To be certain, sleep disorders are a phenomenon that have been with us since the dawn of time, however, lately they seem to be growing insidiously quickly — like in the terrifying plot of some science fiction horror movie.
At first glance the list of sleep disorders is seemingly endless, lists of long and complicated names like Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, all of them having official sounding acronyms. But, this doesn’t make sleep disorders easy to treat or any less powerful, even with modern medication. According to statistics sleep disorders are on the rise with no slow down in sight. So, what’s causing this zombification of our populations? Is it simply stress, obesity, or aging? Are most of us just not getting enough sleep each night?
Many experts believe the answer to the causes of sleep disorders is all of the above. The stark reality is that millions of us live daily in a zombie-like state, somewhere in between the fully conscious and the unconscious; for a myriad of reasons we just aren’t getting enough good solid sack time at night. The effect of these disorders on our physical, emotional, and mental faculties is staggering. From the simplest sleep disorders such as sleep walking and shallow breathing, to sever sleep disorders like Sleep Apnea, Night Terrors, Bruxism, Restless Leg Syndrome, and on and on, we are slowly become a nation of the severely sleep deprived, almost like zombies, only half in control of our waking state.
It’s a bit scary, but if you dare, let us venture into the depths of this often times strange yet common world of sleep disorders so that we might better understand sleep disorders and how to treat them in our own lives as well as in the lives of those around us.
Different Sleep Disorders
- Insomnia – The ‘No Obvious Cause’ Sleep Disorder?
There is a whole class of sleep disorders, interestingly enough generically labeled as insomnia, in which our modern doctors ascribe the cause of the disorder as “no obvious cause”. It would seem that even our brilliant modern science is having a difficult time grappling with this large and growing phenomenon.
As with many sleep disorders, with insomnia, people have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both. However, there is no obvious cause, no scientifically measureable data to support the disorder. In these common cases, some experts point to things like not getting enough exercise, drinking too much caffeine, stress, emotional issues, and mood disorders as potential causes.
- Hypersomnia – Sleeping All Day And Still Being Tired
The term hypersomia is one of the sleep disorders in which a person is sleeping much more than average (10 hours of sleep, but often stretching into the 14 hour or more range) and not getting the refreshing benefits of those long hours of sleep. This sleep disorder is directly related to other disturbances such as mood disorders, fibromyalgia, and other brain disorders.
- DSPS – Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome – Circadian Imbalances
With Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome a person’s circadian rhythm is in disarray, people who suffer have no trouble maintaining sleep once it is achieved. They either have trouble falling asleep, sleep too long (hypersomnia), or both.
This is one of the sleep disorders very common to shift workers who have to keep adjusting their sleep schedule, and who sleep during daylight hours. SWSD or Shift Work Sleep Disorder is a related, similar disorder. Finally, garden variety Jet Lag is yet another version.
- Hypopnea Syndrome – Shallow Breathing
Hypopnea is one of the sleep disorders caused by shallow breathing and a lowering of the respiratory rate. When breathing becomes shallow, deep sleep cannot be easily achieved. When this happens, we are much more likely to be zombified the following morning and for the rest of the day.
- Narcolepsy – Uncontrollable Daytime Shut Down
Although Narcolepsy is indeed the back drop to a lot of jokes, it’s a serious matter, especially if it’s affecting you or someone you know well. In the case of this sleeping disorder, a person will actually have little control over the ability to stay awake and fully conscious, and they will literally pass out during the daylight hours because of lack of deep sleep the night before. It’s the body’s way of saying “enough is enough” and just shutting down things down, completely involuntarily.
- Cataplexy – Collapsing Into a Sleep Like State Due To Intense Emotion
This is one of the very rare sleep disorders that is common in people with Narcolepsy and other Excessive Daytime Sleepiness disorders. When confronted with a very intense emotion, the knees of the sufferer will collapse entirely or the head and jaw will drop, leaving the person in a very disorienting state, much like being heavily intoxicated in fact.
Disturbance Sleep Disorders
The following are a host of different sleep disorders in which sleep is disturbed due to physical movements during sleep. In each case, the sufferer does not get enough quality deep sleep due to being jerked out of the deep sleep state. They may or may not be aware of it; there are plenty of sleep deprived zombies “walking around in a fog” without even knowing why.
Night Terrors are part of the sleep disorders in which the patient wakes up very abruptly and perhaps even violently, generally from nightmares. Serious stresses, severe emotional trauma, and in some cases heavy substance abuse are to blame. (Sleep Paralysis, while similar, is labeled as a separate disorder.)
Bruxism, is one of the sleep disorders that involves sleep disturbance because of grinding of one’s teeth. Again, the sufferer may not even be aware of the condition because they are being pulled from the deeper stages of sleep yet not fully woken. Getting proper restful sleep involves reaching the deepest levels of sleep (stage 4, being the deepest) along with the dream state (R.E.M. sleep) in the right combinations and in the right order. It’s a delicate balance that we must achieve in order to escape from sleep disorders.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (as you’ll recall from our short discussion about long, descriptive medical terms) and Restless Leg Syndrome are related sleep disorders; with each disorder the limbs of the affected simply won’t stay still long enough to reach deep sleep, including stage 4 sleep. With PLMD, both the arms and legs “jump” and with RLS it’s just the legs. And again, many people will wake up the next day and have no idea that their legs or arms where flailing about all night long, keeping them from reaching all important deep sleep states and recharging their systems.
