Types of Sleep Disorders and How to Treat Them?

By Dr. Divya Mandial | 4th Sep 2023

Types of Sleep Disorders and How to Treat Them?

What are sleep disorders?

Sleep is a biological and essential process in our body that allows our body and mind to rest and recharge. It is a state of reduced consciousness characterised by a lower level of brain activity, slowed breathing, and decreased muscle activity. Our body undergoes various vital processes during sleep that help keep us physically and mentally fit. An adult between 18 to 64 years needs 7-9 hours of sleep for sustained health. However, our irregular sleep schedule, excessive caffeine, alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity, and excess screen time before bedtime have disrupted our sleep quality and we develop various types of sleep disorders.

When our brain fails to get adequate and restful sleep, we might suffer from sleep disorders. The condition can range from mild disturbances to severe and chronic problems that significantly degrade the quality of life.

Types of sleep disorders

There are more than 80 different types of sleep disorders. These are the group of conditions that affects our ability to sleep well in routine. The most common types of sleep disorders are as follows:

1) Insomnia

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterised by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or not being able to fall back asleep after waking up too early. It can be short-term or long-term, lasting for months or even years. More than one-third of adults experience this sleep disorder at some point.

Here are some common strategies you must consider to treat insomnia:

  • Make sure you wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.
  • Maintain the ambience of your bedroom for a comfortable sleep.
  • Use comfortable bedding and pillows for proper sleep.
  • Avoid watching TV or using mobile phones before bed.
  • Do not consume caffeine or alcohol before bedtime, as these substances can interfere with sleep.
  • Exercise regularly to promote good sleep, but do not exercise too close to bedtime as it can stimulate the body and make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Practise deep breathing, and meditation, to relax and reduce stress.
  • Consult your doctor if you are experiencing insomnia due to pain, anxiety, depression, or other medical conditions.
  • You can also try melatonin and valerian root supplements to promote sleep.

Medications for Insomnia

  • Temazepam 
  • Diazepam 
  • Lorazepam 
  • Clonazepam
  • Zolpidem 
  • Eszopiclone 
  • Zaleplon 
  • Trazodone

2) Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterised by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses can last several seconds or minutes and occur throughout the night. Sleep apnea occurs due to partial or complete obstruction of the upper airway, which can decrease oxygen levels in the blood and cause the person to wake up to resume breathing. Loud snoring, frequent urination, morning headaches, and excessive daytime sleepiness is the other noticeable symptoms of sleep apnea.

Here are some common strategies you must consider to treat Sleep apnea:

  • Lose weight
  • Avoid supine or face-up while sleeping
  • Use custom-made oral devices to help keep your airway open during sleep

a) Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy for Sleep Apnea

If your sleep apnea is severe, your doctor may recommend continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) to improve your sleep pattern. CPAP is the treatment option for moderate to severe sleep apnea. For this therapy, you should wear a mask while asleep. The mask is connected to a machine that delivers a continuous air stream to keep the airway open during sleep.

b) Surgery

Surgery is rarely performed for sleep apnea to remove excess tissue from the throat or correct structural abnormalities in the airway. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), Genioglossus advancement, and nasal and maxillomandibular advancements are the surgical options for treating sleep apnea.

3) Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterised by excessive daytime sleepiness and fragmented sleep at night. You can also experience cataplexy (a sudden loss of muscle tone), sleep paralysis, and vivid hallucinations when falling asleep or waking up. It may be caused by a deficiency of the brain chemical hypocretin, which helps regulate wakefulness and sleep. While there is no cure for Narcolepsy, these treatment strategies can help manage the symptoms of Narcolepsy.

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule to regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
  • Take short and scheduled naps to reduce excessive daytime sleepiness and improve alertness.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol consumption.
  • Exercise regularly to reduce depression and anxiety in Narcolepsy.
  • Avoid large meals and heavy foods before bedtime.

Medications for Narcolepsy

Stimulant medications: Stimulants reduce excessive daytime sleepiness by promoting wakefulness. The stimulant medications prescribed in Nacrolepsy include:

  • Modafinil
  • Methylphenidate
  • Sodium oxybate

It helps improve nighttime sleep and reduces loss of muscle control and sleep paralysis in Nacrolepsy.

