Sleep disorders - An Africa Perspective: Types And Symptoms (Dyssomnia)


Young black male sleeping with head on his arms on a table

Young black male sleeping with head on his arms on a table.


Esimates of sleep disorders.





Getting enough uninterrupted sleep daily is essential to good health, but sleep disorders prevent many people globally from getting the sleep they need.


Sleep disorders are grouped broadly into two as follows:

  • Primary, and
  • Secondary.


Primary sleep disorders include those that are not due to another medical or psychiatric conditions. They are further sub-grouped as:

  • Dyssomnia, and
  • Parasomnia


Secondary sleep disorders on the other hand are caused by other systemic health conditions such as depression, stroke, arthritis, asthma, and thyroid problems, or substance use.


It is educative for you to learn more from an African perspective about the types, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of sleep problems so that you can recognise them early and seek professional intervention before the condition gets to be chronic.


So let's delve in.



What is Dyssomnia?

Dyssomnia refers to a group of primary sleep disorders that cause trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and having refreshing and satisfying sleep.


Dyssomnia may be caused by intrinsic sleep dysfunctions, or extrinsic or external factors.


Well known examples of intrinsic dyssomnias include:

  • Insomnia
  • Narcolepsy
  • Sleep apnea
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Hypersomnia


Symptoms of each of the intrinsic dyssomnias are summarized below.


  • Insomnia. If you experience this disorder, it may be difficult for you to fall asleep and/or stay asleep.


You may lie awake at night, or wake up too early, or feel tired when you wake up.


Insomnia is the commonest sleep disorder worldwide and it is associated with three core risk factors including female gender, physical illness (esp. HIV/AIDs, Sleeping sickness, Tuberculosis and others in Africa) and depression.


Other risk factors include physical / emotional distress.


  • Narcolepsy. This is a troubling neurological disorder that involves your ability to control your sleep-wake cycles.


If you have this condition, you may feel rested when you wake and later feel very sleepy during the day.


This condition can cause you to suddenly fall asleep while talking, eating, or driving.


Some people with narcolepsy also wake up frequently at night.


  • Sleep apnea. Of the two broad types of sleep apnea; central and obstructive, obstructive sleep apnea is more common.


If you have Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you may have temporary pauses in your breathing while you’re sleeping due to relaxation of the muscles around the soft tissues of your mouth and throat.


The muscle relaxation may cause temporary complete blockage or partial narrowing of the airways in your throat.


OSA is typically characterized by loud snoring due to the vibration of the relaxed muscles of your throat as air passes through the narrowed air passage, gasping for air while sleeping and frequent waking.  The frequent waking can be as often as 10 - 100 times in an hour depending on severity of the OSA.


Not everyone who snores during sleep necessarily has sleep apnea.


The disorder is a common global cause of heart and blood vessels diseases, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, clinical depression, and obesity.


  • Restless leg syndrome. If you have his condition, you may describe uncomfortable sensations in the leg that are accompanied by a powerful urge to move them when you are sleeping.


The symptoms will typically make it difficult for you to fall asleep or go back to sleep if you wake up during the night.


  • Hypersomnia. If you have this condition, you will describe extreme sleepiness during the daytime. This will make it hard for you to stay awake and alert despite having had adequate sleep at night.



Examples of extrinsic or external dyssomnias include:

Disorders that are linked with environmental factors and sleep habit, e.g.

  • Poor sleep hygiene
  • Nocturnal eating syndrome
  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorder
    • Shift work sleep disorder.
    • Jet lag.
    • Delayed phase sleep syndrome.
    • Advanced phase sleep syndrome.
    • Non-24-hours sleep wake disorder.


Symptoms of each of the extrinsic Dyssomnias are summarized below.


  • Poor sleep hygiene. This is a collection of unhealthy habits or actions undertaken in and around bed time.


Examples of these unhealthy habits/actions include using, reading or watching electronic devices at bedtime, eating heavy meals just before going to bed, drinking a lot of alcohol before bed, using recreational drugs, etc.


Research from multiple countries including in Africa has shown that poor sleep hygiene affects sleep quality.


  • Nocturnal eating syndrome. If you have this condition, you may wake up several times at night to eat, or wake up feeling like you can’t go back to sleep unless you eat something.


This condition is associated with insomnia and is a risk factor for obesity, diabetes, and high pressure.


  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorders


Shift work sleep disorder. If you work irregular hours, such as night shifts (e.g. security) or rotating shifts (e.g. nursing), or you engage in  frequent nightly "praise worships" in a church or at home, your body’s internal wake-sleep clock may have difficulty adjusting to the irregular timings, causing you to have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping at a desired time.

This may affect your physical and mental health negatively in both short and long terms.


Jet lag disorder. If you travel across more than two time zones, your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) may be disrupted.


This disruption can cause you to experience fatigue, headaches, and have difficulty adjusting to the sleep-wake rhythms of the new location you are in.


The symptoms of this disorder can last a few days or weeks until you can regularize your sleep schedule.


Delayed phase sleep syndrome. This condition is commonly seen in older teens and young adults.

If you have the condition, you are more alert during the late evening or nighttime hours than in the daytime.


You may regularly go to bed a few hours later than usual (the “night owl” phenomenon). This will make it difficult for you to wake up on time in the morning.


Advanced phase sleep syndrome. If you have this condition, you may go to bed and wake up earlier than most people.


You may have trouble staying awake at night and have difficulty going back to sleep once you’ve woken up early in the morning.


Non-24-hours sleep wake disorder. This condition is seen more often in totally blind people because they lack the ability to perceive light for the regulation of their sleep-wake cycle.


People with this condition have the same length of sleep time per day, but their internal clock is shorter or longer than 24 hours.


For this reason, their sleep-wake rhythm may vary by one or two hours per day.









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Published: February 7, 2023

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