Sleep Disorders In Adults: Types, Causes And Diagnoses

If you want to know why sleep disorders in adults are so common in America, revisit the revelations of The National Sleep Foundation’s 2002 Sleep in America poll that suggests that several problems and frustrations that have become part of a typical American life including anger and stress are extremely important contributing factors.

While about 70 million American adults  (40% of the population) suffer from chronic sleep problems, 47 million of sleep-starved adults run an increased risk of injury, health and behavioral problems simply because they are not meeting their required sleep needs. What is worse – over 50% of patients with sleep disorders remain undiagnosed and untreated.

What is causing such large scale sleep disorders in adults? 

Poor sleep habits are considered to be one of the prime reasons for adults to develop sleep problems. Many of us go to bed late and wake up earlier than normal. We interfere with normal sleep patterns and tax our bodies and minds with drugs, medication, and excess work load and also over-stimulate ourselves by making poor lifestyle choices.

What are the most common sleep disorders in adults? 

  1. Insomnia: Affecting between 10 and 33% of the American population this condition is marked by inability to fall and remain asleep.
  2. Narcolepsy: A sleep disorder of the central nervous system, it happens when the brain is incapable of regulating normal sleep-wake cycles. This disorder affects 1 in 2000 people in the US.
  3. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): One of the worst sleep disorders this condition affects close to 12 million Americans. It is marked by recurrent pauses in breathing during sleep, caused by blockage of the upper respiratory tract.
  4. Restless leg syndrome (RLS): This sleep disorder has neurological origins and causes tingling sensation in the leg during sleep. It impacts close to 10% of American population

There are several other sleep disorders in adults that are grouped together as parasomnias, abnormal and unnatural movements and behaviors that happen during sleep onset, during sleep, between sleep stages or during waking. Nightmares, night terrors, sleep walking and talking, head banging, bed wetting, teeth grinding are some of the parasomnias that both adults and children suffer from.

How are these disorders diagnosed? 

The reason for many sleep disorders remaining undiagnosed is that either there is lack of awareness of the symptoms of onset or the misleading nature of the symptoms. For example, excessive daytime sleepiness, one of the most common symptoms with which a patient visits a doctor could signify a number of sleep disorders in adults, including sleep apnea, hypersomnia, insomnia, narcolepsy, etc.

The good news is that there are several fool-proof methods of diagnosing these sleep disorders. these include:

  1. Overnight sleep study, also called polysomnography. This is a multi-parametric diagnostic procedure that detects and records several biophysical changes that occur during sleep. Results help in assessing the severity of the condition. Polysomnography can be done either at home or at a sleep clinic.
  2. Maintenance of Wakefulness Test (MWT): This test measures daytime alertness.

Nap Study (MSLT or Multiple Sleep Latency Test): It tests sleep onset rapid eye movement sleep periods (SOREMPS), useful for diagnosing narcolepsy.  According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), MSLT is considered to be the de facto standard for the objective measurement of sleepiness.

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