Americans aren’t sleeping enough, and the sleep they get is not always the best that it can be. A recent study reports that over 20% of Americans get less than six hours of sleep a night, the number of people who say they get in a full eight hours of sleep has decreased. Lack of sufficient sleep can be responsible for poor work performance, automobile accidents, relationship issues, and emotional problems such as anger and depression.
In addition, physical issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity have also been linked to sleep loss. It is of utmost importance to get a good night’s sleep, as sleep is every bit as important to our physical and mental well-being as diet and exercise.
There are a number of sleep disorders that have been identified, yet remain severely undiagnosed and improperly treated.
Insomnia is probably the most well known and recognized of all sleep disorders. Simply put, insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. It may also be used to describe waking up earlier than usual and being fatigued during the day. While it may make you tired, most people suffering from insomnia do not fall asleep at inappropriate times. Doing so may indicate another problem, known as sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is characterized by extreme daytime sleepiness, fatigue, or snorting and gasping sounds while sleeping. It may also be evidenced by restless or unrefreshing sleep, as well as early morning headaches.
Narcolepsy is another sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness during the day which may be alleviated by napping. Loss of muscle control occurring in conjunction with emotion such as laughing or anger, or the onset of sleep paralysis (the inability to move while going to sleep or waking up) may also be narcoleptic symptoms.
Restless Leg Syndrome is evidenced by the irresistible urge to shift and move your legs shortly after getting into bed, and even when you are wide awake during the middle of the day. You may feel twitching or dull aches in your legs, calves, feet, or even arms, and the severity of the sensations may be quite varied in their severity.
The sleep disorder treatment you choose depends, of course, on the type of sleep problem you are experiencing. One of the first steps is a proper diagnosis, which is obtained by going to a sleep center or clinic. You will spend the night there, connected to devices which monitor your heart, brain activity, and breathing as you sleep. The data will then be analyzed to arrive at the proper diagnosis and suggest proper treatment.
For insomnia, self help treatment is normally prescribed, namely in the form of adhering to a regular bedtime schedule, going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning. Avoid napping during the day and use wind down techniques before going to bed at night, such as deep breathing or meditation. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool; in short make it an inviting place to go to sleep. By all means avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed.
Sleep apnea may be treated by losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, and you may also want to look into the possibility of using a CPAP machine. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) devices utilize a mask that you wear at night. The machine increases air pressure inside your throat, preventing narrowing of the throat and allowing you to sleep without interruptions like snoring or gasping.
Surgery isn’t usually advised in sleep apnea cases as it does very little to bring about significant change. A dental brace may be prescribed, however, designed to hold the jaw forward during sleep, is a very helpful option for milder forms of sleep apnea, and may also be used to alleviate snoring.
Narcolepsy may often be alleviated by napping, but stimulants such as Ritalin or dextroamphetamines may also be used to make you more alert during the day. Antidepressants may be prescribed to relieve cataplexy (loss of muscle control) or feelings of paralysis which may accompany waking.
Restless Leg Syndrome may be effectively treated by something as simple as cutting your caffeine intake. Relaxation techniques or a warm bath before bed may also help. There are medications designed to treat this problem, but the side effects are usually quite severe, making such treatment a last ditch option.
Treating your sleep disorder now will only result in much better days, and a more fulfilling enjoyment of life. If you or your spouse is suffering from a sleep disorder, call your family physician today.