Sleep Disorders

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approximately 12 million people in the U.S. are affected by sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea stop breathing many times during the night. Their airway is closed off leading to long pauses in breathing and may cause them to wake up choking or gasping for breath. The main symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches and, in many cases, the inability to concentrate. People suffering from sleep apnea do not get enough restful sleep, and many times their daytime performance is seriously affected. Sleep apnea may lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke as well as contribute to diabetes. Sleep apnea can be diagnosed and treated.

Treatment Options

  • Nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is generally used for the treatment of sleep apnea. A mask is worn over the nose while sleeping, and a CPAP machine supplies pressurized room air to keep the airways open.
  • An oral dental device may also be used to hold the tongue or jaw forward.
  • Behavioral changes such as weight loss and limiting alcohol intake may help in mild cases.
  • Surgery by an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist to correct structural deformities or removal of tonsils and adenoids may be indicated.

Insomnia

Insomnia is classified as difficulty in initiating or maintaining sleep or both. There are different types of insomnia. Transient insomnia is classified as symptoms that last less than one week. Short-term insomnia is classified as symptoms that last between one and three weeks. Chronic insomnia is classified as symptoms that last longer than three weeks. These can be brought on by stress, anxiety, certain diseases, and medications. High-risk groups for insomnia are travelers, shift workers, seniors, pregnant and menopausal women. Insomnia can cause problems during the day such as sleepiness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. A person with insomnia also may have another sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome.

Treatment options

  • For short-term insomnia treatment may not be necessary.
  • For mild insomnia practicing good sleep habits may prevent or cure the problem.
  • For chronic insomnia behavioral therapy or treating any underlying conditions may be necessary.
  • Medications may be prescribed for a short period of time.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder due to the absence of a brain chemical called orexin, which controls wakefulness. It affects the body’s central nervous system. When a person has narcolepsy, messages about when to sleep and when to be awake can get crossed. This can cause a person to fall asleep when he or she does not want to, and often without any warning. The desire to sleep can be overwhelming and hard to resist. Night sleep may be poor and broken up by waking up often during the night. If not controlled with medication, narcolepsy can cause serious health problems in personal, social, and work life. Studies have indicated that narcolepsy often runs in families.

Treatment Options

  • There is no known cure for narcolepsy. Symptoms can be controlled with medications and lifestyle changes. Extreme daytime sleepiness can be treated with stimulant medications. Lifestyle changes such as taking daytime naps two to three times a day and developing good sleep habits can help control narcoleptic symptoms.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

RLS is a sleep disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable urge to move the legs when a person is at rest. This condition has been described as a creepy, crawly, tingling feeling in the legs. These feelings can occur when lying down or when sitting for a long period of time, such as riding in a car or watching a movie. Many people with RLS have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. If this condition is left untreated exhaustion and daytime fatigue may occur. A job, personal life, and daily activities can be affected by this condition due to poor sleep quality at night.

Treatment Options

  • There is no known cure for RLS. Sometimes it can be controlled by diagnosing and treating underlying conditions, such as peripheral neuropathy. For people with no known cause for symptoms, lifestyle changes such as reducing or stopping caffeine, alcohol or tobacco products, or taking iron, folate and magnesium supplements can help control the symptoms. If necessary, medications can be prescribed.