Sleep Disorder

November 12, 2012

Sleep Disorder

Sleep is a complicated physiological phenomenon which affects all of us; it is a subject of great interest to scientists and medical professionals alike. Sleep is imperative to enable us to function in a normal, healthy manner. However it appears that more and more people are suffering from both chronic and occasional sleep disorders.

There are three classification of sleep disorder – of which there are more than 70 –

  • Insomnia or lack of sleep

  • Obstructive sleep apnea or disturbed sleep

  • Narcolepsy or excessive sleep

As with many health problems once properly diagnosed most sleep disorders can be managed quite easily.

Insomnia, occurring more frequently in women and the elderly, is the most common sleep disorder.

Various factors affect the amount of sleep each one of us needs in order to function normally – one of these being age. Babies need around 16 hours sleep a day, teenagers around 9 hours and adults 7 or 8 hours a day. Older adults still need the same 7 or 8 hours of sleep a day but tend to achieve it in short sharp bursts with less time in the deep stages of sleep. Research seems to indicate that around half of the adult population over the age of 65 suffers with some kind of sleep disorder- this may be a result of the natural aging process or perhaps other factors such as medication.

It is known that both falling asleep and waking up are the result of several chemical changes in the brain and the blood. Other factors may also alter the balance of these same chemicals and so affect how well we sleep. It is commonly known that caffeine – found in many soft drinks, coffee and chocolate can cause insomnia. What may not be so well known is that antidepressants, smoking and alcohol can cause a loss of both Rapid Eye Movement sleep and deep sleep – both essential parts of what is perceived to be a normal sleep cycle.

It is not clear why we need to sleep, but, what is clear is the negative effect a lack of sleep can have on health – studies show that sleep is essential for mental and physical well being, for effective immune system function and to enable us to effectively combat disease and illness. Sleep is also essential for healthy growth and to enable us to learn. What is also clear is that sleep is an important process during which there is much activity in the brain – the differing stages of sleep are recognized by their different brain wave activity. These factors help us to understand the debilitating nature of a sleep disorder. During the course of a 24-hour day our biological clock responds to the outside stimuli of sunshine or darkness – the onset of darkness tends to make us feel sleepy. These phenomena may be the reason many night shift workers suffer with a sleep disorder. Their biological clock is telling their body to sleep and inducing drowsiness when in fact they are going to or are at work. Night workers appear to be more susceptible to heart conditions and digestive problems as well as mental health issues and emotional difficulties.

Sleep disorders are suffered by many people to a greater or lesser degree and may be the result of a number of factors – stress, medication, diet and medication may all affect our sleeping pattern.

With the exception of narcolepsy there is no known genetic cause for sleep disorders. However those people who suffer with restricted vision may also struggle with a sleeping disorder as a result of the disruption caused to their biological clock due to the inability to detect light and darkness.

Mental health illness as well as physical illness may also contribute to sleep disorder but once recognised this is a condition which can be relatively easily managed.

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