Neurological Sleep Disorders: Do you know the difference?

A neurological disorder is a disorder of the body's nervous system. Formulate treatment plans with confidence when you consult Sleep Disorders in Neurology, a helpful overview of both common and rare neurological disorders that are frequently accompanied by significant sleep disturbances.

Neurological Disorders and Sleep

If you suffer from a health condition that involves the body’s nervous system, and that is really a big system, you very likely have some type of neurological disorder. That means that your brain, spinal cord and nerves are not always working in ways that benefit you. You do not need to feel alone; it is estimated that over a billion people worldwide have joined with you. The group is so large that anything displayed by it really should not be viewed as abnormal. Think of it as similar to being left handed. It isn’t wrong – it is just different. None of us are exempt from some anomaly or another.

How does sleep fit in?

Sleep is so essential to our lives, is there really any thing it does not affect when it comes to our bodies and our health?  In regard to the subject of neurological disorders, we have actual neurological sleep disorders and we have sleep disorders that are closely connected to neurological disorders. That’s what happens when we are talking about that big system comprised of the brain, spinal cord and nerves.  Fortunately, we might be able to make some sense of it all. However, please forgive any overlap.

The neurological sleep disorders

There are sleep disorders that are without question neurological. Let’s begin with the common ones:

  • Narcolepsy:

    • Narcolepsy stems from a defect in the brain or some other physical problem. Lifestyle habits and psychological factors do not influence it; the brain is simply unable to keep normal sleep-wake cycles. It is characterized by sleep attacks during waking hours, hallucinations and loss of muscle control without notice. It is not curable, but it is manageable, and it is not life threatening.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder:

    • When we enter the last stage of sleep, rapid eye movement sleep, where we dream, our brainstem refrains from telling our muscles to move. This is a good thing, since we really do not want to act out our dreams. If this malfunctions, it is not pleasant for the sufferer or anyone in the same bed. This disorder is most common with elderly men. Research reveals that REM sleep is an important sleep stage that helps with memory and organization during our daily activities. We need REM sleep to function optimally.
  • Central sleep apnea:

    • Apneas, or pauses in breathing, can be deadly. Unlike obstructive sleep apnea that is caused by something blocking the flow of air to the lungs, central sleep apnea occurs when the brain stops sending directions to the muscles that control our breathing. The effect is the same, but the cause is different. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive and central.
  • Hypersomnia:

    • People with this sleep disorder demonstrate a type of sleep drunkeness. They never seem to be awake and they act odd when they are. They may have long periods of deep sleep, but never seem like they have had any. This condition may be idiopathic, stemming from an unknown cause, or it may be witnessed after a severe injury to the central nervous system or head.
  • Intrinsic irregular sleep-wake disorder:

    • This is the case when the biological clock that controls the sleep-wake cycle is irregular. Sufferers fall asleep at irregular intervals. It is referred to as intrinsic because it is caused by internal influences like an abnormal brain function. There is an extrinsic version as well, but it can be remedied with lifestyle changes.
  • Parasomnias:

    • Most of the parasomnias are viewed as neurological. By definition, they are characterized by involuntary movements that happen while sleeping. The central nervous system is activated, at least partially, when it should not be. Examples include arousal disorders like sleepwalking and night terrors. Children usually grow out of these, but when adult onset happens it is usually life long.

Believe it or not, there are more newly-named sleep disorders, considered neurological, that are not yet recognized in medical terminology, but will join these later.

Other neurological disorders that sleep affects

Then we have the disorders that are literally “in bed” with sleep disorders:

  • Parkinson’s disease – A disorder that stems from the nervous system and is characterized by tremors and possibly the inability to move normally. Closely associated with pathological sleepiness. REM sleep behavior disorder often precedes this incurable disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease – Sleep habits change dramatically along with the memory issues that sufferers have with Alzheimer’s. Sleep-wake patterns are affected so sufferers may not sleep most of the night and want to nap all day.
  • Sleep-related epilepsy – Sleep disorders are prevalent with epilepsy. Treatment for epilepsy can influence sleep schedules and daytime alertness, and at the same time, treating a co–existing sleep disorder may help alleviate some of the symptoms of epilepsy.
  • Sleep related headaches – Headaches that come on while we are sleeping may stem from a sleep disorder. These can include migraine and cluster headaches. They could also have to do with sleep phases and circadian rhythm sleep disorder issues.
  • Sleep disordered breathing (SDB) – There is overlap here. SDB disorders include one of the most common sleep disorders, obstructive sleep apnea. However, other SDB conditions like hypoxemia, which indicates decreased oxygen in the blood, fall in this category as well.
  • Fatal familial insomnia – The name describes it well. This neurological disorder makes it impossible for the sufferer to sleep. It is both a sleep disorder and a neurological disorder that ends badly because of no sleep.

Sleep’s widespread presence

It is almost impossible to take the sleep out of any health condition. It is as important as breathing, as it is something we have to do. Fortunately, much of the research conducted for neurological disorders adds to the discoveries about sleep. On the other side of the coin, treating neurological disorders can result in sleep disorders. Undeniably, the expansion of sleep medicine has definitely contributed to viewing our overall health more comprehensively.