While You Were Sleeping

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: May 22, 2009 9:36 AM
An average person will spend about one-third of his or her lifetime asleep. Getting an appropriate amount of restful sleep is essential for a healthy body and mind. There are numerous disorders that disrupt normal sleeping patterns (and therefore our general well-being) and others that are annoying or embarrassing, but usually considered harmless. Here are several sleep disorders - but don't diagnose yourself. Some of these disorders can seriously affect health and quality of life and may require treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor.

Insomnia. About 10 per cent of us suffer from chronic insomnia, a condition that prevents adequate sleep because of trouble falling asleep, waking up throughout the night, or waking too early in the morning. Chronic insomniacs won't get a good sleep for several weeks at a time, resulting in difficulty focusing on tasks during waking hours, irritability and depression.

Hypersomnia. Individuals with hypersomnia sleep too much and often feel overwhelmingly tired at inappropriate times, such as during work or while out with friends. They may have difficulty waking up and nap frequently throughout the day. Instead of feeling refreshed after all that extra sleep, however, people with hypersomnia do not feel refreshed upon waking.

Narcolepsy. Like those who experience hypersomnia, individuals with narcolepsy also become excessively tired during the day. However, narcolepsy causes the sudden, often uncontrollable, onset of sleepiness, combined with cataplexy (the sudden loss of voluntary muscle tone), hallucinations.

Sleepwalking. Sleep consists of two main states, rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). During REM sleep, the brain prevents muscle movement while we dream. During NREM sleep, however, we are free to move about and this is when sleepwalking (or somnambulism) may occur. Episodes last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes and is most common in children. While it is not dangerous to wake a sleepwalker, he or she may be disoriented upon being awoken. Sleepwalkers have been known to walk up and down stairs, leave their homes and even drive during an episode. To prevent frequent sleepwalkers from harming themselves, consider placing a safety gate at the bedroom door or at the top or bottom of stairs, or add safety locks to outside doors. Remove clutter from floors to prevent falls. Usually, sleepwalking is harmless and most children outgrow it as their nervous systems mature.

Sleep talking. Talking during sleep (somniloquy) happens more often when our muscles are uninhibited during NREM sleep, and is most common in children. Sleep talkers usually don't remember their nocturnal chatter and won't even know about it unless others tell them what they heard. Sleep talking ranges from nonsensical mumbled sounds to clear speech. The topic can be harmless, make no sense, or it can be vulgar (uttering foul language or spilling secrets).

Sleep Paralysis. If you've ever been visited by what is known in Newfoundland and Labrador as the "old hag," then you have experienced sleep paralysis. It occurs when an individual has just fallen asleep or has woken up and immediately finds he or she cannot move or speak. Scientists believe that sleep paralysis occurs when a person wakes directly from or enters directly into REM sleep (in which the brain inhibits muscle movement) and for a short time while we are awake, our muscles continue to be paralyzed. During this time, REM-stage dreaming continues and many people report hallucinations of an evil presence nearby or even sitting on their chests - terrifying the person who is unable to move or cry for help.

REM Behaviour Disorder (RBD). RBD sufferers are unique in that they have the ability to move about while in the REM stage of sleep (when muscles are normally paralyzed). They are able to act out their dreams - sometimes violently. For instance, a dream that involves fighting off an assailant will likely result in an RBD sufferer striking his or her bed partner. While RBD sufferers usually do not recall their nocturnal activities, they may recall the dreams they had.

Night Terrors. Individuals (usually children) who experience night terrors are difficult to wake during an episode and usually don't recall it in the morning. During a typical night terror, the individual will bolt upright in bed, eyes wide open in a petrified expression. He or she may scream, get out of bed and may not realize another person is with them or recognize that person (even a family member). Doctors say lack of sleep may contribute to the episodes.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). Characterized by the irresistible urge to move the legs while at rest, restless leg syndrome contributes to insomnia. People who suffer from the syndrome report itchy, crawling and burning sensations in their legs as they try to fall asleep. The only way to stop the uncomfortable sensations is to move the legs. RLS most often affects individuals who are middle-aged or older.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD). Unlike restless leg syndrome, this movement of limbs is involuntary. PLMD sufferers experience repeated jerking of the limbs (about every 20-40 seconds) while sleeping. The sudden movements cause frequent disruptions in sleep, leading to daytime fatigue. PLMD most often affects individuals who are middle-aged or older.