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Sleep Disorders

An Overview of Sleep Disorders & Insomnia

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders affect a lot more people than most people realize — up to 20 percent of Americans in any given year suffer from a sleep problem, according to the National Institutes of Health. Many people who suffer from problems sleeping don’t even realize it. They may walk through the day feeling a little tired, unfocused, and unable to get started. These disorders and the resulting sleep deprivation interfere with work, driving, and social activities. The most common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, daytime sleepiness, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.

Sleep Disorders & Getting Quality Sleep

What Does Sleep Do For Us?

Although researchers are still trying to learn exactly why people need sleep, animal studies show that sleep is necessary for survival. For example, while rats normally live for two to three years, those deprived of REM sleep survive only about 5 weeks on average, and rats deprived of all sleep stages live only about 3 weeks. Sleep-deprived rats also develop abnormally low body temperatures and sores on their tail and paws. The sores may develop because the rats’ immune systems become impaired. Some studies suggest that sleep deprivation affects the immune system in detrimental ways.

Sleepy manSleep appears necessary for our nervous systems to work properly. Too little sleep leaves us drowsy and unable to concentrate the next day. It also leads to impaired memory and physical performance and reduced ability to carry out math calculations. If sleep deprivation continues, hallucinations and mood swings may develop. Some experts believe sleep gives neurons used while we are awake a chance to shut down and repair themselves. Without sleep, neurons may become so depleted in energy or so polluted with byproducts of normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction. Sleep also may give the brain a chance to exercise important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate from lack of activity.

Deep sleep coincides with the release of growth hormone in children and young adults. Many of the body’s cells also show increased production and reduced breakdown of proteins during deep sleep. Since proteins are the building blocks needed for cell growth and for repair of damage from factors like stress and ultraviolet rays, deep sleep may truly be “beauty sleep.” Activity in parts of the brain that control emotions, decision-making processes, and social interactions is drastically reduced during deep sleep, suggesting that this type of sleep may help people maintain optimal emotional and social functioning while they are awake. A study in rats also showed that certain nerve-signaling patterns which the rats generated during the day were repeated during deep sleep. This pattern repetition may help encode memories and improve learning.

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John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2019). Sleep Disorders. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/disorders/sleep/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Jul 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Jul 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.