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Sleep Disorders and Sleep Problems:When to call the Doctor

Updated on February 25, 2014

When Sleep Still Eludes You


What's the Difference?

Still having trouble sleeping? You have, no doubt tried the easier more common sleepy-time solutions, as mentioned in my first Hub - Sleep Health but for some reason you are still not getting the quality rest that you need. You may have a Sleep Disorder, also know as "somnipathy". Many of the symptoms that you experience may be the same however a sleep disorder should not be confused with occasional sleeplessness. Almost all of us have experienced a sleepless night now and then but a sleep disorder is a more chronic problem that lasts weeks, months and sometimes even years. It has a significant impact on your day-to-day functioning, affecting your performance at work, your moods, ability to concentrate and retain information and your relationships with family and friends. A test that is commonly ordered for some sleep disorders is "polysomnography".

Disordered Sleep?

There are about 70 or 80 different sleep disorders, that are usually classified into one of three or more categories, Here are some of the more common ones:

1. Lack of sleep - Insomnia, the most common sleep problem, can be either short or long term and signifies a lack of sleep

2. Disturbed Sleep- Obstructive Sleep Apnea, REM sleep behavior disorder, restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder are all sleep disorders that fall into the disturbed sleep category

3. Excessive Sleep- Narcolepsy is relatively well known and clearly demonstrates excessive sleep


As defined previously, insomnia is the inability to fall asleep and covers a wide array of potential causes: diet, emotional difficulties, stress, underlying disease and other factors. For short term insomnia you can practice some of the awareness and coping techniques mentioned in Sleep Health. For long term insomnia however you may need to consult a your physician or sleep professional. Left untreated, inadequate sleep can affect judgment, reaction-time, hand-eye coordination, memory, the immune system and general well-being.

Sleep Apnea, Just one of many sleep disorders


Disturbed Sleep

Sleep Apnea falls into the disturbed sleep category because those who suffer from it rarely experience a healthy night of sleep. It usually occurs because of a mechanical problem in the windpipe, but it also can indicate a neurological disorder involving nerve cells. In either case, it typically results in loud snoring and blocked air flow through the windpipe that lasts from 10 to 60 seconds. It may appear that the person is gasping or snorting because they are quite literally unable to get enough oxygen to breathe. People that suffer from sleep apnea are not able to obtain quality sleep because every time the windpipe closes, the person has to wake up enough to contract those muscles and resume breathing. As a result, the sleep cycle can be interrupted as many as 100 times a night.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder causes disruptions in the brain during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and although relatively rare, it is also considered disturbed sleep. During REM, sometimes referred to as the deeper or dream phase of sleep, an area of the brain-stem called the pons sends signals to the cerebral cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for thinking and organizing information. The pons also sends signals to muscles in the body during REM, causing a type of temporary paralysis. This obviously interrupts that important deeper phase of sleep leaving one tired and sleep-deprived.

RLS or Restless Leg Syndrome and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) are common sleep disorders, especially in the elderly. Symptoms include a tingling sensation that causes patients to want to move their legs, resulting in discomfort and of course, insomnia. PLMD causes rapid jerking or twitching of legs and arms which occurs during resting or sleeping. The jerking happens as often as 3 times per minute and each jerk can and usually does wake the person, disrupting any chance of quality sleep.

Excessive Sleep

Narcolepsy is an excessive sleep condition that causes patients to fall asleep uncontrollably throughout the day for periods lasting less than a minute to more than half an hour. Because this condition usually develops between 15 - 30 years of age, I remember telling my Mother as a teen that I must have Narcolepsy when I was too tired to go to school. I was never successful in my futile attempt to skip class however, the threat of a Doctor's examine usually nipped this little game in the bud. These sleep attacks can be quite serious and can occur at anytime, even while the person is engaged in an activity. During sleep, narcoleptics have an abnormal sleep pattern: They enter REM sleep prematurely without going through the normal sequence of sleep stages.

Cataplexyis weakness or paralysis of the muscles. In narcoleptic patients, it may be triggered by fatigue and intense sress or emotion, accompanied by short, sudden episodes of laughing or anger. When cataplexy occurs, persons who are standing may even fall down.

Sleep Paralysis is the inability to move the arms, legs, or the entire body and it occurs when a person is falling asleep or waking up. It usually lasts a for a very short period of time. People who experience sleep paralysis may become very anxious and often regain movement only if they hear a loud noise or another stimulus of some sort.

Hypnagogic Hallucinationsor pre-sleep dreams, are dream-like hallucinations that occur in the transition stage, between being awake and being asleep. Often, they are very vivid, frightening dreams.

10 Questions to ask your Doctor

Do I have a sleeping disorder? If so, what kind? 
Is my insomnia caused be an underlying medical or psychiatric illness? 
Could I have sleep apnea? 
Will I need to use a CPAP Machine to help me breathe?
Could any of my medications be causing sleeping problems? 
If so, is it possible to change the medication or dosage?
How can I avoid becoming dependant on sleeping medication?
What other side effects can I expect from sleeping medications?
Should I see a specialist?
Are there relaxation or other therapies that could help me sleep?

