Asleep disorder is a medical condition that prevents a person from achieving normal sleep that is of sufficient quality and quantity. The result is that the person feels distressed and the lack of sleep also disrupts functioning during the day. As previously emphasized, night time sleep that is of sufficient quantity and quality is an important requirement for a healthy body. As such, consistent interruption of night time sleep has a negative effect on health. Although most people will at some point experience brief (few days) of disruption of sleep, it is only when this pattern persists that a sleep disorder is said to be present. There are about eighty different sleep disorders, although some are more common than others.

Sleep disorders are broadly classified into conditions resulting in a change in the quantity of sleep (also called dyssomnias) or those that affect the quality of sleep (known as parasomnias). Dyssomnias cause either excessive sleepiness, also known as hypersomnia, or reduced sleep, i.e. insomnia. The parasomnias result in abnormal and unnatural sleep experiences that may include unusual movements, bizarre behaviours or emotions occurring during sleep.

Sleep disorders can affect all ages, but are much more common in the elderly. The most familiar sleep disorder is insomnia, which is easily recognized. In contrast, the abnormal sleep experiences are often attributed to other factors and interpreted as spiritual experiences (or ‘attacks’). This is not surprising considering the bizarre, apparently unexplainable, frightening, sometimes embarrassing nature of parasomnias, such as sleep terror, sleep walking, sleep sex, and bedwetting. One important distinguishing feature is that these behaviours typically only occur during sleep and cease once the person is awake.

If there is a suspicion of a sleep disorder, the appropriate step would be to discuss the complaints with a medical doctor who can then provide guidance as to what to do regarding the condition, including seeing a doctor specializing in sleep disorders. In upcoming articles, the causes and symptoms of these sleep disorders will be discussed, so watch this column.