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According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), over 40 million Americans suffer each year from sleep disorders. While some of these problems can be helped with minor behavioral modifications (see Quick Facts page) such as eliminating caffeine from the diet, proper sleep habits and stress reduction, many patients require professional diagnoses and treatment.
Sleep can be disturbed in many ways. Some of the more common sleep disorders include:
Breathing stops temporarily during sleep, sometimes associated with loud snoring, restless sleep, and gasping for air. Sleep apnea can increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, diabetes and stroke.
During a sleep apnea event, the muscles in the back of the throat close down or narrow and prevent a person from breathing properly and getting enough oxygen to the body. Patients with sleep apnea are usually not aware of these apnea events and rely on symptoms to notify them that something is wrong. Symptoms of sleep apnea include excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, non-refreshing sleep, and loud snoring with pauses in breathing while asleep. Concerned bed partners are often the ones who bring these symptoms to the attention of a doctor, after observing that the patient stops breathing or gasps for breath during the night.
Sleep apnea can affect so many areas of a person's life, personally and professionally. It even affects health and longevity. Many patients with sleep apnea are misdiagnosed with depression, chronic fatigue, insomnia and are labeled as non-motivated, grumpy and lazy.
When a patient is diagnosed with sleep apnea, a treatment plan will be customized for them based on their specific symptoms. Dr. Fleming notes that treatment may include the use of a sleep mask to assist with proper breathing; proper sleep hygiene; an oral device; surgical evaluation; and occasionally, a weight loss plan. When a patient is treated for sleep apnea, weigh loss becomes easier, high blood pressure improves and they have more energy which helps in all areas of a person's life.
Extreme sleepiness during the day sometimes associated with sudden loss of muscle tone while awake. Patients may also experience vivid dreaming at night, feeling paralyzed upon awakening from sleep, frequent awakenings from sleep and difficulty concentrating during the day. If a correct diagnosis is made, then patients with narcolepsy can be easily treated.
Insomnia is characterized by persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. It is typically followed by impairment in daytime functioning. Insomnia can be improved by addressing the underlying medical and / or psychological factors which cause it. Frequently, insomnia can be treated by utilizing behavioral modification techniques and proper sleep hygiene.
Restless Legs Syndrome
The patient experiences a "creeping crawling" feeling in the legs mostly in the evening, which improve with leg movement or getting up to walk around. One third of patients with restless leg syndrome have a family history. Restless leg syndrome can sometimes be easily treated with addressing underlying causes, such as iron deficiency or by giving a medication.
This parasomnia behavior tends to affect children and sometimes adults. Sleepwalking can be caused by an underlying sleep disruption, which can be dangerous to patients or their bed partner. Evaluating underlying causes of sleepwalking is important in treating this medical condition.