According to the American Psychiatric Association, sleep disorders are major disturbances of normal sleep patterns that lead to distress and disrupt functioning during the day (APA, 2000). Not only are sleep disorder extremely common, affecting virtually everyone at some point in their lives, but they can also lead to serious stress and other health consequences.
According to a major survey by the National Sleep Foundation, more than half of Americans reported experiencing at least one symptoms of insomnia several times a week during the previous year. Highlighting another major danger of sleep disorders, the survey also reported that 60 percent of respondents had driven while drowsy during the previous year (2005).
Insomnia is by far the most common sleep disorder, affecting nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults at least one night each week (National Sleep Foundation, 2002). Common symptoms of insomnia include difficulty getting to sleep and waking before it is time to get up. There are many factors that can contribute to insomnia including stress and underlying medical conditions. Typical treatments include sleeping pills and behavior therapy. Practicing good sleep habits can often be effective for treating mild cases of insomnia.
Sleep apnea is the second most common sleep disorder and affects approximately 20 million Americans. This disorder causes people to stop breathing abruptly while they are asleep. During this brief period, carbon dioxide builds up in the blood and the sleeper wakes suddenly to gasp for breath. The length of time that the sleeper stop breathing can vary from a few seconds to so long that the individuals skin actually turns blue from oxygen deprivation.
Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that leads to periods of intense sleepiness during the daytime. People suffering from narcolepsy often experience bouts of overwhelming sleepiness and may fall asleep for brief periods of time during the day. These sleeping periods may last from a few seconds to several minutes and in some cases may last up to an hour or more. Those with narcolepsy can fall asleep in the middle of a conversation, during a meal or even while driving a vehicle.
Affecting as many as 250,000 Americans, narcolepsy is a chronic condition that typically begins during adolescence. In addition to sleepiness, narcolepsy is frequently accompanied by cataplexy, which involves a sudden loss of muscle tone and control that can last seconds or minutes. Other symptoms include hallucinations and paralysis during sleep.
Sleepwalking & Night Terrors:
While insomnia and sleep apnea are more common in adults, other sleep disorders such as sleepwalking and night terrors are far more common in young children. Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is characterized by periods of getting out of bed while asleep.
Night terrors are most frequently seen in very young children (between the ages of 2 and 6), but people of any age can be affected by this sleep disorder. Typical symptoms include excessive sweating, shaking and obvious fear.