One-third of your life should be spent sleeping. This is time well-spent for the healthful benefits of sleep. However, studies show one in three Americans suffer from some kind of sleep disorder; either persistent
difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep, or staying awake during the day.
A good night's sleep is a serious matter for young and old alike. Your physical and emotional health depends on good sleep. Truly restful sleep gives your body the time needed to regenerate. Sleep allows you to fight off illness, perform better at work and school, maintain a
positive attitude and enjoy each day.
Lack of sleep can cause a host of problems, from irritability and fatigue, to lower job or school performance, chronic stress and depression. Lack of quality sleep over time can contribute to serious health
Sleep medicine is a recognized medical sub-specialty. Physicians who specialize in sleep medicine focus on helping people who have persistent trouble with their sleep. They can detect and treat both common and rare
Sleep Disorder Symptoms and Causes
Any difference in the normal sleep pattern is a sleep disorder. The causes of sleep disorders may be varied and can range from simply a lack of sufficient sleep to more serious neurological problems.
Symptoms of sleep disorders may include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Restless sleep
- Breathing problems
- Mood changes/irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- High blood pressure
- Morning headaches
Sleep disorders can be much more serious than a simple lack of sleep. These medical conditions can include:
- Sleep Apnea - Breathing irregularities during sleep resulting in a decrease of oxygen and sleep disruption, usually accompanied by loud, irregular snoring.
- Narcolepsy - Sudden, uncontrollable sleep attacks and persistent daytime sleepiness, with possible sudden loss of strength with laughter or strong emotion (cataplexy), inability to move upon awakening
(sleep paralysis) or hallucinations just before falling asleep and/or on waking up (hypnagogic hallucinations).
- Parasomnias - Sleepwalking, sleeptalking, or other unusual behaviors during sleep.
- Restless Leg Syndrome - Uncomfortable sensations in the limbs which tend to worsen at night or when sedentary and ease with movement.
- Idiopathic Hypersomnolence - Excessive daytime sleepiness of unknown cause.
- Insomnia - Persistent difficulty in falling asleep or staying awake.
Diagnosing sleep disorders
Many sleep problems can often be resolved by practicing good sleep habits or addressing other related health issues. First, discuss your concerns with your personal physician. You will be referred to a sleep
specialist if your physician determines that a more thorough evaluation is necessary.
A sleep specialist will conduct a complete assessment of your sleep problems, which may include a sleep study. Certain sleep-related medical conditions can only be detected while a person is asleep. The sleep study
is required to properly diagnose and understand the cause of sleep disturbances.
A sleep study, commonly called a polysomnogram, is an overnight study allowing for the observation and recording of brain waves, breathing, muscle activity, eye movements and other diagnostic events. These factors
help determine the nature and severity of a sleep disorder. The sleep study is conducted in a sleep lab, a specially designed space with rooms that are private and comfortable.
Take a Sleep Quiz to determine if you need to be evaluated for a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorder treatment
The treatment of sleep disorders is also as varied as the causes. That is why the first step is determining the cause of the sleep disorder. Treatment recommendations are made after the complete medical evaluation
and sleep study; these treatment recommendations are based on each individual's situation.
Good sleep hygiene
A good first start in any treatment regime is to practice good sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene refers to habits that you can follow to help ensure a good night's sleep.
- Stick to a regular bedtime schedule. Try to get to bed at the same time each day, and get out of bed at the same time each morning...even on weekends.
- Avoid napping during the day
- Avoid stressful activities and vigorous exercise for a minimum of two hours before bedtime. Exercise regularly during the day.
- Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga or simple quiet meditation before bedtime.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and cool.
- Leave the bedroom if you cannot sleep. Go to another room to read or relax.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks, like coffee, tea, and soft drinks at least four hours before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine before bedtime.