12 Sleep Disorders You Need to Know About—That Aren’t Sleep Apnea
There are many more ways to have a crummy night in bed than sleep apnea. If your sleep issues last more than a few nights or reoccur every few weeks, you might have a sleep disorder
What is a sleep disorder?
Getting quality sleep time is more of a common problem than ever. About a third of adults in the U.S. get less than the recommended hours of sleep, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not getting enough sleep could be due to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. But lesser-known sleep disorders could also be to blame, too. Here are the ones you might not know about.
Ask someone who is diagnosed with insomnia and through their dark circles and sleepy eyes, they’ll tell you what a pain this disorder is. According to sleep expert and dentist Sabrina Magid Katz, insomniacs not only have trouble falling and staying asleep, but they wake up long before the alarm clock goes off and can’t fall back asleep. Episodes of sleeplessness can last days and even weeks. To decrease the chances that you’ll have a staredown with the sandman, Magid suggests winding down plenty of time before bed. That may mean dimming the lights, avoiding snacking and drinking, and unplugging from technology. Beware of hidden sources of caffeine, especially before bed. Meditative techniques may help as well.” If none of those do the trick? Chat with a doctor to find an alternative solution.
You’ve probably heard about the more severe type of snoring, sleep apnea. Characterized by thunderous snorts and stoppages of breathing that can last more than a minute, this serious condition needs professional medical attention right away. But there’s still garden-variety noisy log-sawing. It might not seem like a big deal that you sound like a grizzly bear when your head hits the pillow, but your partner will beg to differ. Snoring can also lead to bigger issues down the line and can be disruptive to your sleep. As Steven Davis, MD, the medical director of The Breathe Clear Institute says, snoring is treatable—but you have to know if you’re guilty first. If you’re single or prefer to sleep alone, there are several apps that will give you a clue. From there? He recommends Breathe Right strips, oral snore guards, nasal sprays, or in extreme cases, a minor surgery can solve the issue ASAP. Here are some more simple solutions to stop snoring right away.
Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS)
Now you’re talking about the next level of snoring, according to Dr. Davis. “This is when snoring is accompanied by very brief pauses in breathing. While daytime sleepiness is a symptom of both UARS and sleep apnea, there are no associated health risks in people who have UARS,” he notes. Just like snoring, you can treat this condition with breathing products or outpatient surgery.
Periodic limb movement
Periodic limb movement disorder is a rare sleep disorder that causes repetitive leg, foot, and arm movements during sleep. The moves may appear as muscle jerks, twitches, or flexes. This disorder can disrupt sleep and may occur alongside other sleep disorders, too. (Here are some strange things that happen to your body while you sleep.)
Ever wake up with a stiff neck and tight jaw and wonder if you slept funky? According to Magid, you could have spent the night having it out with your pillow—or you could be grinding your teeth. Many adults (and children) rub those pearly whites together at night, and it’s worth talking to your dentist for a solution. While teeth grinding, or “bruxism,” can be solved with a nightguard that’ll protect your mouth, a grinding habit can also indicate a bigger issue like sleep apnea.
Sleepwalking and night terrors
If you grew up with a sibling that screamed in his sleep or wandered the halls, you’ve encountered night terrors or sleepwalking, and you know how startling these movements can be. Magid explains that these types of conditions are called “parasomnias”—an event that creates arousal or abnormal movements during sleep. If you or a loved one are sufferers, seek a medical opinion. You don’t want to put yourself or others in danger. Find out what your sleep habits are trying to tell you.
While rare, this neurological condition impacts an estimated 200,000 people in the United States, according to Raghu Idupuganti, MD, an anesthesiologist at NYC Surgical Associates. Though this chronic disease is often poked fun of in sitcoms and movies, the reality of those who suffer can be grim. They can fall asleep at any given moment, even mid-sentence, Dr. Idupuganti says. And it’s not just sleepiness that happens either: “The disease is sometimes associated with complete loss of muscle tone, known as cataplexy,” he notes. What causes it? Dr. Idupuganti says most of narcolepsy is still a mystery, but experts do claim a deficiency of the brain hormone called hypocretin can lead to this disease. As of now, there is no cure, but there are some medications that can alleviate symptoms.