Antidepressant medications: Antidepressants also help reduce cataplexy and sleep paralysis. The antidepressant medications prescribed in Nacrolepsy include:

  • Clomipramine
  • Imipramine
  • Venlafaxine
  • Fluoxetine
  • Sertraline
  • Duloxetine

4) Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

One of the most common sleep disorder, Restless legs syndrome, affects about 15% of adults. It is more experienced by women than men, and the risk of this disorder increases with age.

RLS is marked by uncomfortable sensations that make you move limbs at rest or sleep. You can experience creeping, crawling, tingling, or shock-like feelings that disrupt your sleep. Regular physical activity, taking hot showers before and getting a massage at bedtime can improve your sleep. Besides, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol can improve the symptoms. You can also start taking iron supplements to ease the symptoms of RLS due to iron deficiency.

Medications for Restless Leg Syndrome

Dopamine Agonists: These work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, which can help alleviate RLS. The dopamine agonists prescribed for RLS include:

  • Pramipexole
  • Ropinirole
  • Rotigotine

Anticonvulsants: These medications calm down the nervous system, which promotes good sleep. The anticonvulsants prescribed for Restless Leg Syndrome include:

  • Gabapentin
  • Pregabalin

Benzodiazepines: These are not used as a first-line treatment for restless leg syndrome. However, these medications can help promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and sleep. Diazepam and Clonazepam are the Benzodiazepines prescribed to treat RLS.

5) Shift work sleep disorder

Shift work sleep disorder is usually experienced by those who work in nontraditional shifts, i.e., outside the regular 9:00 am to 5:00 pm shift. The body’s natural biological sleep cycle is disrupted, which leads to shortened and hampered sleep and excessive sleepiness while awake at work. Here are some strategies to cope with shift work sleep disorder.

  • Try to sleep maximum after your night shift.
  • Take short naps during breaks or before or after work. It will help reduce your sleepiness.
  • Follow a particular sleep routine even on weekends and days off.
  • Take a break of 2 days after a series of the regular night shift.
  • Make sure your room is calm, quiet, and dark.
  • Wear sunglasses to avoid sunlight on your way to work.
  • Include melatonin supplementation in your diet.
  • Sip a cup of chamomile tea after work to induce better sleep.

Medications for Shift work sleep disorder

  • Modafinil
  • Armodafinil

The medication for sleep disorders helps improve alertness and reduce sleepiness during working hours, but these should only be used under strict medical guidance.

6) Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking or somnambulism is a common sleeping disorder in children during which they may sit up, walk around or engage in other activities during the night without realising it. It usually starts an hour or two after sleeping. Sleepwalk in children disappears on its own till puberty, or it may sometimes last longer. You can implement these strategies to prevent your child from sleepwalking.

  • Maintain a sleep schedule that they follow consistently.  
  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep.
  • Help your child relax and prepare for sleep with calming activities, such as reading or listening to soothing music.
  • Limit their screen time before bed.
  • Avoid caffeinated products such as soda drinks, energy drinks, and chocolates during the night.
  • Limit their liquid intake in the evening to prevent frequent urination.

The frequency and severity of sleepwalking episodes in adults can also be prevented with the above strategies. Adults can also take Clonazepam tablets to reduce sleepwalking episodes.

7) Sleep talking

Sleep talking, or somniloquy, is a sleep disorder that involves talking during sleep. It is primarily seen in men and children. They are unaware of the conversations they have in sleep talking. They may mumble, speak complete sentences or even make conversations in different voices and languages. It is generally a harmless condition and doesn’t require treatment. The following strategies can help you cope with sleep talking.

  • Reduce your stress and anxiety with deep breathing or meditation.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Create a cosy space in your room to sleep.
  • Avoid taking unnecessary sedatives and antidepressants.

8) Sleep terrors

Sleep terrors, or night terrors, are the types of sleep disorders that terrify you and wake you with a scream. It usually occurs in the initial sleep phase and lasts for several minutes. You might return to your natural sleep after completely waking up from a bad dream. While sleep terror is common in children of three to seven, 1 to 4 % of adults also experience it. Maintaining your child’s sleep pattern, limiting their screen time and avoiding caffeine products before bedtime can help resolve sleep problems.

