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Sleep disorders: when sleeping is a nightmare

Sleep disorders are common and affect all age groups. They can have several forms: insomnia, excess sleep, narcolepsy, sleepwalking, bruxism (teeth grinding), involuntary urinating (enuresis), night terrors, etc. These disorders generally have significant repercussions on academic, professional, family, or affective life and can cause drowsiness during the day, causing accidents. Sleep disorders can often be symptoms of a physical or psychological disturbance (stress, anxiety, mental disease). They can also be linked to an inadequate sleep environment (temperature, noise, etc.) or an unhealthy lifestyle: irregular sleep hours, consumption of stimulants in the evening.


Insomnia is the difficulty falling asleep and having a satisfying quantity and quality of sleep. It can be caused by a disturbance in the biological rhythm (jet lag, night shift) or by an unhealthy lifestyle (consumption of stimulants, intense night activities). It can also be secondary to a psychological disorder such as stress, anxiety, depression, or psychosis. Finally, insomnia is sometimes the consequence of a physical disorder causing pain, fever, involuntary movements, or even respiratory problems (sleep apnea). The lack of sleep can cause fatigue, affective problems such as depression, deregulation of hormonal secretions, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems. Children who suffer from prolonged insomnia can develop a speech delay and psychomotor development delay.

Preventing insomnia

  • Adopt regular sleep schedule
  • Go to bed and get up at regular hours. If you cannot fall asleep after about 30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing such as reading.

  • Sleep in a healthy environment
  • Your room must be a place that is conducive to sleep. It must be orderly, quite cool (around 65°F [18°C]), isolated from noise and light, and devoid of electronic devices such as a television or computer. The mattress should be firm and your pajamas comfortable. Essential oils such as lavender promote sleep.

  • Relax before going to bed
  • Adopt a ritual for preparing for sleep by practicing relaxing activities such as listening to music, reading, or taking a bath. Empty your head.

  • Pay particular attention to your evening meal
  • In the evening, your meal should contain less proteins and simple carbohydrates (sugared foods) and more complex carbohydrates (cereal, bread, pasta, rice, corn, legumes, potatoes). Balancing the level of sugar in the blood promotes sleep. In the evening, avoid consuming stimulants such as chocolate, tea, coffee, nicotine, and soda. Rather, drink milk with honey, or herbal tea with chamomile, lemon balm, or valerian.

  • Exercise
  • Regular physical activity promotes sleep due to its relaxing effect on the body. Physical exercise, however, must be practiced at least 3 hours before going to bed to avoid excessive agitation.


A person suffering from sleepwalking unconsciously sleepwalks during the night, without having any memory of it. This sleep disorder mainly affects children and generally disappears during adolescence. Of neurological origin, it occurs during deep sleep and does not last more than 30 minutes. Sleepwalking can have several causes: genetic predisposition, stress, lack of sleep, migraine, diseases (Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy), or consumption of alcohol, drugs, or psychotropic medication (in adults), etc. If necessary, sleepwalking is treated by taking benzodiazepines or by hypnosis.

With open eyes and an inexpressive look, sleepwalkers may be seated on their bed or walking around, talking, and making generally dexterous gestures. They have the tendency to become easily irritated and may display violent behavior. Their moving about may put them in danger. It is best to calmly lead them back to bed, without speaking to them, and ensure their safety if they are agitated (block access to stairs, remove any dangerous objects, etc.).

Night terrors

Night terrors, a sleep disorder close to sleepwalking, can affect children until adolescence. It generally manifests itself at the beginning of the night by attacks that last a maximum of 20 minutes. The sleeping child seems to be awake and in a state of panic. He is red, sweating, his heart rate and breathing are accelerated, he yells, cries and struggles. The child does not recognize his parents and does not react to any attempts to calm him down. He falls asleep spontaneously and has no memory of the episode. Night terrors are not pathological. Their frequency can increase with the lack of sleep or with stress (move, divorce, etc.). In the case of an attack, it is advised to not wake the child, watch him to make sure he does not hurt himself, and do not speak of the event the next morning.


Bed-wetting, or enuresis, is characterized by involuntary urination while asleep. It affects young children and may, in some cases, continue through adolescence. Bed-wetting can occur after a period of several months of being dry and may have a variety of causes: heredity, immature bladder, hormonal disorders, affective disorders, urinary infection, diabetes, constipation, etc. To correct it, a doctor may suggest medication, bladder control exercises, behavioral therapy through motivation (rewards), or the installation of a nighttime alarm system that wakes the child upon urination.


Narcolepsy is a condition characterized by sudden sleeping fits during the day and drops in muscle tone (cataplexy). It affects men slightly more often than women and may start at any age, following an episode of major stress. On average, these sleeping fits last from a few minutes to just under an hour and are often accompanied by hallucinations when falling asleep or waking up. Daytime sleeping fits are separate from episodes of cataplexy.


Cataplexy is the sudden, more or less complete loss of muscle tone, without losing consciousness. It may be localized within one muscle group (neck, hands, etc.) or may affect the whole body. The person collapses to the ground but remains conscious. Cataplexy is generally caused by intense emotion.

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