This is what it sounds like: You’re exhausted all day, and you’d like to sleep more—a lot more. “Some of the more common causes of this are narcolepsy, sleep deprivation, obstructive sleep apnea, alcohol use, drugs such as sleeping pills, or excessive caffeine use,” Dr. Idupuganti says. Not to worry if you’re clocking more than the recommended eight hours, though, as being diagnosed with this condition requires a complete physical and exam. Dr. Idupuganti notes that in sub-Saharan African cultures, the tsetse fly carries a parasite that can induce “African sleeping sickness,” a form of hypersomnia.
Excessive daytime sleepiness
You might need a nap mid-day after a late night, but if you’re constantly sleepy all the time, especially during the day, you might be struggling with excessive daytime sleepiness. “Most commonly, it occurs because of sleep deprivation but it can also reflect a number of underlying medical diseases such as depression, hypothyroidism or anemia,” Dr. Idupuganti says. Usually, treating the underlying cause resolves the condition; however, if EDS persists, medications—like Modafinil—can help a sufferer stay awake, Dr. Idupuganti explains. And excessive daytime sleepiness is also often a sign of other sleep disorders, especially including sleep apnea and insomnia. Check out these 8 little changes that can improve your sleep in one day.
REM behavior disorder
Rapid eye movement—REM—is a natural part of sleep. It indicates the brain is active and is usually accompanied by paralysis of the muscles to prevent you from acting out on dreams, according to Dr. Idupuganti. With REM behavior disorder (RBD), the muscles stay active, causing the person to thrash around during this dream state of sleep, he explains. People with this disorder might run, kick, scream, or act out in another way during dreams. In some cases, they can cause injury to themselves or a sleep partner. The condition can kick in when someone is experiencing withdrawal symptoms from, say, alcohol, sedatives, hypnotics, or even certain antidepressants, Dr. Idupuganti says. For some sufferers, RBD may be a harbinger of a neurological condition, so it’s worth getting checked out right away, he explains. “There has been an association with several neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Lewy body dementia, and multisystem atrophy. For a definitive diagnosis, a polysomnogram is essential and treatment is usually effective with oral medications,” he recommends. Here are some other health conditions that could lead to poor sleep.
Your dream-time paralysis is there for self-protection, but if you become aware—as some do—that you can’t move, panic can set in quickly, Dr. Idupuganti says. “Fortunately, there are not many people that experience this sleep paralysis as a chronic condition, but most of us will experience it at one point in our life. Causes are usually related to lack of sleep, certain psychiatric illnesses, drug use, and certain medications,” he explains. Most of the time, you can cure this sensation by getting six to eight hours of solid sleep. Here are 11 natural sleep remedies that really work.
While this happens mostly in adolescent males, it’s nicknamed Sleeping Beauty syndrome because, during a phase when the condition is active, otherwise healthy patients will sleep upwards of 20 hours a day, Dr. Idupuganti explains. During the few hours they’re awake, they can seem confused, dreamy, or even childlike. “During their waking hours, people might have abnormal and excessive food cravings and/or sexual impulses. These attacks happen without warning and at the end of the cycle, affected individuals return to their baseline normal health,” he explains. While doctors may try prescription stimulants such as Modanifil to help rouse patients, they don’t have a lot of success treating this mysterious condition. Don’t miss these secrets to better sleep that doctors want you to know.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Sleep and Sleep Disorders"
- Sabrina Magid Katz, DMD, sleep expert and dentist
- Steven Davis, MD, the medical director of The Breathe Clear Institute
- Raghu Idupuganti, MD, an anesthesiologist at NYC Surgical Associates