A sleep disorder (somnipathy) is any disruption in the sleep patterns of an individual. While some sleep disorders may leave you feeling unrefreshed, a number of symptoms are more severe including excessive sleepiness, snor¬ing, difficulty falling asleep during normal sleeping hours and abnormal be¬haviors such as restless leg syndrome. There are even disorders that cause you to get too much sleep.

If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, a sleep specialist can confirm if your suspicions are correct – and make a careful and detailed medical evaluation to find the source of your sleep problem. A doctor or a sleep specialist can diagnose your sleep disorder based on a number of factors, including:

• A description of your symptoms • Your age • Your gender • Your psychological history • Your medical history

There are over 100 different types of sleep disorders, insomnia being the best know. Insomnia may mean you have a hard time going to sleep or that you have a hard time staying asleep. Usually, you will know if you are experiencing insomnia because you will remember tossing and turning or being awake at night.

The following habits and conditions are risk factors for developing a sleep disorder:

• Poor sleep environment (e.g., too noisy, too brightly lit, too hot, or too cold) • Excessive use of caffeine, alcohol, or certain medications and drugs • Smoking or chewing tobacco • Illness • Obesity • Anxiety, depression, or another mood disorder • Stress, such as the death of a loved one or job pressure • Unhealthy or irregular sleep routine • Early or late-night bedtimes • Traveling between time zones • Daytime napping • Shift work with a rotating schedule

There are 5 stages of sleep. Stage 1 is a very light sleep when all body systems begin slowing down but the person can still be awoken easily. Stage 2 is a period where eye movement stops and brain waves begin to slow down. Stage 3 is when brain activity slows down even more and the slowest brain waves called delta waves sporadically appear. In stage 4, the brain waves are almost totally delta waves. Stages 3 and 4 are called deep sleep and it is difficult to wake a person during stage 4. Stage 5 is called REM sleep and during this stage everything changes. Breathing becomes rapid, there are rapid eye movements and this is when subjects dream. Researchers believe that quality sleep is when a person goes through four or five sleep cycles during a night.

Melatonin is a natural sleep aid that might help you if you suffer a sleep disorder such as insomnia. Melatonin is a sleep aid to help people fall asleep — especially people who suffer from the insomnia caused by shift work or jet lag. Melatonin is a hormone found naturally in the body when serotonin, another hormone, is exposed to decreased light at night. It has side effects and most of the literature recommends it not being used by people with depression, schizophrenia, autoimmune diseases, or other serious illness. Pregnant and nursing women and children should also not use melatonin.

Since melatonin is a natural hormone, then it is probably the first over the counter sleep aid that you should try.