You are probably aware, if not experiencing, a few of the more common sleep disorders. After all, in the hectic, toxic, stress-filled world that we inhabit, sleep disorders are quite common.
They range from a fairly innocuous insomnia where we just have trouble falling asleep or can't seem to stay asleep and keep waking up during the night.
Somnolence is a word that describes drowsiness or sleepiness during the day. We just can't seem to get fully awake and tend to drink a lot of coffee. A somnolent person would appear to be operating in somewhat of a daze.
Sleep apnea is a respiratory problem that afflicts about 18 million Americans. It is one of the sleeping disorders that can have very serious consequences because it stops your breathing.
It is defined as a period in sleep where breathing stops for more than 10 seconds at a time. The cause is fairly simple.
As we age and, more than likely, put on weight, the tissue in the back of our throat slackens and fat deposits form in the area of the tonsils, or where they used to be if you ever had a tonsillectomy.
When we are asleep, the muscles fully relax and the fat and flaccid tissue in the back of the throat collapses, shutting off the air supply.
It's not as dangerous as it sounds since when we stop breathing, our body will wake itself up without conscious action on our part. We will shift our position, clear our throat and breathing will resume.
The really bad part of sleep apnea is that it's typical for sufferers to be waking up about 10 times per hour. Besides being extremely annoying, it means that we never get into REM sleep and thus can't wake up refreshed.
Now the really, really bad thing about sleep apnea is that in early stages the lack of oxygen may kill off a few brain cells.
Over time, as the condition goes on, hypertension can set in and risk of stroke increases. It is rare but possible that abnormal heartbeats and even more serious cardiovascular conditions could result in death.
Remedies for sleep apnea range from relatively easy and painless to horrible. The easy way is to lose some weight. Losing just ten pounds can decrease episodes of sleep apnea by 30 percent.
If you just can't bring yourself to adjust your diet, then there's always gastric bypass surgery. That's not a good choice. Then there is throat surgery to remove some of the obstructing tissue. This one is OK but only about 50% successful.
For some reason the one most people try first is the CPAP mask. CPAP stands for "Continuous Positive Airway Pressure". The good news is that it has a high success rate, 90 - 95 %.
The bad news is that it makes you look and sound like Darth Vader.
Because of all these factors, patient compliance is erratic.
If I ever develop sleep apnea, I think I will just adopt low glycemic eating and change my lifestyle to the genetic key diet and try losing weight.
Photos: CPAP mask and machine
Narcolepsy is a fairly rare but more interesting of the genetic sleep disorders. It is genetic in nature and characterized by suddenly falling asleep during the day and having difficulty sleeping at night.
The conclusion may be drawn that the brain's mechanism that switches between the waking state and sleep state is broken.
When sufferers have a narcolepsy attack, they go directly to
REM sleep, bypassing the slow-wave stage. Some have waking REM episodes exhibiting hallucinatory effects.
It is generally accompanied by a condition known as cataplexy which is a sudden loss of muscle tone brought on by strong emotions.
The first occurrence shows up in puberty to the mid-20's. REM sleep begins in utero and makes up 50% of sleep time in infancy, decreasing to 20% of sleep time at puberty.
It may be significant (or not) that if narcolepsy is going to show up, it is coincident with puberty or about the same time that REM sleep starts to decrease.
Narcolepsy is one of the more dangerous and debilitating sleep disorders that can't be cured. It can be controlled by prescription level stimulant drugs to keep the person awake.
The waking REM sleep is treated with tricyclate (antidepressants)
MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors. Recall that one of the brain nuclei systems is turned off during REM sleep and that system uses monoamines.
So in order get the level of monoamines up, same drug given for depression is given for narcolepsy.
Sleep disorders may afflict as many as 70 million Americans. Recent surveys as reported by the National Institutes of Health, show that while most people require eight or more hours sleep per night yet the average adult now sleeps less than seven hours a night.
More than one-third of adults report daytime sleepiness so severe that it often interferes with work and social interaction at least a few days each month.
The cost in lost productivity and health care expenses is staggering; estimates run to $16 billion in health care expenses and $50 billion in lost ma-hours and productivity.
Sleep disturbances are a serious and growing problem that is largely unrecognized. Awareness through education can't come too soon.