Sleep disorder

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


A sleep disorder (somnipathy) is a disorder in the sleep patterns of a person or animal. Some sleep disorders can interfere with mental and emotional function. A test commonly ordered for some sleep disorders is the polysomnogram.

Common Sleep Disorders

The most common sleep disorders include:

Broad Classifications of Sleep Disorders

Common Causes of Sleep Disorders

Changes in life style, such as shift work change (SWC), can contribute to sleep disorders.

Other problems that can affect sleep:

A sleep diary can be used to help diagnose, and measure improvements in sleep disorders. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is another useful diagnostic tool.

According to Dr. William Dement, of the Stanford Sleep Center, anyone who snores and has daytime drowsiness should be evaluated for sleep disorders.

Any time back pain or another form of chronic pain is present, both the pain and the sleep problems should be treated simultaneously, as pain can lead to sleep problems and vice versa.

General Principles of Treatment

Treatments for sleep disorders generally can be grouped into three categories: 1) behavioral/psychotherapeutic treatments, 2) medications, and 3) other somatic treatments. None of these general approaches is sufficient for all patients with sleep disorders. Rather, the choice of a specific treatment depends on the patient's diagnosis, medical and psychiatric history, and preferences, as well as the expertise of the treating clinician. In general, medications and somatic treatments provide more rapid symptomatic relief from sleep disturbances. On the other hand, some emerging evidence suggests that treatment gains with behavioral treatment of insomnia may be more durable than those obtained with medications.

Some sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, are best treated pharmacologically, whereas others, such as chronic and primary insomnia, are more amenable to behavioral interventions. The management of sleep disturbances that are secondary to mental, medical, or substance abuse disorders should focus on the underlying conditions.

For most sleep disorders, behavioral/psychotherapeutic and pharmacological approaches are not incompatible and can be effectively combined to maximize therapeutic benefits.

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