© 2011 Kathy


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    • Chatkath profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Thanks for your visit needforhealth, I encourage anyone with sleep issues to visit your wordpress blog as it contains great health and sleep info!

    • profile image 

      6 years ago

      Great hub . Thanks for sharing such an informative hub.

    • Chatkath profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      thank you devisree, I didn't realize sleep was so complicated until I started researching! I am so glad that you had a chance to stop by and leave your feedback! Always appreciated! Cheers!

    • devisree profile image


      6 years ago from India

      Hai Chatkath ,

      Thank you for the detailed description about sleep disordes. Great informative hub. voted up

    • Chatkath profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from California

      You are so right kipronor! Couldn't agree with you more! Sometimes it can be just that simple: thinking about relaxing and positive things in your life instead of stressful due dates, finances or problems!!!

      Thanks for stopping in!

    • kipronor profile image


      7 years ago from Nairobi

      It helps to have a regular sleeping time and also to avoid stimulant beverages just before one gets to sleep,

      And one more trick, thing good thoughts when you are just in bed about to sleep, it translates well to the brain.

    • Chatkath profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from California

      Thank you for visiting MarygrauSheila, I appreciate your comments! Wishing you sweet dreams! ;-)

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      This is one of your absolutely good hubs.

      Thank you for the information. See You again.

    • Chatkath profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Hi Neon_Letters;

      A journal would no doubt help isolate any sleep patterns that you are not aware of but when you're already feeling sleep deprived, that's the last thing you feel like doing is keeping a journal... so I can understand your hesitance. If you haven't already done so, try to rule out the more common sleep problems - like added stress in your life that may be causing worry, mattress problems, etc. In any event, I hope your detective work pays off soon so you can finally focus on getting the rest you need-6 hours doesn't do it for me either!

    • Neon_Letters profile image


      8 years ago

      I´ve been told to keep a journal maybe i should start listening.

    • Chatkath profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Thank you for commenting Neon_Letters, you are not alone. There are so many people that suffer from Sleep problems of one kind or another. That must be really frustrating, especially if it has been going on for a while. Maybe if you try to be aware of anything that you do differently on a good night when you sleep longer (if there is such a night :-) then you might be able to figure out what the problem is....?

      Best of luck to you.

    • Neon_Letters profile image


      8 years ago

      I have insomnia and i cant seem to be able to sleep more than 6 hours even if i went to bed at 5am.

      good information voted up useful.

    • Chatkath profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Thank you Nell, I am really glad you popped in for a visit! I know, not sleeping is the worst, for whatever reason and everyone seems to have a different theory....

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi, you haven given some great insights into sleep problems here, I think most people do suffer at some time in their life, and it is horrible, I know I can be laying there for hours sometimes and the next day feel like a zombie! rated up and thanks for the info, cheers nell

    • Chatkath profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Hi Katie-

      No problem, thank you so much for the comments. The link to various ready-made dividers is: - I believe that I got from a Hub that Green Lotus did (she makes her own!):

      Anyway, I think they would be perfect for some of your Hubs since you provide so much useful information!

      Have fun!


    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      8 years ago from Westerville

      Great hub on explaining the differences in sleepless problems, sleep disorders are a big problem more now than ever. Thanks for the sleep disorders and treatments.

      P.S. Beautiful design and layout, I love the blue Celtic looking picture to divide the text capsules. I love both the color and the Celtic design being Scottish myself.

      I'd love to borrow it for future use if you approve.

      Thanks for the great tips on sleep disorders and treatments voted up and will def refer back and share.

      :) Katie

    • Chatkath profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Thank you all so much for visiting the land of the sleepless! Quite honestly, I have never heard of most of these "disorders" although interesting :) since I am sure I suffer from at least a few of them....

      I would love to meet your poor little deaf kitty Colin, maybe he just needs some relaxation techniques, (special catnip blend perhaps?) as his "disturbed sleep" seems to be disturbing everyone ^-^

    • rpalulis profile image


      8 years ago from NY

      Thanks for clarifying the difference between sleep disorders and the occasional sleepless nights. I was not aware that there were so many sleep disorders, awesome hub, very informative and I vote up. Thanks again!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great Hub! Voted up useful and awesome!

    • epigramman profile image


      8 years ago

      ....well my dear friend Kathy - you have certainly covered a lot of valuable ground with these two landmark hubs on sleep disorders and its related problems - although to tell you the truth - I am always wide away when I come here to your hubs and learn a little bit from you about life and living and how to deal with it - and this is your forte - helping and encouraging people to live better lives - so good for you and good for us to know someone like you - and now all you have to do Kathy is have a session with my 'deaf' cat Mister Gabriel who has a built in alarm clock of 5 hours and that is what we call 'interupted' or 'disturbed' sleep - or living with "a special child"


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