From time to time, just about everyone has an issue with sleep. Either we suffer from fatigue and we sleep “too much,” or we have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. When these types of problems persist, there may be medical issues involved that require professional help. Understanding sleep disorders and how they can affect our lives, as well as the medical treatments available, may help. It is also important to understand the risks of medications that you may be prescribed in an effort to help you sleep.
Types of Sleep Disorders
Sleep disorders can range from mild to severe. One of the most common forms of sleep disorder is improper sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene simply refers to our sleep habits. In our 24-hour society, we tend to stay up late, wake for work before we’ve had adequate time to sleep, or work odd shifts contrary to the human sleep cycle. One might think that having poor sleep habits is to be expected, and that it doesn’t affect one’s daily life. According to Psychology Today, that would be wrong. Poor or inadequate sleep can impact our lives in many ways, including:
- Impulse control
- Ability to handle pain
- Blood pressure
- Lack of concentration
- Ability to make sound judgments, including making a judgment about whether we can make judgments
This sleep problem can be repaired for some individuals by using simple tips and tricks that may seem like common sense. For instance, going to bed at the same time every day or eliminating distractions (like televisions) in the bedroom can help. Exposing yourself to bright light all day (open the shades) and eliminating bright lights after sunset (table lamps instead of overhead lighting) can help to create a healthy cycle of melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone in the brain that assists in the sleep process.
Insomnia Has Many Sources or Causes
Sleep Apnea Can be Difficult to Diagnose
One of the most common causes of daytime fatigue or sleepiness is a condition which, quite literally, causes an individual to stop breathing – or to take shallow, unrewarding breaths – while they sleep. In most cases, the individual will begin breathing again on their own, however, the sleep pattern has already been disrupted, causing one’s sleep to be inadequate for the body’s needs. It is difficult to diagnose, according to the National Institutes of Health, because there is no blood test to detect it, and it is impossible to witness the condition while someone is awake in a doctor’s office.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs most frequently. When a person lies down to sleep, the airway becomes obstructed in some way and the individual snores as air pushes past the blockage. In severe cases, breathing may stop altogether. Most common in overweight individuals, the condition can affect just about anyone — for instance those with conditions related to the tonsils. There are several treatments available for sleep apnea, including changes in lifestyle, such as losing weight and becoming fitter, mouthpieces designed to keep the airway free and open, and surgery.
Narcolepsy Can Result in Sleep Paralysis
The symptoms of narcolepsy include:
- Extreme daytime drowsiness
- Sleep attacks, generally lasting 15 minutes or so and potentially occurring during activities such as driving or having a conversation
- Loss of the ability to move, known as cataplexy after experiencing intense emotion
Sleep paralysis is another symptom of narcolepsy that can be quite frightening. Stanford University describes sleep paralysis as the inability to move one’s body just before one falls asleep or just after one wakes. One aspect of sleep paralysis, known as the “hag phenomena” occurs when hallucinations of someone being in the room coincide with the paralysis. According to the experts, this is not harmful, but many individuals report a feeling of dread, fear or doom associated with the pressure of someone crushing their chests. As many as 35 percent of individuals who suffer from sleep paralysis also suffer from panic attacks during the day, and 16 percent suffer from panic disorders.
Sleepwalking Can be Linked to Medications
There are two types of sleepwalking that affect people at different times of the night. Generally, according to PubMed Health, sleepwalking occurs early in the night – or sleep cycle – when the individual is in a deep sleep. Other times, when sleepwalking occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, it is associated with a condition called REM behavior disorder. This tends to happen closer to the morning.
Sleepwalking does not necessarily mean the individual will get up and walk around the house. Even if the individual only sits up in bed or holds a conversation, they are considered to be sleepwalking. Talking in one’s sleep is not necessarily a form of sleepwalking, although it can be a symptom of the disorder. The difference is in the appearance the person has to others. Someone who is sleepwalking will generally look and act perfectly normally to others, as though they are awake, even if they look “sleepy.” Still others will appear wide awake and functional.
REM Sleep Usually Involves Temporary Paralysis
When an individual dreams, he or she is usually in the rapid eye movement cycle of sleep. During this phase of the sleep cycle, the brain is highly active – just as active as the wakeful mind, according to the National Sleep Foundation – while the body is temporarily paralyzed. When an individual suffers from REM behavior disorder, however, the body is not paralyzed and they may act out their dreams in real time.
This can be dangerous for the individual, as well as sleep partners or others, because the dreams can control their actions. For instance, if an individual is battling enemies in a violently bad dream, they may injure the person sleeping next to them. Typically, the condition takes years to develop. In the beginning, they may only twitch or shutter in their sleep, gradually increasing their activity unconsciously until they erupt in more full-body movements. They generally will not experience any of the physical sensations, as their mind is communicating only what is present in the dream.
Risks of Using Medications for Sleep Disorders
In our fast-paced society, it seems as though there is a pill for just about everything, and this is true for sleep disorders, such as insomnia. Common prescribed medications for insomnia are non-benzodiazepine hypnotics. These drugs, with brand names such as Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta, have been associated with several significant side effects including driving, preparing and consuming meals, and making telephone calls while sleeping. The other danger of these medications is the possibility of addiction. Because of this risk, it is recommended that individuals only use these types of drugs for no more than four weeks.
Because of these risks, the National Institutes of Health recommends that other possible medical problems be ruled out before treating the symptoms of insomnia. The insomnia may, in fact, be a symptom of something more severe, such as anxiety or depression. When conditions such as anxiety and depression are left untreated, there is an increased chance of having a co-occurring addiction to drugs and alcohol, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In fact, the rates are double those of the general population.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment Can Address Sleep Disorders and Addiction
If you have a sleep disorder and have found yourself addicted to your sleep medication, you may be suffering from a Dual Diagnosis. It’s imperative that you receive treatment for both issues concurrently in order to effectively reach a complete recovery. We can help. Call us for more information on our Dual Diagnosis treatment programs in California and Tennessee. We treat individuals from all over the US, and we are here 24 hours a day to take your call.
Further Reading About Understanding Sleeping Disorders
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton