Treating Adult Sleep Disorders
What You Should Know About Sleep Disorders
Nearly everyone has had a sleepless night. For some, disrupted sleep is
a constant problem that produces nagging and sometimes dangerous daytime
effects. Many disorders can disrupt sleep, including insomnia, sleep apnea,
narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, and
circadian rhythm disorders.
Insomnia refers to the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both.
As a result, the affected person doesn't feel rested. Insomnia is
the most common of all sleep-related complaints and may be the main symptom
of several different sleep disorders.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which the airway partially closes during
sleep. Usually, this is related to the tongue and soft palate relaxing
downward in the back of the throat. This obstruction can lead to loud
snoring and episodes of blocked breathing that can occur hundreds of times
each night. As a result, the affected person may feel tired, irritable,
and less able to concentrate and remember during the day. The person's
work may suffer, and the risk of accidents and mistakes may rise. In addition,
sleep apnea is associated with hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
In children, sleep apnea may lead to hyperactivity and increased bed-wetting.
Eighteen million Americans have sleep apnea, but many don't even know
it. Commonly, a family member brings it to the attention of a health care
provider by complaining about the person's snoring or interrupted
breathing pattern during sleep. Excess weight, alcohol, and sleeping pills
raise the risk of sleep apnea.
A person with narcolepsy falls asleep at unusual times during the day for
seconds or minutes at a time. These periods of sleep may occur while the
person is doing almost anything - reading, watching television, even driving.
Some people with narcolepsy have a sudden loss of muscle tone in the face
or limbs in response to emotions, such as laughter, anger, or surprise.
Restless Leg Syndrome
This condition usually occurs when a person is lying in bed attempting
to sleep. Affected people describe having a restless, uncomfortable feeling
in their lower legs. Restless leg syndrome can make it very difficult
for a person to fall asleep. Restless leg syndrome can run in families.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
In this disorder, the legs, arms, or both, move during sleep, which may
cause frequent, brief interruptions of sleep.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Normally, people have an internal 24-hour sleep/wake cycle referred to
as circadian rhythm. It prompts people to fall asleep at night and to
be wake during the day. A circadian rhythm disorder is suspected when
someone has trouble falling asleep at typical sleeping times or is falling
asleep at times when he/she should be awake. The internal clock of someone
with circadian rhythm disorder may tell the person to fall asleep too
early in the evening or too late at night.
Diagnosing a Sleep Disorder
If you think you have a sleep disorder, your doctor will do a complete
history and physical examination and may ask family members about your
sleep habits. Based on this information, the doctor may then recommend
a sleep study. A sleep study is a painless test that monitors your sleep
through the night. It's performed in a sleep lab, which is a specialized
facility staffed by health care providers and sleep disorder specialists.
During a sleep study, your breathing, heart rate, oxygen level, eye movement,
and brain waves are monitored. From this information, your doctor can
determine whether your sleep is interrupted or inadequate. It also gives
the doctor enough information to recommend treatment if you have a sleep problem.
Treatments and Tips
Treatment varies depending on which sleep disorder you have. If you have
sleep apnea, you may use a machine called CPAP that produces a continuous
pressure inside your throat to help keep it open while you sleep. Your
treatment probably will also include a sleep hygiene plan to increase
the likelihood of successful sleep. It may include regular exercise, maintaining
a regular sleeping schedule, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, avoiding
alcohol before bed, and avoiding large meals before bed. It may also help
to establish a comfortable, quiet, dark sleeping environment.