What It Is: Though it sounds more troublesome than scary, insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep, has a place on this list because of how devastating it can be. The inability to get a good night’s sleep can lead to a whole host of medical problems if it’s not addressed properly.
How to Treat It: A number of strategies can be tried to get a better night’s sleep, such as making your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable, practicing relaxation techniques before bed, and removing electronic devices, including your TV. If you are dealing with a severe case of insomnia, talk to a doctor about further solutions.
Sleep disorders can be frightening, as well as troublesome for your overall health. Take the first step toward solving a sleep disorder by talking to your doctor about the problem you or a loved one is experiencing.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
What It Is: One of the most common disorders on our list, obstructive sleep apnea, is characterized by pauses in breathing while you sleep. “Severe sleep apnea can cause irregular heart rate, lack of oxygen in the brain, and even death,” warns Mangala Nadkarni, MD, medical director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at the Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J. Long-term, it increases the risk of hypertension, heart failure, and stroke.
How to Treat It: Apnea must be diagnosed with the help of a sleep specialist. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss and sleeping on your side, dental devices, surgery, or sleeping with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine may also be helpful.
REM Behavior Disorder
What It Is: People with REM (rapid eye movement) behavior disorder act out their dreams, which can cause harm to both themselves and their sleeping partner if the dream is particularly violent.
How to Treat It: A medicine called clonazepam is very effective in treating REM behavior disorder. Melatonin and certain antidepressants are also prescribed in some cases. People suffering from this disorder should also make their bedroom safe by removing any sharp objects and try sleeping alone until the condition becomes manageable.
What It Is: Much more intense than your average nightmare, night terrors are most common in children and cause intense fear that will make your child almost inconsolable. A night terror is not technically a dream, but a strong reaction as a child transitions from one sleep phase to another. They usually occur two to three hours after sleep begins.
How to Treat It: It is best not to wake up your child because she/he will be disoriented. Instead, sit by quietly and make sure she/he doesn’t hurt herself/himself. The best way to stop night terrors from occurring is to try your best to reduce stress in the child’s environment, prevent her/him from staying up too late, and create a calming, soothing bedtime routine. In some instances, medication may be needed to control the night terrors, says Matthew Edlund, MD, author of The Power of Rest and The Body Clock Advantage.
What It Is: One subset of a group of conditions known as parasomnias (abnormal activities that occur during a specific kind of sleep), sexsomnia is a disorder in which people act out sexually while sleeping. “In some cases they masturbate, in others they have full intercourse, and in others they engage in acts they do not do while awake,” says Dr. Edlund.
How to Treat It: Making the sleep environment safe and sleeping alone until the condition is better managed are both approaches to sexsomnia. Treating other sleep disorders and eliminating drug and alcohol abuse may also help. In some cases, medication is needed to address sexsomnia.
What It Is: The narcoleptic subject cannot regulate sleep-wake cycles normally, and this results in involuntary periods of sleep throughout the day, lasting from a few seconds to several minutes. These episodes can be extremely dangerous, depending on the activity in which the subject is engaged at the moment of falling asleep, such as driving a car. Narcoleptics can also experience loss of muscle tone, hallucinations, and even paralysis during these attacks.
How to Treat It: Medication, supplemented by behavioral changes, is often effective in treating narcolepsy.
What It Is: This is probably one of the most well-known parasomnias and, as the name suggests, it is characterized by the individual getting up and walking around while in deep sleep. Sleepwalking can be dangerous to yourself and to others. It is most common in children.
How to Treat It: Like in other parasomnias, it is recommended to reduce any risk for sleepwalker by making the bedroom safe. Shutting doors or installing gates at stairways might be needed. In some cases, medical evaluation and medication are necessary to control sleepwalking.
Restless Legs Syndrome
What It Is: You may have restless legs syndrome if you lie down to sleep only to experience an unpleasant sensation in your legs coupled with an uncontrollable urge to get up and move. This condition is difficult to deal with because symptoms flare up when you want to do just the opposite — relax and go to sleep.
How to Treat It: Cutting back on caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco may help, and your doctor may recommend certain medication for getting the condition under control. Edlund also suggests taking a walk before bedtime to help fight the urge to move when you are ready to sleep.
What It Is: A common symptom of narcolepsy, sleep paralysis prevents you from moving, sometimes for several minutes, while going to sleep or waking up.
How to Treat It: If you have narcolepsy, the treatments mentioned above should also help with sleep paralysis. Kathleen Meyer, MS, RRT, a registered respiratory therapist and director of HealthBridge Sleep Medicine in Manhasset, N.Y., also recommends maintaining a regular bedtime, exercising regularly, and avoiding sleeping on your back, the circumstance under which most sleep paralysis episodes occur.