due to obesity putting pressure on the tissues.
Loud snoring is often a symptom. Since this condition can be life-threatening, check out the American Sleep Apnea Association for more information if you’re concerned.
But the Good News Is…
All the sleep disorders listed above, while having no guaranteed cure, can be manageable. Some may require lifestyle adjustments (such as DSPS); others, medication (such as narcolepsy); others, better sleep hygiene (such as RLS).
And if your problems are mild or harmless enough, you might not necessarily need treatment at all. At least one husband-and-wife team (he suffers from sleep talking; she, from insomnia) have chosen to regularly blog what he says in his sleep, instead of seeking medical intervention.
Now that’s looking on the bright side!