For centuries the science or the magical phenomena of sleep has eluded even the greatest scientists. The sharpest of minds have not been able to unlock the secret behind the natural process called sleep.
In fact it was only in the early 20th century, sometime during the 1930’s to be precise, that scientists using an advanced machine called an Electroencephalogram or an EEG were able to map and measure the electrical activity taking place inside a person’s brain during sleep.
The Science of Sleep
Sleep can be best described as a complex and dynamic activity. While a person who is sleeping may appear extremely tranquil and peaceful, a number of physiological, biochemical and psychological processes continue to take place inside the body. Scientists are still in the process of unraveling the secrets shrouding the natural process called sleep and it may be a long time before they are able to completely unlock the mystery behind sleep.
People are genetically wired in such a way that they naturally fall into the category of either light or short sleeper and long or heavy sleeper. People who sleep for about three to four hours are called light or short sleepers. People who need at least ten hours of rest to feel refreshed and rejuvenated are called heavy sleepers.
A person’s sleep duration normally reduces as they grow older. A baby may sleep for up to 16 hours every day. During adolescences the duration of sleep is reduced to about ten hours. An adult may require between six to eight hours of sleep. As a person approaches old age, their sleep duration is reduced to a mere five hours every night.
A recent survey conducted by the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research has reveled that a whopping 40 million Americans are suffering from some kind of chronic sleep disorder. This number does not include the 30 million Americans who suffer from occasional sleeping problems.
A good night’s sleep is extremely important to be able to handle the stress and tensions which people encounter during the course of the day. People who get good nights sleep feel more productive, energetic, efficient and happier than their counterparts who may spend the better part of the night trying to fall asleep.
People who suffer from various sleep disorders also suffer from a variety of health conditions. If a person feels sleepy or irritable during the day time, feels extremely tired, falls asleep while driving, has trouble controlling their emotions, requires caffeinated beverages to keep them awake then most likely they are suffering from some types of sleep disorder.
Let us examine some of the common sleep disorders that people suffer from.
One of the commonest sleeping disorders that a large section of the population suffers from is insomnia. Individuals suffering from insomnia complain of difficulty in falling asleep, having fragmented, light or un-refreshing sleep and low energy levels during the day. People suffer from insomnia as a result of drinking too much coffee or due to some underlying psychological problem like excessive stress or anxiety.
A blockage in the upper respiratory tract can cause a person to stop breathing temporarily. An individual may repeatedly stop breathing, for periods spanning just a few seconds, during the entire night. This can affect a person’s natural sleep pattern and is referred to as sleep apnea.
Individuals suffering from this disorder are rarely aware of the severity of their problem other than the fact that they wake up several times during the night feeling breathless. Severe sleep apnea if not corrected properly can even result in death. In most cases the usage of a mouth guard or CPAP machine can control the problem of sleep apnea and ensure that a person gets good nights sleep.
Restless Legs Syndrome
The extreme urge to constantly move your legs referred to as Restless Legs Syndrome affects certain people while they are awake but mostly when they are asleep. This disorder is characterized by a strange and uncomfortable sensation- tingling, itching, creeping or aching– in the legs followed by the urge to move the legs. People suffering from this disorder also complain of cramping and involuntary jerking motion of the legs.
Klein Levin Syndrome
On the other side of the sleep disorder spectrum is Klein Levin Syndrome. This disorder is characterized by the need for excessive amounts of sleep. People having this problem may need to sleep for up to twenty hours every day. Those who suffer from this sleep disorder also exhibit some other strange problems like hyperphagia or the intake of excessive amounts of food and hypersexuality or being on a sexual overdrive.
40 million Americans suffer from Bruxism which is characterized by constantly and involuntarily grinding the teeth or clenching the jaws while a person sleeps. Besides damaging the teeth, bruxism can cause headaches, severe facial pain and even arthritis of the temporomandibular joints.
People who suffer from excessive sleepiness during the day may be suffering from a sleeping disorder called narcolepsy. People with this condition may suddenly be overcome with the feeling of extreme drowsiness while working, driving or talking. Feeling paralyzed, seeing dreams immediately after falling asleep or starting to dream even before one falls asleep are signs of narcolepsy.
Most people are unaware of the fact that night terror is actually a sleep disorder. This is actually a parasomnia sleep disorder that is characterized by a person moaning, gasping groaning or screaming in their sleep. A person with this condition may have difficulty regaining consciousness as well.
Nightmares and night terrors should not be mistaken for being one and the same thing. Night terror should be treated at the earliest as it can not only cause trauma to the sufferer but people with this condition may even try to attack others in their unconscious state.
Somniloquy or Sleep Talking
This condition is normally characterized by a person chattering in their sleep. When a person’s body is not able to shift smoothly from one stage of REM to another the individual may become partially awake and they may begin to enunciate their dream. Wearing a mouth guard can to a certain extent control this problem.
Sleep Walking or Nocturnia
When a person starts walking or eating while they are still asleep then that individual is said to be suffering from nocturnia.