Our minds travel great distances during sleep. The dreams of Salvador Dali took the famed artist to surreal worlds where time and space converged into one realm, and he was able to paint the memory of his surroundings upon waking. Even those of us admittedly not as grand of a public figure as Dali was in his day may have a few stories of our own about what the unconscious state has compelled us to do.
Having intense dreams on occasion is not necessarily an indicator that you have a sleep disorder. It may simply be the result of a particularly stressful or eventful time in your life or the result of consuming too many spicy foods before bedtime. However, when strange behavior during sleep starts affecting the quality of rest you can achieve at night, you may need to see a professional who can diagnose.
Sleep disorders are medical conditions that interrupt a person’s normal sleep pattern. They can include needing to sleep too much or not being able to sleep at all. Such disorders are not always easily detected but may have lasting repercussions if left untreated for an extended period of time. Studies have shown that the symptoms of sleep deprivation or excessive daytime sleepiness can damper your mood, deplete your creativity and brain function, increase your blood pressure and put you at higher risk of anxiety and depression. This being said, learning about the different kinds of sleep disorders out there can help you to get the most out of your sleeping hours and improve your ability to feel refreshed, living every day to its fullest potential.
Below are 5 unusual sleep disorders that may or may not be affecting how well you perform during waking hours.
1. Bruxism. Also known as teeth grinding or teeth clenching at night, bruxism is one of the most common sleep disorders. It is often diagnosed by dentists who notice damaged enamel on a patient’s molars. A singular cause of bruxism has yet to be determined, but most experts believe that stress during the day may trigger this type of behavior at night. While you are sleeping it’s nearly impossible to control yourself. Many people who have bruxism may not know it for a long time, and some may only come to a conclusion that something is awry after noticing soreness in the jaw and teeth. Custom-fitted oral appliances called night guards have been designed to help prevent damage in the mouths of patients with bruxism.
2. REM Behavior Disorder. Usually, a sleeper in the middle of an REM (rapid eye movement) cycle will dream vividly without any physical movement to show for it. This occurs as a result of a normal paralysis during REM sleep. For people who have REM behavior disorder, this paralysis is lost. The affected sleeper will be compelled to move around, possibly acting out dreams as they experience them. While this may not seem like much of a threat, REM behavior disorder can result in serious injuries both in his or her body or that of surrounding bedmates. Nightmares may also cause violent behavior to be acted out. There are therapeutic medications available to restore paralysis during REM sleep.
3. Night Terrors. Night terrors affect the behavior, emotion and perception of a person while he or she sleeps. The condition is different and more severe than an occasional bout of nightmares. A sleeper experiencing night terrors might wake up suddenly, sitting upright in bed with a facial expression of absolute fear. The sleeper may scream out, gasp or moan. Even when a bed-partner or family member wakes up a person from a night terror, it may take several minutes before the sleeper can regain consciousness and separate reality from dreams. In the course of these few minutes, the sleeper may act out violently in attempt to fight back fearful thoughts, putting others at risk of injury.
4. Kleine-Levin Syndrome. Patients who have Kleine-Levin syndrome feel that they need an excessive number of hours of sleep per day. Sometimes they can spend 90 percent of their days asleep. Other symptoms of Kleine-Levin syndrome include heightened sex drive and overconsumption of food during a person’s few waking hours. Experts have hypothesized that this sleep disorder has origins in the body’s autoimmune system. It may also be hereditary. Unfortunately, research has not led to many definitive conclusions about treatment of Kleine-Levin syndrome, though some medications to stimulate a person and fight sleepiness are available.
5. Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Syndrome. People who suffer from circadian rhythm disorders such as non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome have trouble adjusting to a normal day-to-night sleep pattern. Usually, the origin of such a disorder can be traced back to problems with the person’s biological clock. This sleep disorder is very rare, but it can deeply affect a person’s ability to thrive in normal friend circles and to maintain a regular 9-to-5 job. Patients diagnosed with non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome experience irregular sleep patterns that change every day. Their cycles fluctuate radically, sometimes returning for a couple of days to a pattern that may be considered normal and then deviating again. The condition is strangely prevalent among the blind, though it can affect others as well.
Most sleep disorders can be diagnosed after a thorough evaluation by a sleep specialist, and with a simple polysomnogram, or sleep study, during which body function and behavior are monitored by sleep experts while a person spends the night at a sleep center. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, whether standard or unusual, be sure to visit a sleep specialist for a full evaluation and diagnosis.
Sleepdisorders.com aims to help sleep disorder sufferers lead a productive, normal life. Our directory of sleep doctors and useful articles is designed to help sufferers take control of their sleep disorder.