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Sleep Disorders

There are over 80 different sleep disorders.  We will focus on the four which are the most common: Sleep Apnea, Insomnia, Restless Leg Syndrome, and Narcolepsy.  Below is a brief explanation of each sleep disorder and current treatment.

Narrowing of Airway While Asleep

Important Terms
Apnea-full closure of airway
Hypopnea-partial closure of airway

Sleep Apnea

Estimated  that over 24 million people have Sleep Apnea in the U.S.

A sleep disorder that happens when breathing briefly stops or becomes shallow while someone is asleep.    In this condition the brain responds to the interruption in breathing and oxygen level by activating various parts of the body to work harder to regain breathing.

This can happen up to 100 times an hour and it prevents a person from going through the stages of sleep which include deep sleep which helps the body restore and repair. 

The result for most (not everyone) is excessive sleepiness or fatigue along with other symptoms which can vary widely from person to person.   

The process of the brain responding to this cycle of interrupted breathing and regaining breathing caused a cascading effect in the brain (mood and anxiety disorders), increase in stress hormone, other organs reacting to the increase in stress hormone that contribute to the development (over a period of time) of diseases (hypertension, irregular heart beat, stroke, etc.). 

It also contributes to traffic and work related accidents or poor performance due to fatigue, trouble concentrating, thinking clearly, learning, and remembering.   This disorder can also be very impactful for school age children and the impact is seen more commonly see academic performance and behavior.


Insomnia disorder is defined as difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and/or waking up earlier than you want to in the morning and being unable to fall back to sleep. In general, people with insomnia sleep less or sleep poorly despite having an adequate chance to sleep. Sleeping poorly or not enough makes it harder to function well during the daytime.

Insomnia is not defined by the number of hours slept, because different people need different amounts of sleep. It is defined by having trouble sleeping that impacts how a person feels or functions during the day.

In some cases, insomnia is related to another problem, such as stress, pain, or a medical condition. Sometimes treating the underlying problem improves sleep, but often the insomnia needs to be treated directly. If you are struggling with insomnia, talk to your health care provider; they can work with you to identify any underlying issues and help you make a treatment plan.


Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) refers to an urge to move the legs, usually associated with unpleasant sensations. The urge to move the legs is worse at rest and at night and is relieved by movement. RLS is commonly associated with sleep disturbance and with involuntary, jerking movements of the legs during sleep, known as periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS). When significant sleep disturbances or impaired daytime functioning coexist with PLMS in the absence of RLS or other associated disorders, the term periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is used.



Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that makes people very drowsy during the day. People with narcolepsy find it hard to stay awake for long periods of time. They fall asleep suddenly. This can cause serious problems in their daily routine.

Sometimes narcolepsy also causes a sudden loss of muscle tone, known as cataplexy (KAT-uh-plek-see). This can be triggered by strong emotion, especially laughter. Narcolepsy is divided into two types. Most people with type 1 narcolepsy have cataplexy. Most people who don't have cataplexy have type 2 narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a life-long condition for which there's no cure. However, medicines and lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms.


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