You may have already heard of sleep issues such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy and insomnia, but lesser known and more rare sleep disorders can also take a toll on a person’s health. In fact, there are more than 80 known sleep disorders interfering with Americans’ ability to get sufficient shuteye.
One thing all sleep issues have in common: They interfere with your ability to get optimal rest, which in turn affects your ability to work, play, and care for your family. They also may affect your sleeping partner’s or family’s rest too, depending on the condition. “In general, patients with sleep disorders have trouble sleeping at night and suffer from excessive sleepiness during the day,” says Meeta Singh, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist with the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center. Intervening when appropriate can minimize the toll of these lesser known disorders.
Here’s what you should know about unfamiliar sleep disorders:
- Sleep Talking. True to its name, sleep talking is speaking out loud while you’re asleep, and it can range from senseless gibberish to full-blown one-sided discussions and angry rants. “What a person says can be spontaneous, or related to something they’re currently experiencing in their lives,” says Singh. “But about 99 percent of the time, patients are not aware they’re speaking.”What to do: Since most sleep talkers aren’t aware of their nighttime chattiness, it’s usually a non-issue and doesn’t require treatment. If you’re the bed partner though, consider earplugs.
- Sleep Walking. Getting out of bed and walking around when you’re snoozing is called sleepwalking. The behavior is more common in children than adults, but it does run in families. So if one or both of your parents have had episodes of sleepwalking, you’re more likely to follow suit.What to do: If you live with a sleepwalker, wake him or her up! Contrary to popular belief, it’s not dangerous to wake a sleepwalker; in fact, it’s dangerous not to. Left alone, the person may pick up a knife, turn on the stove, fall down the stairs, or engage in other potentially risky behaviors. Like sleep talking, sleepwalking isn’t dangerous in itself and there’s no treatment. Your best defense: Maintain a safe environment, says Singh. Lock doors, keep knives or other sharp object secured and use a home alarm system so you’re quickly notified if the person tries to walk outside.
- Sleep Terrors. While these terrifying nightmares are most frequently linked to children, the reality is, sleep terrors can occur at any age. Even though the person appears awake during a sleep terror, he or she is actually asleep, says Singh. They may yell or scream. They may be agitated. They may sweat. And they will appear terrified.What to do: Wait it out. Stifle the urge to wake the child and instead try to soothe him or her back to more restful slumber. Another trick: Since children often experience night terrors at the same time each night, gently wake them up 15 minutes before the terror typically begins and ease them back to sleep to circumvent the process.
- Sleep Paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a relatively common complaint that also runs in families. In normal sleep, during the dreaming phase (REM sleep), your muscles are paralyzed so you don’t act out your dreams, explains Singh. “But in sleep paralysis, you’ve awakened from REM but you can’t move.” Episodes can last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. And while it’s not life threatening, it can be disconcerting.What to do: If you suffer from repeated episodes, see a sleep specialist. When sleep paralysis occurs alongside another sleep disorder, such as narcolepsy (a brain disorder that involves sleep-wake cycles) treating the other sleep disorder may also resolve the sleep paralysis.
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD). For most of us, dreaming occurs entirely in our minds. We don’t act out our dreams because our bodies are paralyzed. In REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, patients act out vivid dreams as they enter REM sleep. Talking, shouting and flailing are commonplace and episodes tend to get worse over time. People who have RBD are usually easy to wake and they can often recall the details of their dreams.What to do: See a sleep specialist. Unfortunately, many people ignore RBD for years, which can lead to self-injury or undue harm to a bed partner. Medication is available to treat RBD.
- Exploding Head Disorder. In this bizarre sleep disorder, patients report hearing a loud sound such as a gunshot, bomb or explosion just as they’re about to fall asleep or wake up. As frightening as these episodes may be, there’s no pain associated with the alarming sounds.What to do: Visit your primary care doctor if you suffer from recurring episodes. Over time, symptoms of Exploding Head Disorder can lead to a fear of sleeping, which has wide-ranging consequences. It may also result from depression, in which case, medications can help.
No matter what your sleep status or problem, getting sufficient shut-eye should be top priority. In every case, practicing good sleep hygiene can lessen the impact of disordered sleeping, says Singh. Most important, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep, or if your bed partner complains about your odd behaviors at night, it makes sense to get evaluated.