Anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline, study for a test or even binge watch a new season of their favorite TV show, knows how exhausting the next day can be. You find yourself dragging your feet, your brain feels sluggish, your body tired, and just having an overall negative disposition. Now imagine if those feelings occurred on a daily basis.
In fact, the Center For Disease Control estimates at least one in every three Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder. In a purely technical sense, sleep disorder is a term used for anyone who has trouble falling asleep and staying asleep causing them to have less than the prescribed seven-plus hours of sleep.
Quality of sleep matters as much as the quantity. So being in bed for eight hours and fading in and out of sleep does not count as a good night of rest.
Sleep is essential to our health and not getting enough sleep can compromise our immune system, leading to a whole host of other possible health issues. Since everyone’s immune system is unique, sleep deprivation and sleep disorder can impact people in different ways.
Among the many ways chronic sleep disorders can impact one’s health are: high blood pressure, vision problems, increased level of cortisol, insulin resistance, disrupted metabolism and weight gain, muscle weakness and decreased athletic performance, heart disease, and hair loss.
Sleep medicine researchers note that there is no other form of self-care that affects our mental health quite like sleep. Sleep improves our mood and a good night’s sleep can contribute to increased energy and a sharper mind.
Sleep is also critical in helping the body repair itself. Deep sleep brings down inflammation allowing the body to restore and heal.
While most people have periodic issues with sleep, you should seek medical treatment when it starts to affect the quality of your sleep long-term or even causes increased daytime sleepiness, says Dr. Samuel Girgis, director of the Hinsdale Sleep Center at Drs. Girgis & Associates. “If sleep behaviors like snoring
or leg movements affect your partner as well,” he adds, “it is a sign you should see a doctor.”
According to the Center of Sleep Medicine, there are over 80 different types of sleep disorders, but by far the most common is insomnia, which is when a person has difficulty initiating sleep, staying asleep or re-initiating sleep after awakening. People frequently experience more than one of these symptoms.
Insomnia can emerge at any point in your lifespan. It can be either short-term or chronic. Short term is when sleep issues last less than three months. It is considered chronic when it happens for at least three nights a week for more than three months. The Center of Sleep Medicine estimates up to 15% of the adult American population suffers from chronic insomnia.
There are a variety of contributing causes for insomnia including chronic pain, consuming substances like nicotine and alcohol that disturb sleep, and behavioral and mental health issues like stress and anxiety. All sleep disorder treatments should start with the right diagnosis. The good news is that insomnia is treatable. In fact, there are numerous treatment options available.
The most common type of treatment is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which involves practicing good sleep hygiene. Much like dental and body hygiene, sleep hygiene involves taking care of your sleep routine.
“Nasal breathing, weight control, hydration, not eating or drinking alcohol late at night, and potentially cutting out all caffeine can help regulate sleeping patterns,” explains Girgis.
The pandemic has also contributed to more people having problems falling asleep, sometimes referred to as “coronasomnia,” says Dr. Robert Hart, medical director of the AMITA Health Center for Sleep Medicine. “Coronasomnia is a real concern due to increased stress and lack of activity. People have not been sleeping as well during the pandemic and recent civil unrest has also added to stress and sleeplessness.”
Sleep Apnea Including Snoring
Sleep apnea is considered one of the most common sleep disorders. It is estimated that one in 15 adults have mild to moderate sleep apnea. Worse yet, approximately 85% of those individuals are undiagnosed and untreated. The condition isn’t just in adults. It can affect children as well as adults (both men and women).
Apnea is actually a Greek word which means “want of breath.” It is caused by a collapse of the upper airway triggered by the relaxation of the muscles controlling the soft palate and tongue during sleep. This causes total cessation of air flow in the throat. People are often startled awake struggling for oxygen, prompting their heart rate and blood pressure to soar. Most people may not remember this in the morning, but they tend to wake up tired and groggy. Other signs of sleep apnea include snoring, having a dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up, or even having a frequent need to use the bathroom at night.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can have serious consequences. OSA has been connected to a number of health risks including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. A study conducted by Yale Sleep Medicine Center found that people with OSA have a twofold risk of nocturnal sudden cardiac death.
The silver lining for OSA patients is that it can be treated. “There is a broad spectrum to sleep health,” says Hart “If you are experiencing trouble sleeping or staying awake during the day, there might be simple things you can do to improve your sleep such as addressing circadian issues and reducing stress.”
Treatments can include modifying overall lifestyle issues such as nutrition, exercise and stress management. Sometimes even positional therapy — sleeping on your side instead of on your back or stomach — can help with sleep apnea. In such instances the use of a bumper belt which forces you to sleep on your side may be a solution.
Oral Application Therapy (OAT) involves the use of a specially designed oral appliance that maintains an open, unobstructed airway when worn during sleep. Oral appliances position and maintain the lower jaw in a protruded position during sleep which opens the airway indirectly.
The worst cases of obstructive sleep apnea usually need to be treated with continuous positive airway pressure treatment. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the frontline treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP keeps your airway open during the night by providing a constant stream of air through a mask worn while you sleep. This will eliminate the breathing pauses caused by OSA, so you will no longer snore or wake up struggling to breath.
Narcolepsy is a chronic brain disorder that interferes with the control of sleep-awake cycles in people. Narcolepsy typically affects teens or people in their 20s but some people in their 40s and 50s can also be affected. In some severe cases, patients are known to fall asleep without any warning.
Most people with narcolepsy have low levels of the neurotransmitter hypocretin, which promotes wakefulness. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that neurons produce to communicate with each other and to regulate biological processes. So, when hypocretin is low, the brain misreads signs of sleepiness and wakefulness, causing an imbalance. If undiagnosed, narcolepsy can also lead to other sleep disorders like sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, or insufficient sleep.
Diagnoses for patients with narcolepsy or chronic daytime sleepiness includes a complete sleep evaluation. Treatment includes pharmacologic therapy and good sleep hygiene.
Other common types of sleep disorders include restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement and circadian rhythm disorder. Restless legs syndrome makes it difficult to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. Periodic limb movement is repetitive cramping or jerking of the leg during sleep that is so powerful that it can wake you up during the night. And circadian rhythm sleep disorder is when you are not able to sleep or remain awake and alert at the proper times, as if your internal body cycle is out of rhythm.
In-Lab Sleep Studies
Since many sleep disorders can have significant health consequences if left untreated, an in-lab sleep study may be needed to get the necessary information for diagnosing more serious problems. “Home studies are helpful but in-lab is diagnostically more comprehensive,” says Girgis, whose Hinsdale Sleep Center is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Sleep study labs look much like a simple private hotel room, only they are equipped with machines with sensors that monitor breathing, brain waves, muscle activity, heart rate, oxygen and body movements. The sensors (small patches with adhesive) are placed on the scalp, face and body. These sensors monitor brainwave activity and the levels or stages of sleep, and are designed to be as comfortable as possible. Other sensors monitor heart rate and rhythm, oxygen, snoring, breathing, eye movement and muscle tension.
In the morning, all of the sensors are removed and the results are then reviewed by a certified sleep medicine specialist resulting in a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan.