Sleep is one of our most fundamental needs as humans and yet almost all of us will experience some kind of sleep disorder during our lifetime.  Sleep deprivation can lead to a number of serious medical conditions and even reduce your life span.  Sure everyone has a bad night’s sleep, but a consistent pattern of poor sleep may indicate an underlying sleep disorder that requires attention.  Here are the signs and symptoms of the three most common sleep disorders.

1.      Insomnia

Is insomnia the real reason you’re not sleeping?  While insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep it doesn’t always work alone.  Insomnia is both a disorder and a common symptom of many other sleep disorders like sleep apnea or snoring.  Sometimes a person with insomnia is experiencing insomnia as a secondary issue and should address the primary cause of their inability to sleep.  A person with insomnia can have trouble sleeping anywhere from a few days to several months.  It’s the reason for this inability to sleep that’s the real cause for concern.   No matter how long, you’re not sleeping, and this can lead to functional impairment, a compromised health and could require treatment.

2.      Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea involves the inability to breathe normally while sleeping.  It can be caused by inadequate respiratory effort, called central sleep apnea or by a physical blockage, called obstructive sleep apnea. According to the National Institute of Health, a person with sleep apnea can have abnormal pauses in breath that last for as little as a second to several minutes.  These pauses can occur five to 30 times per hour!  That’s a lot of work on a person’s body that’s trying to rest!

Ironically, most people who suffer sleep apnea aren’t even aware of it  Their body is so exhausted from its breathing efforts that often times it’s a person’s bed partner who voices the issue.  Snoring is actually a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea and can be an indication of a larger problem when paired with fatigue and the feeling, upon waking, as though you haven’t slept.  Diagnosis is generally made after a sleep study is completed.

Treatments for sleep apnea range from lifestyle changes to surgery, depending on the severity and cause of the apnea.  Most people, however, are treated with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine which forces the airway open during sleep using a constant flow of air.

3.      Narcolepsy

This neurological disorder is generally associated with people who randomly fall asleep in the midst of doing something.  While this can occur, the primary symptom of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness.  Those who suffer from the condition can have the overwhelming urge to fall asleep at inappropriate times and with little warning as a result of this excessive sleepiness.  Narcoleptics can also have episodes of cataplexy, a sudden attack of muscle weakness ranging from slurred speech to complete collapse.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, Narcolepsy results when the brain is unable to regulate sleep-wake cycles.  For most people, the process of falling asleep involves a progression through several specific stages beginning with non-REM sleep that gradually deepens until we enter REM sleep and are able to dream.  Narcoleptics skip most of the stages and jump directly in and out of REM sleep, resulting in significantly less deep, restorative sleep.  Other symptoms including hypnogogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis occur during the transition from sleeping to waking and are thought to be caused by this rapid descent into and back out of a REM state.

Narcolepsy can often be successfully treated through medication and behavioral therapy.