• Features
  • Updated: February 16, 2022

Five Rare Sleep Disorders You Are Unaware Of

After a day full of several activities, the thought of a sleepless night is more terrifying than anyone could think or imagine.

Everyone has experienced sleepless nights at different points in life for reasons ranging from tiredness, depression, illness, and work. However, some find it difficult to fall asleep almost every night for reasons they are unaware of.

All they know is that they find it difficult to sleep like most people, and this affects not only their productivity but also their health and several other aspects of their lives. 

Conditions that affect the timing, quality and amount of sleep are referred to as sleep disorders. Sleep disorders impair your sleep and disrupt your restful night.

While sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea and narcolepsy are common, a good number of sleep disorders are unknown to those who suffer from them.

Below are five rare sleep disorders people are unaware of.

1. Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI)

As the name implies, Fatal Familial Insomnia is a very rare and deadly sleep disorder, characterised by a mild inability to sleep which gets worse over time, affecting the physical and mental health of the victim adversely.

FFI affects its victim’s autonomic nervous system -the fraction of the nervous system that controls involuntary body processes- such that they experience common symptoms including insomnia, increased heart rate (tachycardia), unstable body temperature, high blood pressure (hypertension), fever, progressive dementia, weight loss, confusion, loss of energy, rapid breathing, and paranoia.

Slurred speech, double vision (diplopia) and abnormal eye movements are other symptoms of FFI.

FFI is a genetic neurological disease that primarily occurs when a mutation of a gene affects the production of a protein in the body.

The overproduction, inefficiency or absence of that protein affects its functioning in the body, thereby affecting body organs including the brain, initially causing a sleep-wake cycle. It is mostly experienced by people around 50 years but has been diagnosed in teenagers.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for FFI and some patients either slip into a coma while others die in months due to complications.

Evident symptoms in each patient can, however, be treated for maintenance.

2. Exploding Head Syndrome

Victims of exploding head syndrome hear terrifying sounds like gunshots, explosions, and crashes when they are about to sleep or when they wake up during the night. As alarming as the noise is, it is not accompanied by any pain.

However, the effect of the noise on the patient is fear of sleeping and confusion because they think they are having a stroke or a heart attack, which in turn affect their activities and health. Some patients have a muscle twitch or a flash of light at the same time. These experiences occur very often in patients such that they hear many sounds in one night, mostly sporadic.

The cause of exploding head syndrome is yet to be known, some scientists think stress, depression, shifts in parts of the middle ear and a problem in the brain could be the cause.

Older people, mostly women, are the prominent victims of this disorder although children under age10 have been reported to suffer from it.

Counselling, the use of antidepressants such as Clomipramine, yoga, listening to soothing music and reading among others are some ways to treat exploding head syndrome.

However, seeing a doctor for a better prescription is highly recommended.

3. Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD)

Rather than the unusual paralysis of the arms and legs (atonia) during REM sleep, REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD) is a sleep disorder indicated by physically acting out vivid dreams. These dreams are characterised by violent movements of the hands and legs, noise and other actions. 

This disorder occurs when REM sleep is not fully achieved or completely absent, leading to patients acting out their intense dreams. They are also able to recall the dream when awakened during their bout. 

Degenerative Conditions such as Lewy body dementia or stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multisystem atrophy, use of antidepressants, or the use or withdrawal of drugs/alcohol are triggers of REM Sleep Behaviour Movement. Patients are mostly males above 50 years although it is now diagnosed in women, young adults and children. 

Melatonin and Clonazepam are treatment options for this disorder although they come with side effects such as day drowsiness and worsening of sleep apnea.

See your doctor for the best treatment of your condition.

4. Sleep Paralysis

In the case of sleep paralysis, the victim is awake and conscious but unable to move or speak. It occurs when the victim is falling asleep (hypnagogic) or in the process of waking up (hypnopompic) and lasts for 30 seconds to a few minutes.  

While sleep paralysis is not dangerous in itself, it affects its victim’s sleep greatly. It is caused by insufficient or no sleep, mental problems, sleeping on the back, change of sleep pattern, use of certain medications, and the presence of narcolepsy among others. 

Sleep paralysis can be treated by getting enough sleep, treating underlying sleep and mental disorders, the use of antidepressants if prescribed, and changing of sleeping position.

Touching or speaking to the patient can bring them out of their paralysed state. The patient can also make a great effort to move.

5. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Leg Syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease is a condition that causes the legs to move uncontrollably when one is in a relaxed state, sitting or lying down. It occurs mostly in the evening and at night when one is likely to be resting. 

RLS begins at any age and worsens over time. Sensations such as twitching, aching, crawling, throbbing, and pulling in the legs are some of the experiences of an RLS patient. These sensations disrupt a patient's sleep and daily activities. 

RLS is common in pregnant women and people with kidney and spinal cord conditions, iron deficiency and hands and feet nerve problems.

Vitamins, minerals, therapies such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, hypnotherapy and Ayurvedic treatment help in relieving RLS. A patient suffering from RLS should however visit a doctor for specific prescription. 



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Deborah Oluwasayo Oyewole
Deborah Oluwasayo Oyewole

A graduate of English with a passion for writing and editing. Ardent researcher and meticulous learn...

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