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Most Common Sleep Disorders

8 min read

By Katherine George

Sleeping is supposed to be a time where we can rest and recharge – but unfortunately, health disorders have found a way to disrupt our slumber too. However, while many people suffer from simple insomnia, there are many more interesting sleep troubles out there.

However, not all sleep disorders mean your sleep is disrupted – in fact, as you’ll soon learn, some of these disorders mean that sleep almost takes over your life. Here are 14 of the strangest sleep-related disorders that may keep you up at night…

1. Sleeping Beauty Syndrome

Teenagers are pretty notorious for being difficult to rouse from their sleep, but it turns out some of them may actually have a rare disorder. CBS News explains this disorder (medically known as Kleine-Levin syndrome) can cause a patient (usually an adolescent male) to sleep 20-hours a day.

When the patients are actually awake, they can have uncontrollable eating and sexual urges, adds the source. Even hallucinations and flu-like symptoms can accompany this condition, it adds. The problem may not clear up for a decade or more after onset, explains the source.

2. Sleep Paralysis

This is when you’re trapped between being awake and being in the dream world, but terrifying things can be happening and you can’t seem to move or scream. It’s not actually the same thing as a nightmare; it occurs when you’re entering a deep sleep or coming out of it.

There are ways you can train yourself to break out of sleep paralysis, but anyone who has experienced it can attest that it’s terrifying. Sources say it’s hard to say how many people are affected by this disorder, but agree that it happens most often during teenage years.

3. Exploding Head Syndrome

The American Sleep Association confirms this is a real thing, and is a “disorder characterized by the perception of loud noises (e.g. a bomb explosion, gunshot or cymbal crash) when going to sleep or awakening.”

While the name of the disorder seems extreme, apparently there’s no pain involved – aside from perhaps some emotional pain from being woken up by terrible noises. The fear can also affect the heart. “Reports of tachycardia and palpitations are also common,” it notes. Women are more susceptible to this disorder, and the average onset is at 50-years, explains the source.

4. Narcolepsy

This is a condition that can knock you into sleep at any time without warning – which can actually be quite dangerous depending on what you’re doing (for example if you’re driving).

CBS says once those with narcolepsy fall asleep, the rest can last as short as a few minutes to as long as a few hours. Narcolepsy can be a cause of hypersomnia that’s essentially the opposite of insomnia, and causes the patient to want to sleep during the day (usually without relief).

5. REM Behavior Disorder, which focuses on the area of sleep, says this disorder is the “polar opposite of sleep paralysis” and occurs when the brain doesn’t shut off physical impulses from dreams.

This can result in very animated sleep cycles, which can become violent and potentially dangerous not only for the patient, but those sleeping near them, it adds (it darkly states that people have unwittingly murdered their partners while in sleep mode). It explains that about 50-percent of people with this disorder also has a neurological condition such as Parkinson’s disease – but the disorder itself is quite rare.

6. Fatal Familial Insomnia

Have you ever felt so sleep-deprived, that you think you might not be able to make it? Well, there’s a rare disease that actually is fatal for patients, robbing them entirely of proper rest – even when aids like sleeping pills are used.

The disease means people can’t fall into the deep sleep needed to refresh their mind and body, and they may start acting strangely or speaking in tongues, explains an article about the condition from CNN. Doctors have discovered genetic links, which gives the disease its name.

7. Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder

The Circadian Sleep Disorders Network explains this is a neurological disorder that extends a person’s wake/sleep cycle beyond the usual 24-hours. “The person is unable to adjust his sleep/wake cycle to the length of the day, and his sleep time progresses around the clock,” it notes.

The disorder is particularly prominent in blind patients, and the source says it’s estimated to affect more than 50-percent of totally blind individuals. However, it can also occur in people with normal vision, “and these should be seen as two distinct disorders” because the underlying causes vary, it adds.

8. Sleep Related Eating Disorder

CBS News says this disorder causes sufferers to grab a midnight snack, without being fully aware of what they’re doing. “It’s hard enough for some people to control their eating while awake, and for people with sleep-related eating disorder the bingeing doesn’t stop when the lights go out,” it notes.

Of course, the added problem is that those with this problem don’t tend to grab an apple or celery when they’re sleep-snacking – they go right for the most calorie and sugar-rich foods, adds the source.

9. Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome

You’ve probably heard of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and this is somewhat similar but for adults. According to Klova, when it happens to someone as an adult or adolescent it’s known as sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS) or  sudden adult death syndrome or sudden unexpected/unexplained nocturnal death syndrome (SUDS). The same source notes that prior to it happening, patients will “scream, moan, and froth at the mouth just before death occurs and it’s impossible to wake them up.” It truly sounds like something out of a horror film!

Experts aren’t sure why, but it seems to be more common in young Asian males and in the Philippines it’s referred to as bangungut which translates to “arise and moan.” Not surprisingly, there are many mythological theories behind it that are steeped in superstition. Sleep Junkies writes that it was first written about as a medical condition back in 1917 in the Philippines and then again in 1957 in Japan. The most famous documented causes were in groups of Hmong refugees who came to the United States from Northern Thailand and Laos. Since 1981 there have been over 100 cases of it happening in the U.S.

Of course, there is a scientific explanation behind it. Research by Dr. Joseph Brugada found that there’s a genetic link behind who it happens to and the cause of death is actually heart failure. It’s still unclear why it happens during sleep though.

10. Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm

Most people have what’s referred to as an “internal clock” which helps them know when to sleep and when they should be awake. People who suffer from irregular sleep-wake rhythms do not have this sense of waking and sleeping hours so their sleep patterns are broken into pieces throughout the day. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) describes it as this, “People with irregular sleep-wake rhythm may sleep off and on in a series of naps over a 24-hour period. The sleep pattern is broken up into pieces.”

The source relates it to a newborn baby who naps for a few hours and then is awake for a few hours with no real sense of nighttime or daytime. If a person were to add up all the hours slept throughout the day it might total 8-hours, but it’s off and on. People will assume they’re tired because they nap throughout the day and then at night it seems like they have insomnia because there will be hours where they are awake. This condition is so rare that the AASM isn’t even aware of how many people might have it.

11. Hypersomnia

Hypersomnia sounds like something we’ve all suffered from at some point after not enough sleep. It’s basically when someone has trouble staying awake during the day either from excessive sleepiness or excessive time spent sleeping. People who suffer from hypersomnia are not just tired, they’re so exhausted that they’ll have to sneak off for naps throughout the day. They won’t be able to get through even the most mundane tasks like finishing a meal and it’ll impact their daily life because they have to sneak off and nap during work hours, driving, or other inappropriate times.

12. Sleep Walking

Sleep walking is also referred to as somnambulism and is basically what it sounds like…a person seemingly gets up during their sleep and walks around. While it might seem like this person is awake because they’re up and about, they’re still in a state of sleep. It typically occurs during their nighttime sleep, but can also occur when during the day if they lay down for a nap. CBS writes that experts warn to use caution when waking a sleep walker because there have been cases where they attack when woken suddenly.

13. Restless Leg Syndrome

Like all the other sleep disorder on this list, this one sounds a little strange and kinda funny, but for those who suffer from it, it’s very real and not fun at all. Restless leg syndrome happens when someone has a strong urge to move their legs (it can also occur in other parts of the body like the arms) in order to relieve an uncomfortable sensation. It’s described as a “neurological sleep and movement disorder” by Everyday Health. These sensations have been described as “itchy,” “pins and needles,” or a “creepy crawly” feeling, says WebMD. So what does it have to do with sleep? Well these sensations tend to become worse at night, especially when a person is resting, laying down, or sitting. Not surprisingly, this makes it hard to sleep and in severe cases it can cause nightly sleep deprivation and impact quality of life.

14. Night Terrors

Most people have experienced a nightmare before, especially as a child. We’d wake up in a cold sweat, probably a little scared, and unable to fall back asleep. Nightmares are no fun, but night terrors are a whole new level of nightmare. People who suffer from an episode of night terrors will wake up screaming or thrashing about. Health24 lists the psychological symptoms as “a racing heart, sweat and heavy breathing, also manifest, and in some cases people bolt out of bed and run around the house.”

The person might seem like they are awake, but their not. The dream they’re experiencing is so real and terrifying that it causes them to move around and scream in freight. It usually takes a little bit to wake them up, and sometimes once they are awake they’re unaware of what happened.

Senior Managing Editor

Katherine is the Senior Managing Editor of ActiveBeat and Childhood. She is constantly striving to live a more active and healthy life, from eating healthy, exercising, and just spending more time outdoors. She enjoys cooking (with wine), walking her dog, reading, and recently joined a yoga studio!

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