Sleep-wake disorders can be overwhelming, make life more difficult, and interfere with your health, but sleep disorder treatments can often effectively relieve symptoms or manage or even cure the condition. You may need medications, but an inability to sleep does not always require medication. Often, sleeping problems can go away or become much less severe when you make simple changes.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, according to the ASA. It refers to trouble falling or staying asleep, or the tendency to wake up too early in the morning – in other words it is an inability to sleep properly. About 1 in 10 adults have chronic, or secondary, insomnia, while 3 in 10 have acute insomnia. You may be able to overcome acute insomnia with behavior changes, such as better sleep hygiene. Chronic insomnia might require medical evaluation, and often intervention to treat the underlying cause.
The partner of someone with sleep apnea may know it as an annoying, loud nighttime nuisance, but the truth is that sleep apnea can be dangerous. With sleep apnea, the flap of tissue at the back of your throat can close and stop breathing for seconds or longer. Your brain is notified to wake up so you can resume breathing. This can happen many times per night and prevent you from getting the rest you need. You are likely to be exhausted all the time.
Up to 1 in 5 women have sleep apnea, and 1 in 3 or 4 men have it. Since obesity is a major cause, losing weight can help. Also, a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine to hold open your airways is a common treatment.
Narcolepsy may seem comical if you hear about it from someone else, but it is anything but funny if you experience it. It is a sleep-wake disorder in which you have trouble staying awake for normal periods of time. Instead, you might nod off in the middle of the day, even while engaged in activities such as talking to people. Other symptoms include cataplexy, or loss of muscle control, leading to trouble moving or speaking, and hallucinations, since you might have dreams as you are just falling asleep or waking up.
There is no cure for narcolepsy. Your doctor might prescribe medications, such as stimulants to keep you awake. At home, you can improve your sleep hygiene, such as having a regular bedtime and pre-bed routine, and being sure to get enough exercise during the day.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder and Restless Legs Syndrome
Periodic limb movement disorder, or PLMD, and restless legs syndrome, or RLS, are two distinct sleep disorders, but most people with RLS also have PLMD. In PLMD, your legs may cramp and move periodically, which disrupts sleep and can make you tired during the day. In RLS, you may have an urge to move your legs just before you fall asleep, which can make it nearly impossible to get enough rest.
They can have unknown causes, or can be caused by medications or conditions including diabetes and anemia. Medications to relax muscles can sometimes help. Other relaxation techniques that could help with RLS include leg massages and application of ice packs to your legs.
Sleep Disorder Quiz
I can’t sleep. Do I have a sleep disorder? If you are wondering whether you may have a sleep wake disorder, you can take a sleep disorder quiz. Several are available online, including the following one presented by WebMD.
Do you snore loudly and/or heavily while asleep?
Are you excessively sleepy or do you lack energy in the daytime?
Do you have trouble with concentration or memory loss?
Do you fall asleep while driving, in meetings, while reading a book, or while watching television?
Do you often have occasional morning headaches?
Do you sleepwalk, have nightmares, or have night terrors?
Do you suffer from depression or mood changes?
Do you have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep?
Have you experienced recent weight gain or high blood pressure?
Have you been told you hold your breath when you sleep?
It takes only minutes to take the quiz, and scoring is simple. If you answered, “Yes,” to one or more of the questions, you may have a sleep disorder, and should consult your doctor. (Note that you should consult your doctor anyway if you think you have a sleep behavior disorder, even if you did not answer, “Yes,” to any of the above questions.)
Medical Help for Sleep Disorders – Sleep Disorder Institutes and Doctors
It is a good idea to seek medical help if you think you may have a sleep disorder or the results of a sleep disorder quiz suggest that you may have one. A sleep disorder institute or clinic is specifically equipped to help diagnosis and treat sleep disorders. There, you can see a doctor who is a specialist in helping patients achieve healthy sleep.
A sleep disorder doctor can assess your sleep disorder to better be able to treat it. The doctor will review your health and sleep history, and any symptoms at night or during the day that may be related to trouble sleeping. The doctor can ask your partner for information about any symptoms that may occur while you are sleeping and that you may be unaware of, such as flailing your arms or snoring.
Your doctor might ask you to record your sleep patterns in a sleep journal. You could also get blood tests to see whether your sleep wake disorder could be related to underlying conditions, such as iron-deficiency anemia.
A sleep study, or polysomnogram, may be warranted if the sleep doctor cannot diagnose your condition from an exam and interviews with you and your sleep partner. A sleep study can also help your sleep disorder specialist make a definitive diagnosis, and possibly rule out other causes of your symptoms. A typical sleep study takes one night.
You arrive at the center with an overnight bag, as though you were going to stay at a hotel.
Follow your doctor’s instructions about whether to take your medications as usual.
You can relax and follow your usual evening/pre-bed routine.
Technicians will place electrodes on your head to pick up brain activity.
Your sleep is monitored overnight and you get the results later.