9) Teeth grinding (bruxism)

You must have heard clenching or grinding the teeth in children during sleep. Teeth grinding, or bruxism is a common sleep disorder in children. It is harmless for children. It also affects about 10% of adults. You are more susceptible to teeth grinding if you smoke cigarettes or deal with sleep apnea, stress, and anxiety. The following considerations can help you cope with teeth grinding.

  • Treating sleep apnea or anxiety can reduce teeth grinding.
  • Use a mouth guard or splint to help protect the teeth from damage caused by frequent teeth grinding.
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes, as it can make bruxism worse.
  • Prevent teeth clenching during the day.
  • Avoid chewing pencils or pens unconsciously. Also, avoid chewing gums.

The impact of sleep disorders on daily life and health

It becomes challenging for sleep disorder patients to cope with routine activities. They often experience daytime fatigue and sleepiness, making concentrating and performing routine tasks difficult. Their memory impairs with time, and it becomes difficult for them to concentrate, leading to decreased productivity at work. Those with different types of sleep disorders are also at high risk of developing depression, anxiety or other psychiatric disorders.

Types of Sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and heart attacks. The hormonal changes due to sleep problems can cause abnormal weight gain. The adverse consequences of sleep problems negatively impact the quality of life, relationships, and health.

The role of lifestyle changes and behaviour modification in managing sleep disorders

The lifestyle modifications such as establishing a regular sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and avoiding large meals, before bedtime can help regularise their sleep cycle to avoid the types of sleep disorders. Besides, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake at bedtime is very helpful in boosting the natural sleep cycle and keeping your mental health in order.

Understanding the risk factors for sleep disorders

You are more susceptible to sleep issues when you are:

  • An older adult
  • Have a family history of sleep disorders, such as Narcolepsy.
  • Dealing with obesity, asthma, and chronic pains
  • Taking antidepressants
  • Overconsuming alcohol, caffeine, and other substances can interfere with sleep
  • Irregular or overnight work shifts
  • Dealing with anxiety and depression
  • Excessively using mobile phones before bedtime

The effectiveness of therapy for sleep disorders

Along with lifestyle modifications, certain therapies specific to the types of sleep disorders can improve your sleep quality.

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on changing behaviours that contribute to insomnia. It helps teach better sleep habits, manage stress, and improve sleep quality.
  • Sleep restriction therapy: Sleep restriction therapy restricts your time spent in bed, which helps improve insomnia.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy: CPAP keeps the airway open during sleep apnea for comfortable breathing.
  • Light therapy: This therapy is used to treat shift work sleep disorder. You are exposed to bright light in the morning and evening to regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

The role of sleep hygiene in promoting healthy sleep

Sleep hygiene is the set of behavioural and environmental recommendations intended to manage sleep issues. Good sleep hygiene includes the following considerations.

  • Avoid daytime naps
  • Stick to a consistent sleep routine
  • Reduce bedroom noise
  • Exercise regularly
  • Practise meditation to reduce stress
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Quit smoking and nicotine
  • Don’t skip meals, and have healthy foods
  • Avoid heavy or spicy meals before bedtime

Following these practices in your daily routine can improve your sleep hygiene and promote healthy sleep. However, if you continue to have sleep problems, it’s best to consult your doctor’s healthcare for any underlying types of sleep disorders that require treatment.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is sleep anxiety?

Sleep anxiety, or bedtime anxiety, is a type of anxiety that makes sleep difficult due to racing thoughts or intense anxiety about the prospect of not being able to sleep. It makes you feel worries, fear, or distress about sleep.

Can sleep disorders be cured?

Not all types of sleep disorders can be cured. However, most types of sleep disorders can be managed by practising good sleep hygiene. In contrast, severe sleep disorders need therapies and medications to be treated.

Is sleep disorder a mental illness?

Sleep disorders are not necessarily mental illnesses but can worsen mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

What is the natural remedy for a sleepless night?

You must avoid caffeine and alcohol at bedtime and exercise regularly to get undisrupted sleep. You can sip a cup of chamomile tea to induce better sleep. Also, you must create a comfortable sleep environment in your room.

Disclaimer: The information given in this article is true to our best knowledge. Still, we recommend that you consult your doctor before taking any medication for the Sleep Disorders mentioned in this article.

References

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