Sleep disorders are a medical disorder of the sleep patterns of a person. Some sleep disorders are serious enough to interfere with normal physical, mental, social and emotional functioning. A Polysomnography (PSG) or Sleep Studies are tests commonly ordered for certain sleep disorder diagnosis. These tests are usually performed within a Hospital Ward or Sleep Clinic.
Sleep disorders are common in both children and adults. However, there is a significant lack of awareness in children with sleep disorders, due to most cases being unidentified.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) (or apnoea) is far more common sleep disorder than generally understood and is caused by obstruction of the upper airway.
It is characterized by brief interruptions in breathing during sleep, despite the effort to breathe. It is also associated with a drop in blood oxygen saturation. These interruptions in breathing are called “apneas”.
Apneas, which means “without breath” have to occur for over ten seconds per episode to be classified as an apnea.
The individual with OSA is not always aware of having interruptions in breathing, even when waking up. It is usually recognized as a problem by the individual’s bed-partner or other family members. Others witness heavy snoring or that the individual struggles to breathe while sleeping. OSA is very often accompanied by snoring. Symptoms may be present for years without being identified. Symptoms include daytime sleepiness and fatigue due to significant levels of sleep disturbance. Without a regular bed-partner to notice the symptoms, individuals who generally sleep alone are often not aware of the condition.
Certain mechanical and structural problems in the airway cause the interruptions in breathing during sleep. The throat muscles and tongue relaxes and sags causing a partial or full obstruction in the airway. OSA very often occurs among obese people because of excessive fatty tissue narrowing the airway. This results in heavy snoring, periods of not breathing and frequent arousals.
Insomnia, or sleeplessness, is a sleep disorder where individuals struggle to fall asleep or to stay asleep as long as desired.
This sleep disorder is generally thought of as both a medical sign and a symptom that can accompany several other sleep, medical, and psychiatric disorders. These are often characterised by a continuous inability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep or having sleep of poor quality. Functionality usually becomes impaired whilst awake. More common in the elderly, Insomnia can occur at any age. Due to excessive daytime sleepiness, it can eventually cause memory problems, depression, irritability and an increased risk of heart disease and motor vehicle-related accidents.
Often insomniacs turn to sleeping pills, but could also lead to dependency or addiction if constantly used over a long period. A very useful therapy for insomnia is cognitive-behavioural therapy. One is then able to get to the root of the problem and be retrained into a regular sleep pattern.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED) or Wittmaack-Ekbom syndrome, is a neurological sleep disorder whereby one feels an irresistible urge to move one’s body to stop uncomfortable or strange sensations.
It is most commonly felt in the legs, but can also affect the arms, torso and head. Moving the body part affected by the sensations provides temporary relief.
RLS sensations range from pain or aching in the muscles, to “an itch you can’t scratch,” an unpleasant “tickle that won’t stop,” or even a feeling that your skin is “crawling”. A lot of individuals with RLS suffer from periodic limb movement disorder (limbs jerking during sleep), which is usually a prominent indicator of the disorder. This sleep disorder can also be caused by low iron levels.
Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), which used to be known as nocturnal myoclonus, is a sleep disorder where the patient moves limbs involuntarily during sleep and has symptoms or issues related to the movement.
PLMD should not be confused with restless leg syndrome. PLMD occurs in most individuals suffering from restless leg syndrome. RLS occurs while awake as well as when asleep, and when awake, there is a voluntary response to an uncomfortable feeling in the legs. PLMD, on the other hand, is involuntary, and the patient is usually not aware of these movements at all.