Most physical illnesses can cause sleep disturbances — usually as a consequence of the associated symptoms of pain, urinary frequency, coughing, respiratory discomfort, esophageal reflux, or itchiness. Other medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, can disrupt sleep through their direct impact on the brain.
Sleep apnea has alternating periods of extremely loud snoring and gasping, followed by thirty seconds (and sometimes much longer) of silence during which breathing stops. You are probably unaware of the nighttime dramatics unless you have been told about them by your terrified bed partner. Your sleep is unreferencing and you nod off during the day. Sleep apnea can have a number of different causes, but is most frequently seen in people who are overweight.
Narcolepsy is an inherited neurological condition with disturbed regulation of REM sleep. You have repeated, uncontrollable sleep attacks that can happen in inappropriate and even dangerous situations—while driving a car, attending a class, or even in the middle of a conversation. The sleep interludes usually last approximately fifteen minutes, after which you wake up fully rested and refreshed but the extreme sleepiness may return and lead to another attack within a few hours.
Many of the symptoms in narcolepsy represent elements of REM sleep intruding into daily life. Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone that may be so extreme that it causes you to collapse. This can be understood as an attack of sleep paralysis (which is a normal part of REM sleep) occurring during the day. Cataplexy is usually precipitated by powerful emotions of anger, despair, or shock, or by uncontrollable laughter. Sometimes elements of REM sleep take over as you fall asleep or when you wake up. Even though you are awake, you have dreamlike hallucinations and find yourself unable to speak or move any muscle in your body. Although quite terrifying, such episodes usually resolve after a few minutes. Perhaps this is the source for some zombie legends.
According to the diagnostic manual, you have Sleep Disorder Medical Condition if :
- – You have problems falling asleep or staying asleep, are sleeping too much, or are feeling sleepy during the day.
- – Your sleep problem is due to the direct effects of a medical condition or because of the discomfort it causes.
- – Your sleep problem is severe enough to interfere with your ability to function on a daily basis.