5 sleep disorders you never knew existed

19 August 2020

From involuntary twitches to sleep paralysis, we take a look at some of the obscure conditions that disrupt our sleep…

 

Hypnagogic jerks

Sometimes our sleep is interrupted by sudden twitches or jumps in our limbs. The unexpected jerks usually occur as we nod off, a state known as hypnagogia, and are usually accompanied by the sensation of falling. One theory suggests the movements are a by-product of our nervous system relaxing as we drift off. While some believe that we start dreaming before our body becomes paralysed.

Sleep apnoea

If you’ve ever gasped, snorted or choked while sleeping, you may suffer from sleep apnoea. The surprisingly common condition affects breathing and can cause sufferers to stop inhaling and exhaling for around ten seconds. With less oxygen reaching the brain the disorder can pull people into a lighter sleep cycle and disturb their night’s rest. Your GP may recommend sleeping on your side or offer a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to pump air into your lungs through a mask.

REM behaviour disorder

REM behaviour disorder (RBD) strikes during the deepest phase of sleep and when we’re most likely to dream. The parasomnias, or abnormal events that occur, include punching and shouting as people act out their night-time visions. Unlike night terrors and sleepwalking, someone affected by RBD can remember their dreams after waking. The condition can be difficult to diagnose and you may need a bed partner to help recognise the symptoms at the earliest opportunity.

Sleep paralysis

Our body naturally becomes paralysed during the rapid eye movement stage of our sleep. During sleep paralysis people remain paralysed after waking, leading to a terrifying experience. You may be unable to move or talk for several minutes while fully conscious and in some cases, you may have the feeling that something is pushing down on your body. Shift workers and those who suffer from insomnia are more likely to experience the scary but harmless symptoms.

Exploding head syndrome

Not as dramatic as it may sound, this involves the sensation of a loud noise as you switch off or wake up. People describe the sound as a bang similar to a bomb exploding or a gunshot. The condition affects one in ten of us and tends to start around 50-years-old. Although the experience is frightening and can strike multiple times in one night, it is completely harmless.

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