Overview of sleep & sleep disorders

Indian J Med Res. 2010 Feb;131:126-40.


Sleep is defined on the basis of behavioural and physiological criteria dividing it into two states: non rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep which is subdivided into three stages (N1, N2, N3); and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep characterized by rapid eye movements, muscle atonia and desynchronized EEG. Circadian rhythm of sleep-wakefulness is controlled by the master clock located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus. The neuroanatomical substrates of the NREM sleep are located principally in the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus and those of REM sleep are located in pons. A variety of significant physiological changes occur in all body systems and organs during sleep as a result of functional alterations in the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. The international classification of sleep disorders (ICSD, ed 2) lists eight categories of sleep disorders along with appendix A and appendix B. The four major sleep complaints include excessive daytime sleepiness, insomnia, abnormal movements or behaviour during sleep and inability to sleep at the desired time. The most important step in assessing a patient with a sleep complaint is obtaining a detailed history including family and previous histories, medical, psychiatric, neurological, drug, alcohol and substance abuse disorders. Some important laboratory tests for investigating sleep disorders consist of an overnight polysomnography, multiple sleep latency and maintenance of wakefulness tests as well as actigraphy. General physicians should have a basic knowledge of the salient clinical features of common sleep disorders, such as insomnia, obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome, narcolepsy-cataplexy syndrome, circadian rhythm sleep disorders (e.g., jet leg, shift work disorder, etc.) and parasomnias (e.g., partial arousal disorders, REM behaviour disorder, etc.) and these are briefly described in this chapter. The principle of treatment of sleep disorders is first to find cause of the sleep disturbance and vigorously treat the co-morbid conditions causing the sleep disturbance. If a satisfactory treatment is not available for the primary condition or does not resolve the problem, the treatment should be directed at the specific sleep disturbance. Most sleep disorders, once diagnosed, can be managed with limited consultations. The treatment of primary sleep disorders, however, is best handled by a sleep specialist. An overview of sleep and sleep disorders viz., Basic science; international classification and approach; and phenomenology of common sleep disorders are presented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Parasomnias
  • Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Sleep*
  • Sleep, REM
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / pathology


  • Cytokines