Only five percent of patients have an adequate evaluation of their sleep issues by any physician. (1) This is unfortunate, because lack of sleep is such a common problem. The term commonly applied to trouble getting a good night’s sleep is insomnia, but there are over one hundred sleep disorders. These are separate problems often associated with pain and stress. Two major disorders are restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
With sleep apnea your upper airway becomes intermittently obstructed by the tissues at the back of your mouth called the soft palate. It is a little unclear why and who comes down with the diagnosis. Symptoms include heavy snoring, frequent episodes of not breathing for a short period followed by a gasp for air, not feeling rested during the day, and falling asleep in the afternoon. It is an important diagnosis to make in that left untreated it adversely affects your heart. Certain sleep medications, such as Ambien, should not be used if you have sleep apnea.
The disorder is made in a sleep lab where your breathing is observed and monitored. There are also home monitoring devices that can help with diagnosis. Treatment involves around mechanically keeping the airway open through maintaining a positive airway pressure. The name of the device is a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. A tightly fitting face mask keeps the airways open with air pressure and is the standard treatment for sleep apnea. Patients usually feel more rested during the day and have more energy. Other treatments include oral appliances and surgical alteration of the back of your mouth. The choices are outlined by the sleep center.
Restless leg syndrome
Patients with restless leg syndrome experience multiple strong movements of their legs at night that will awake them. Often the patient’s partner is the one who is the most frustrated, as the kicking will also keep them awake. Medications that are used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease can be helpful in reducing the intensity of the movements.
If sleep medications, pain medications, exercise and stress management do not help your sleep over a reasonable period of time, then you should get further testing by a sleep specialist to establish a firm diagnosis.
- Dement, William C, and Christopher Vaughan. The Promise of Sleep. Dell Publishing, 2000.