Much of sleep’s intricacies remain a mystery as scientists strive understand the mechanisms behind sleep and the state of sleep itself. We know sleep is a vital, complex mechanism and an experience shared by all living things. For whatever reason though, sometimes people experience problems related to sleep, referred to medically as “parasomnia”. Even while a person may be physically comfortable on the highest quality electric adjustable beds, sleep disorders that affect brain function and hormones can make for restless nights. While you’ve likely heard of insomnia and sleep apnea, here are a few interesting sleep disorders you may not be aware of.
When you fall asleep, your body enters atonia to keep you immobile, preventing you from acting out dreams. However, sometimes this mechanism doesn’t stop when the mind wakes, resulting in Sleep Paralysis. When someone experiences this, their mind is fully awake, but the person cannot move or speak. Often, people report accompanying visual and auditory hallucinations that may prove quite disturbing. Sleep paralysis is actually quite common, with possibly up to 40% of people experience it. Some factors that may trigger this condition include lack of sleep, back sleeping, mental conditions and other sleep problems, and some medications. Though not considered dangerous, it can be frightening and unpleasant.
Also called “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” in a reference to the Disney princess, this condition causes people to sleep for extended periods. Recurring bouts of sleep lasting from days to weeks characterize this disorder. KLS proves different from comatose states, as people still awake for brief periods of time to use the bathroom and eat. However, when awake during an episode, they often experience confusion, apathy, lethargy, mood changes, and extreme drowsiness not present before/after the episodes. It is more common in males, and in adolescents. Researchers believe it is triggered by hypothalamus and thalamus malfunctions. The syndrome is usually present for 8-12 years, during which symptoms gradually fade.
Somnambulance is the technical term for “sleepwalking”, in which a person is ambulatory while technically asleep. Though their eyes may be awake, sleepwalkers are in deep stages of sleep and typically have no memory of their actions. While often characterized as funny, sleepwalkers can pose a danger to themselves and others, especially if they manage to get behind the wheel or handle dangerous tools or weapons. Sleepwalking is most common among children and is often a symptom of other conditions like sleep deprivation, arrhythmias, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep apnea, seizures, as well as some medications and alcohol.
Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder
Imagine trying so hard to diet, only to find weight gain and missing food in the fridge? Noctournal Sleep-Related Eating disorder is a rare parasomnia in which people eat while fully asleep, blending somnabulance and binge eating. This condition proves quite disconcerting, as one could easily eat spoiled foods or non-food items, in addition to the undesired calorie intake. Some people have even reported cooking full three-course meals and dining, all while asleep. NSRED mostly often affects women, and may result in weight gain and depression.
Non-24-Hour Sleep Disorder
As one of the rarest sleep disorders, Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Syndrome is a condition in which a person’s internal body clock doesn’t conform to the typical 24-25 hour schedules. People with disorder operate on cycles from 26 to even 72 hours, during which they are awake for long periods of time through day and night, and also tend to sleep longer than normal. This disorder can affect both blind and non-blind people, however it proves most prevalent among blind individuals without light sensitivity. Because their bedtime constantly shifts within the 24 hour timeframe, functioning in jobs and school can prove difficult. Treatment for this disorder involves resetting the biological clock using tools like routine changes and melatonin supplements.
Narcolepsy has frequently been depicted in popular media, so it is better known, but still is not well understood scientifically. People with this disorder experience extreme drowsiness during the day, and can fall asleep instantly. Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder and is often present with other disorders like hallucinations, sleep paralysis, especially cataplexy. Cataplexy is a disorder in which people lose consciousness instantaneosly while experiencing strong emotions. Severe narcoleptics may have to avoid driving and other potentially dangerous activities, though medications can provide some symptom relief. Scientists think that narcolepsy results from hypocretin deficiencies and other neurological issues which disturb REM sleep.
Sleep bruxism refers to the habitual grinding and/or clenching of the jaw while asleep. As a subconscious habit, people are often not aware they have bruxism until another person notices or a dentist identifies tooth wear patterns. Possible causes include stress, repressed emotions, and jaw misalignment. Bruxism can lead to tooth and jaw damage and headaches, but can be treated with behavior therapy and mouthguards.
REM-Sleep Behavior Disorder
Like with sleepwalking, RBD is characterized by physically acting out dreams due to a lack of muscle paralysis. People with RBD may kick, punch, yell, talk and do other activities during vivid dreams, with their eyes typically closed. This can be dangerous to the sleeper, as well as bed partners. This condition is fairly rare, and most commonly affects older males. RBD may result from damage to brain tissues, alcohol and drug use, and in some cases may be predictive of parkinsonian disorders. The good news is that RBD is is usually treatable with medications.
Fatal Familial Insomnia
FFI is an extremely rare sleep disorder in which a gene mutation leads to severe insomnia that eventually results in death. While it begins with typical insomnia symptoms, within months the person develops a total inability to sleep leading to dementia and physical side effects. This condition is also present with autonmic nervous system issues that cause blood pressure and heart rate issues, muscle twitching and more. Within a 18 months, the condition evolves to coma and then death. FFI is a genetic disorder, for which no lasting treatment currently exists.
People with nocturnal lagophthalmos sleep wide awake – at least with their eyes that is. People with nearsightedness, cone-shaped corneas, and muscle disorders are are greater risk for this disorder. For people with this disorder, their eyelids do not naturally close during sleep. This results in eye irritation and possibly cornea damage, though it may be treated with eye drops, masks and addressing underlying symptoms.
Now that we’ve made you paranoid about your sleeping activities, sweet dreams! But, if you think you or someone else has a sleeping disorder, discuss it with a medical professional. Some sleeping disorders are benign and inconvenient, but others can have serious consequences or be symptomatic of other conditions. It is not recommended to attempt self-diagnosis or self-treatment of complex sleeping disorders.
Rosie Osmun writes for One Mall Group.