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General Practice 2023

8 distúmost common sleep disorders (and what to do)

8 distúmost common sleep disorders (and what to do)
8 distúmost common sleep disorders (and what to do)

Sleep disorders are changes in the ability to sleep properly, whether due to brain changes, dysregulation between sleep and wakefulness, respiratory changes or movement disorders, and some common examples are insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, sleepwalking or restless legs syndrome.

There are dozens of sleep disorders, which can appear at any age, and are more frequent in children or the elderly. Whenever they exist, these disorders must be treated, as when they persist they can seriously affect the he alth of the body and mind. Understand why we need to sleep well.

If symptoms of sleep disorders appear, the most suitable professional to diagnose and treat the cause is the sleep specialist, however, other professionals such as a general practitioner, family doctor, geriatrician, psychiatrist or neurologist can evaluate causes and indicate the correct treatment in most cases.

Treatments for sleep disorders depend on the cause, and changes in nighttime habits, psychotherapy or medication are usually indicated, including the use of natural products, such as melatonin, which must be prescribed by a doctor.


1. Insomnia

Insomnia is the most frequent sleep disorder, and can be characterized by difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty staying asleep, awakenings during the night, waking up early or even being identified due to complaints of feeling tired during the day.

It can arise in isolation or be the result of stress or an illness, such as depression, hormonal changes or neurological diseases, for example, or be caused by certain substances or medicines such as alcohol, caffeine, ginseng, tobacco, diuretics or some antidepressants.

Furthermore, in many cases, insomnia is simply caused by the existence of inappropriate habits that impair the ability to sleep, such as not having a bedtime routine, being in a very bright or noisy environment, eating too much or have energy drinks at night. Understand how cell phone use at night interferes with sleep.

What to do: the treatment for insomnia consists of improving sleep hygiene through habits that promote good sleep quality, which can be done through psychotherapy sessions with cognitive-behavioral techniques or relaxation techniques, for example. In addition, the doctor may indicate the use of medications such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants or antihistamines for a short period of time.

2. Sleep apnea

Also called obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, or OSAS, this is a breathing disorder in which there is an interruption in the respiratory flow, due to the collapse of the airways, for 10 seconds or more, being more common of occur in men between 40 and 50 years and in obese people, who consume alcohol and/or have changes in the nose, mouth or jaw.

This disease causes changes in sleep, resulting in an inability to reach deeper stages, making adequate rest difficult. Thus, people with sleep apnea tend to be sleepy during the day, causing complications such as headaches, loss of concentration, irritability, memory changes and high blood pressure.

What to do: the treatment is done with the use of adaptable oxygen masks, called CPAP, in addition to changes in habits such as losing weight and avoiding smoking. In certain cases, surgery may be indicated to correct the narrowing or obstruction of air in the airways, caused by deformities, or the placement of implants.

See how to identify and treat sleep apnea.

3. Excessive daytime sleepiness

Excessive daytime sleepiness is the difficulty in staying awake and alert throughout the day, with excess sleep, which interferes with the performance of daily activities and can even expose the person to risk while driving a car or handling equipment.

It is usually caused by situations that deprive adequate sleep, such as having little time to sleep, interrupted sleep several times or waking up too early, and also due to the use of certain sleep-inducing drugs, or diseases such as anemia, hypothyroidism, epilepsy or depression, for example.

What to do: the treatment is indicated by the doctor according to the cause of the problem, and consists especially of improving the quality of sleep at night. Scheduled naps during the day can be useful in some situations and, in cases strictly indicated by the doctor, the use of stimulant medicines may be recommended.

4. Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is part of the class of disorders that cause inappropriate behaviors during sleep, called parasomnias, in which there is an alteration in the sleep pattern due to the activation of brain areas at inappropriate times. It is more common in children, although it can occur at any age.

The person with sleepwalking manifests complex motor activities, such as walking or talking, and can then wake up or go back to sleep normally. There is usually little or no recollection of the event.

What to do: in most cases no treatment is necessary, and the condition tends to decrease from adolescence onwards. In some cases, the doctor may prescribe antianxiety or antidepressant medications to help regulate sleep.

Understand what sleepwalking is and how to deal with it.

5. Restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes a feeling of discomfort in the legs, usually associated with the uncontrollable need to move the legs, and usually appears during rest or at bedtime.

It has a probable genetic cause, and can be worsened by periods of stress, by the use of stimulant substances, such as caffeine or alcohol, or in case of neurological and psychiatric diseases. This syndrome interferes with sleep and can cause daytime drowsiness and fatigue.

What to do: Treatment involves measures to decrease discomfort and improve the individual's quality of life, including avoiding the use of stimulant substances such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, practice physical exercises and avoid depriving sleep, as fatigue worsens the condition. The doctor may also recommend drugs such as dopaminergics, opioids, anticonvulsants or iron replacement in specific cases.

Learn more about what it is and how to treat this syndrome.

6. Bruxism

Bruxism is a movement disorder characterized by the unconscious act of grinding and clenching the teeth in an involuntary way, causing unpleasant complications such as dental changes, constant headaches, in addition to clicking and jaw pain.

This disorder is more common in children, however it can also manifest in adulthood, occurring both during the day and at night, being more frequent at bedtime.

What to do: The treatment of bruxism is dentist-oriented, and includes the use of a device fitted over the teeth to prevent wear, corrections of dental changes, methods of relaxation and physiotherapy.

See more guidelines on what to do to control bruxism.

7. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by sudden attacks of sleep, in which the person can sleep anywhere, at any time of day, making day-to-day activities difficult. Attacks may occur a few or several times a day, and sleep usually lasts a few minutes.

What to do: Narcolepsy has no cure, however, the doctor may recommend the use of stimulant or antidepressant medication, in addition to changes in lifestyle, such as diet he althy, avoid alcoholic beverages and take naps during the day.

Learn more about identifying and treating narcolepsy.

8. Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is characterized by the inability to move or speak shortly after waking up. It appears for a brief period due to a delay in the ability to move muscles after awakening from sleep. During an episode of sleep paralysis, the person remains conscious until gradually regaining strength and muscle control.

People most at risk of developing this phenomenon are those who have irregular sleep habits, jet lag, stress, anxiety and, in some cases, psychiatric illnesses.

What to do: Sleep paralysis usually does not require treatment, as it is a benign change that lasts a few seconds or minutes. When experiencing sleep paralysis, one should remain calm and try to move the muscles. In severe cases, the doctor may prescribe the use of tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Check out all about sleep paralysis.

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