Causes of sleep disorders

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Sleep disorders are becoming one of the health problems of sleep for both young people and seniors. The reasons for sleep disorders can be many – just like the methods that allow you to deal with them. 

Sleep disorders can be spontaneous, but they can also occur as a symptom of a specific disease. Factors causing sleep disorders can be divided into somatic, mental and environmental. Most often they take the form of insomnia or disturbances in the rhythm of sleep. A low or disturbed level of melatonin is a common but not the only cause of sleep disorders. 

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Sources of sleep disorders 

Sleep disorders can be one of the symptoms of a mental or physical illness, including but not limited to 

– depression 

– neurosis 

– addiction 

– pain 

– hyperthyroidism 

– metabolic disorders 

– upper respiratory tract diseases 

The treatment is selected according to the cause, therefore treating sleep disorders with accidental sleeping pills is pointless. Only the performance of a series of tests on the basis of which a correct diagnosis will be made is a correct procedure, thanks to which an effective treatment method can be established. Sleep disorder may be unrelated to any disease at all. Primary sleep disorders (so-called spontaneous) are often associated with the current life situation, and therefore have a relationship with stress and emotions. Situations that cause strong or prolonged stress, such as loss of a loved one, financial problems, loneliness, loss of work, can lead to sleep disorders. At the base of spontaneous sleep disorders may also be factors related to the lifestyle, discussed below. 

Melatonin – a hormone regulating the daily rhythm 

The level of melatonin changes throughout the day. The highest level of this hormone in the body occurs between the hours of 2 and 4 at night. Then, the level of melatonin gradually decreases until the morning. The concentration of melatonin also decreases in the period of human life – it decreases with age. Due to human aging, the pineal gland is calcified – a small organ responsible for the synthesis of melatonin. The pineal gland produces the highest amounts of melatonin in the period from 4 to 10 years old. In comparison with this amount, the production of the hormone in the period from 30 to 45 years of age is about 50% lower. In seniors, the circadian rhythm of melatonin secretion sometimes disappears completely. As a consequence, elderly people wake up earlier and feel drowsy before. It does not affect health and well-being. Disorders of the circadian rhythm cause malaise and distraction, and sometimes also the severity of various ailments. 

The influence of light on the circadian human biological rhythm 

Light significantly influences the human’s circadian rhythm, disturbing the evolutionary rhythm of day and night. Artificial light, especially blue light emitted by computers and smartphones, contributes to sleep disorders. Falling asleep with a smartphone or tablet in hand definitely does not serve sleep hygiene. Doctors recommend that devices emitting blue light should be avoided three hours before planned sleep. 

Sitting lifestyle and diet and sleep disorders 

Environmental causes of sleep disorders include running a sedentary lifestyle. Office work combined with low physical activity may in the long run lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders. The sedentary lifestyle causes the body to use the excess of energy delivered during the day in the form of food at night, which should be intended for rest. 

The poor diet may also have a negative effect on the sleep, which consists of eating very large meals in the evening, snacking at bedtime and eating a heavy dinner. The aforementioned eating habits cause a load on the digestive system and consequently difficulties with falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night. For the sake of a healthy sleep, it is worth spending even 30 minutes a day on physical activity, and eat a light meal for supper no later than two hours before the planned going to bed. However, the training session should not be performed in the evening, because it stimulates the body, contributing to difficulties with falling asleep. 

Shift work system 

Not only sitting work can contribute to sleep disorders. Work in a shift system can also have a negative impact on sleep hygiene. Similarly, sleep affects travel on long journeys, such as transcontinental flights, which is associated with a significant difference in time zones. 

The effects of sleep disorders 

In the light of current medical knowledge, there is no longer any doubt that sleep disorders should be treated. According to estimates, about 30% of the population suffers from sleep problems. Sleep disturbances are especially dangerous for children who need a healthy sleep for proper development. Adults need sleep to recover, consolidate memory traces, have good intellectual performance and a well-functioning hormonal balance. The most common effects of sleep disorders include constant fatigue and malaise, and thus lowering the quality of everyday functioning. Prolonged, sleep- untreated sleep disorders lead to a decrease in physical performance, slowing down the reaction, and lowering immunity (including stress). 

Sleep disorders from a medical perspective 

Sleep disorders are not treated as one disease entity. The International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems ICD-10 provides for two separate units – organic sleep disorders (G47) and inorganic sleep disorders (F51). 

Organic sleep disorders are a symptom of another disease (the so-called secondary sleep disorder). This group includes insomnia, sleep and wakefulness disorders, narcolepsy, hypersomnia and sleep apnea. Inorganic sleep disorders, on the other hand, are caused only by emotional factors (otherwise primary sleep disorders). This group belongs to 

– psychogenic disturbances of sleep and waking rhythms 

– nightmares 

– night fears 

– somnambulism 

– inorganic insomnia 

– inorganic hypersomnia 

Apart from the above division, one can point to the existence of sleep disorders consisting in the abnormal quantity and quality of sleep (dyssomnia) and disorders in the form of undesirable behaviors occurring during sleep. Insomnia, too much sleep and drowsiness during the day (the so-called hypersomnia) and arrhythmias are part of the dyssomnia. This category also includes narcolepsy, whose clinical picture includes the occurrence of sleep attacks, sudden loss of muscle tone, paralyzed paralysis and drowsy hallucinations. 

In turn parasomnias include sleep apnea, somnabulizm (sleepwalking) and night fears and nightmares. Sleep apnea is a very dangerous sleep disorder consisting in the temporary cessation of lung ventilation during sleep or a significant shortness of breath. Sleep apnea may be accompanied by snoring. Somnabulism is manifested by physical activity without the participation of consciousness – it is also dangerous because it can lead to injuries (eg head injury as a result of tripping). Night-time fears are probably the least dangerous type of parasomnia. They manifest themselves as the interruption of sleep with a strong feeling of anxiety and fear, as a result of which the patient wakes up crying or shouting. A separate form of parasomnia are nightmares that cause tiredness and lack of sleep, and are memorable. 

Regardless of how we classify sleep disorders, what are their forms and causes, each type of discomfort should be consulted with the doctor and treated. The importance of sleep in a person’s life and his role in maintaining physical and mental health are too large to be disturbed by disorders associated with it. 

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You can read also: The importance of a good night’s sleep and how diet can effect it.

Posted on: May 17, 2019

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