More and more recent evidence shows the pervasive influence the circadian timing of our biological processes naturally occurring over a 24-hour cycle has in almost all of our physiologic functions. Consequently, along with prominent wake and sleep disruptions, circadian rhythm sleep disorders are linked with mood disturbances, cognitive impairment and increased risk of cardiometabolic disorders.
If you have ever been told by friends or a bed partner that you talk or scream in your sleep, thrash around, kick your legs about, or sleepwalk, then you may have a sleep disorder called a parasomnia. Other outwardly visible symptoms and signs of parasomnia can include being confused when waking—for example, saying things that don’t make sense. Other examples include night terrors (common in children), sleep paralysis, sleepwalking, sleep eating, or feeling like you’re being awakened by loud noises that no one else can hear.
Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or trouble getting restful, uninterrupted sleep. It’s the most common sleep disorder in the United States, with short-term insomnia affecting nearly 1 in 3 adults and long-term, chronic insomnia affecting 1 in 10 adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to 70 million Americans experience insomnia to some degree. This frustrating sleep disorder can also disrupt the normal sleep of children and teens. Do you have insomnia? If you’re unhappy with the quality or duration of your sleep, you may well be among the numbers cited above. However, don’t panic. It’s important to note that there are multiple forms of insomnia, and this sleep disorder may be temporary or chronic.
Narcolepsy is a relatively rare sleep disorder, affecting an estimated 200,000 Americans. However, researchers believe many more people with this sometimes debilitating sleep disorder may be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, due to this condition being difficult to recognize based on symptoms alone. Many other sleep disorders, physical illnesses, drug interaction side effects and even mental illnesses can present with some of the same symptoms as narcolepsy, such as excessive daytime sleepiness, muscle weakness, collapse, hallucinations and sleep paralysis.
How do sleep medicine physicians define narcolepsy? First, it’s important to note that narcolepsy is one of the less commonly seen sleep disorders. Many people who have excessive daytime sleepiness—who yawn a lot, fall asleep very easily or take unwanted naps during the day—may think they may be narcoleptic, but they’re probably mistaken. It’s far more likely they’re experiencing the symptoms of the more common sleep disorders of sleep apnea or insomnia—disorders that affect millions of Americans.
Around bedtime, do you ever find yourself fighting the distracting and overpowering urge to move your legs or feet to get relief from itching, burning, or a creepy-crawly feeling? Do you have trouble getting comfortable in bed and find it impossible to get into the right position to drift off to sleep? Perhaps your legs burn and tickle—not on the skin, but deeper inside.
“I’m tired and sleepy every day,” said the exhausted patient. No matter how early she went to bed or how late she slept, she still felt extremely tired and fatigued. She lacked the energy and mental clarity to do the things she loved to do. Sometimes she’d take naps at work, or worry about falling asleep behind the wheel driving home or picking up her kids from school. After weeks or months of this excessive fatigue, she went to see a sleep medicine specialist to solve the mystery once and for all: why was she so tired all the time?
Do you—or does your primary care physician—have reason to believe that you may have a sleep disorder? You may think that you need to have a polysomnogram (sleep study) in order to verify you have a sleep disorder or sleep problem, and furthermore to determine which one you have and what’s causing it.
If your doctor or sleep medicine specialist has already performed a sleep study and has determined your airway becomes blocked while you're sleeping, they'll likely prescribe you continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. Once they decide you require CPAP therapy, they'll likely order a CPAP titration study.