Why is deep sleep (and stage 4 sleep) so important? It’s in this state that the brain is almost completely at rest, recharging, if you will. It is also in this stage that many very important hormones are released, like HGH and others.
RBD or Rapid Eye Movement Disorder is a sleep disturbance disorder in which a person acts out violently during the dreaming state or R.E.M. sleep. Like the all of the aforementioned other sleep disorders, this disorder interrupts proper sleep patterns and does not allow us to gain complete refreshment and rejuvenation from our nightly ritual.
Sleep Apnea is yet another one of the devastating sleep disorders which is affecting more and more people. As our populations grow more obese and elderly year after year, as these factors greatly increase our risks. With Sleep Apnea our airways become obstructed and our breathing actually stops during sleep, it stops many times, perhaps hundreds of times in a night. Again, this disturbs the sleep pattern and does not allow for the deepest hormone releasing stages of sleep. What occurs is that the body keeps “waking up” from deep sleep, but not waking up enough so that the patient regains total consciousness. This is one of the sleep disorders is a severely under diagnosed and contributes enormously to our zombie-like brethren. However, there are wonderful new treatments, like for instance CPAP machines, which keep the airways opened no matter what happens as the person sleeps.
Even just losing a good amount of weight can correct these sleep disorders in some cases. If you feel like you may be suffering from Sleep Apnea, get somebody to observe your sleep and tell you if you’ve been snoring at all because these two conditions are very highly linked.
Strange but True Sleep Disorders
As it has been mentioned, sleep disorders have an incredible variety and uniqueness, with some of them being just out right bizarre or even embarrassing.
- Somnambulism is the scientific name for “sleep walking”, but in these types of sleep disorders, people don’t always simply walk around; they can eat, open doors, get dressed. It’s astonishing what they may do while fully asleep, at least mentally. These folks indeed get the prize, for most zombified.
- Enuresis and Nocturia both have to do with the urination function during sleep, with Enuresis the patient will wet the bed, not having full control over this function (very common in children), with Nocturia, a person keeps having to wake up and go to the bathroom over and over (very common in the elderly). In both cases of sleep disorders, sleep quality is greatly comprised for obvious reasons.
- Lastly, Sleep Paralysis is a very odd disorder in which the patient experiences violent hallucinations as well as paralysis during sleep state and the states of sleep closest to waking consciousness.
Multiple Causes and Symptoms
As we can plainly see the causes, symptoms, and even classifications of sleep disorders, although well catalogued, are very unique; oftentimes an individual’s disorder will have multiple causes and very unpredictable effects.
While medical science classifies sleep disorders into neat and tidy little packages, most of us intuitively know that not getting good sleep has many various causes, after all we’ve pretty much all suffered from sleep deprivation from time to time for various reasons.
Various Treatment Methods
In order to combat the zombie-like effects of sleep deprivation from sleep disorders, many of us are turning to prescription medications and in much greater numbers every year. Americans now spend billions of dollars each year on these knock out pills.
While many people truly need medications to deal with their unique issues of sleep disorders, others may be better off seeking other more common sense, natural treatments, especially as a first line of defense. For instance, Circadian rhythm disorders like Shift Work Sleep Disorder and jet lag can be combated with a simple light box which mimics the rising of the sun enhancing our body’s natural sleep rhythm. Restless Leg Syndrome can often be successfully treated with gentle exercise, stretching, hot baths and hot-cold treatments.
Chamomile and valerian are popular herbal sleeping aids which help with moderate sleep disorders and issues, especially when combined with cutting out caffeine and alcohol, starting a regular exercise program, learning relaxation techniques, setting a regular bedtime, and creating a sleeping environment which is both as dark as possible (aids in Circadian balance) and as optimal in temperature as possible (moderately cool is best for most).
Interestingly enough we may find many answers to our questions by turning to ancient wisdom in addition to using modern science. Many ancient religious traditions such as Tibetan Buddhism are very knowledgeable about the stages of sleep, their ability to optimize hormone production, and their ability to keep people youthful by maintaining proper sleep hygiene routines. As our modern population continues to zombify more and more, these methods and treatments are needed now more than ever, and many people are thankfully rediscovering them.
Of course, effective treatments will depend on the type of sleep disorders and their severity, and medications can be life savers. Medications will almost always be prescribed in severe cases of Narcolepsy and Cataplexy, for example. Narcoleptics receiving drugs like Ritalin and those with Cataplexy typically receive anti-depressants.
Other behavioral modifications, treating mood disorders, and taking care of substance abuse problems are also extremely important in combating these problems as well as finding other rejuvenating alternatives to sleep disorder’s damage.
Sleep disorders are extremely complex. There can be little doubt that our fast moving modern society and stressful lifestyles are in many ways driving this steady increase in the ranks of Zombie Planet. In order to deal with the problem most effectively a good combination of modern medications and traditional wisdom are needed. Otherwise, someday we’ll all be consumed by this zombifying fog.