The term sleep disorder is reserved for other problems that can seriously interfere with our functioning. Some sleep disorders, like insomnia, are all too familiar. In this article, we discuss insomnia and less common sleep disorders: narcolepsy, apnea, sleep terrors, bed-wetting, and sleepwalking.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (2009), more than half of American adults and about two-thirds of other adults are affected by insomnia in any given year. Trying to get to sleep can compound sleep problems by creating autonomic activity and muscle tension. You cannot force or will yourself to go to sleep. You can only set the stage for sleep by relaxing when you are tired.
A person with narcolepsy falls asleep suddenly. Narcolepsy afflicts as many as 100,000 people in the United States and seems to run in families. The "sleep attack" may last 15 minutes or so, after which the person feels refreshed. Nevertheless, sleep attacks are dangerous and upsetting. They can occur while driving or working with sharp tools. They may be accompanied by the collapse of muscle groups or the entire body-a condition called sleep paralysis. In sleep paralysis, the person cannot move during the transition from consciousness to sleep, and hallucinations (as of a person or object sitting on the chest) occur. Stimulants and antidepressant drugs have helped many people with the problem (Mamelak, 2009).
Sleep apnea is a dangerous sleep disorder in which the air passages are obstructed. People with apnea stop breathing periodically, up to several hundred times per night. Obstruction may cause the sleeper to sit up and gasp for air before falling back asleep. People with sleep apnea are stimulated, nearly, but not quite, to waking by the buildup of carbon dioxide. Sleep apnea is associated with obesity and chronic snoring. It can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes (Sekizuka et al., 2010)
Causes of sleep apnea include anatomical deformities that clog the air passageways, such as thick palate, and problems in the breathing centers in the brain. Sleep apnea is treated by such measures as weight loss, surgery, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is supplied by a mask that provides air pressure that keeps the airway open during sleep.
Deep-Sleep Disorders: Sleep Terrors, Bed-Wetting, and Sleepwalking
Sleep terrors, bed-wetting, and sleepwalking all occur during deep sleep. They are more common among children and may reflect immaturity of the nervous system (Kotagal, 2009; Nir & Tononi, 2010).
Sleep terrors are similar to, but more severe than, nightmares. Sleep terrors usually occur during the first two sleep cycles of the night, whereas nightmares are more likely to occur toward morning. Experiencing surge in the heart and respiration rates, the person may suddenly sit up, talk incoherently, and thrash about. He or she is never fully awake, returns to sleep, and may recall a vague image as of someone pressing on his or her chest. Memories of nightmares tend to be more detailed. Sleep terrors are often decreased by a minor tranquilizer at bedtime.
Bed-wetting probably reflects immaturity of the nervous system. In most cases, it resolves itself before adolescence, often by age eight. Methods that condition children to awaken when they are about to urinate have been helpful (E. C. Jackson, 2009). The drug imipramine often helps. Sometimes, all that is needed is reassurance that no one is to blame for bed-wetting and that most children outgrow it.
Perhaps half of children talk in their sleep now and then. Adults occasionally do so, too. Surveys suggest that some 7% to 15% of children walk in their sleep - a behavior pattern that is technically termed somnambulism (Cotton & Richdale, 2010; Li et al., 2009). Only 2% of a random sample of nearly 5,000 people aged 15 to 100 did so (Ohayon et., 1999). Sleepwalkers may roam about nightly while their parents fret about possible accidents. Sleepwalkers typically do not remember their excursions, although they may respond to question while they are up and about. Mild tranquilizers and maturity typically put an end to it.
Sleep serve several purposes: It rejuvenates the body, helps us recover form stress, and helps us consolidate learning. Yes, sleep disorders may be bothersome, but what is important is we live a healthy lifestyle, and one way is to get enough amount of sleep.
Psychology, Third Edition
Spencer A. Rathus