Sleep Disorders

Sleep-related complaints are second only to complaints of pain as a cause to seek medical attention. We classify sleep disorders broadly into three categories: parasomnias (problems around the interface between sleep and waking), dyssomnias (problems getting to sleep or staying asleep) and circadian rhythm disorders (where the body gets off track and doesn't sleep at the right time).

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Other Sleep Disorders (including Circadian Rhythm Disorders)

Risks and Dangers of Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are ubiquitous, and the government estimates 25%-30% of adults in the US have a disorder that results in some impact on mortality and disability.

The most common comorbidities that go along with insomnia are psychiatric. The association between sleep problems and mental illness are manifold, and most psychiatric illnesses show insomnia or hypersomnia as a symptom. Experts feel 40% of insomniacs have a comorbid psychiatric condition Researchers have elucidated that unhealthy beliefs about sleep can raise the risk for suicide, as can, in some cases, nightmares. Unhealthy beliefs include the idea that sleep disturbances cannot be relieved or overcome. The association between sleep problems and mental illness are manifold, and most psychiatric illnesses show insomnia or hypersomnia as a symptom.  Researchers have elucidated that unhealthy beliefs about sleep can raise the risk for suicide, as can, in some cases, nightmares.  Unhealthy beliefs include the idea that sleep disturbances cannot be relieved or overcome.

What is the most dangerous sleep disorder?  It depends on how we define risk.  REM behavior disorder can be dangerous for people who have it and those who live with them, but it is a rare disorder.  Apnea is much more common and can lead to impaired cognitive function and early death.  There is a spectrum of apnea severity, and it can vary with a person’s weight, so as to be worse one year than the next.  The most dramatic apnea incidents are deaths during sleep – often the official cause of death will be a heart attack, but apnea has contributed to it.  More subtle and long term are the chronic diseases that having sleep-disordered breathing makes you liable to.  Again, apnea might not show up on the death certificate or in a doctor’s explanation for the cause of the disease, but the regular restriction of oxygen can make the body susceptible to many problems.  A recent analysis found that all-cause mortality is increased in men between the ages of 40 and 70 with sleep-disordered breathing,

Short sleeping and long sleeping both have statistical correlations with all mortality risk.  The interactions and relationships are doubtlessly multifaceted and complex, and there are many mysteries and unknowns, as there are with sleep in general.

Analysis of blood of insomniacs has found constant continuous short sleep results in high levels of C-reactive protein which is a marker for cardiovascular disease.  Short sleep is tied to more adipose tissue and risk for obesity.  It also lowers cognitive nimbility, possibly leading to poor decisions and slower reaction times.

This lowered function of the brain’s reactive and thinking abilities is perhaps the bigger danger of poor sleep.  The danger comes not from something at night, but from daytime sleepiness.  Sleepiness leads to drowsy driving, which results in injury and death, and low workplace productivity.

And although it would not be considered a danger – sleep disorders and the daytime sleepiness they lead to a decreased “quality of life”.  This is subjective, but real.  Life is not as good when we are always sleepy.

Additional Sleep Disorder Resources