About Sleep Disorders

Sleep is essential to our health and well-being. But millions of people have sleep disorders – such as snoring or waking during the night – that keep them from getting a good night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, most sleep disorders go undiagnosed and untreated, simply because people do not realize they have a problem or think that nothing can be done for them.

Symptoms of sleep disorders include:

  • Snoring
  • Pauses in breathing while sleeping
  • Waking up not feeling refreshed
  • Drowsiness in the daytime, especially when sitting quietly
  • Problems falling asleep
  • Waking up often during the night
  • Waking too early and not being able to go back to sleep
  • Unpleasant restless feelings in your legs in the evening or when trying to sleep

If you think you have a sleep disorder, it’s a good idea to treat it as you would all other health conditions – by getting medical help. Left untreated, sleep disorders can be potentially dangerous.

Sleep disorders can be diagnosed through a medical examination and with a sleep study. Read more about sleep studies and how they are done.

Sleep disorders are linked to serious health problems such as:

  • An increased risk of having a heart attack, especially at night
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rhythm, especially atrial fibrillation
  • Difficulty controlling blood sugar, which could possibly lead to type 2 diabetes

Sleep disorders also can cause problem such as:

  • A weakened immune system, which can make you more likely to get sick
  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes
  • Problems remembering things
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Lower productivity at work
  • Increased chance of getting into an accident, especially while driving
  • An impact on others in the family

Types of Sleep Disorders

There are several types of sleep disorders:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea – when your breathing passages become temporarily blocked while you sleep
  • Central sleep apnea – a condition in which your the brain “forgets” to tell your body to breathe
  • Restless legs syndrome – uncomfortable feelings in your legs that can interfere with your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Periodic limb movement disorder – rhythmic leg movements that occur during sleep, disrupting sleep and leading to insomnia or daytime sleepiness
  • Insomnia – when you are unable to fall asleep or to stay asleep throughout the night
  • Narcolepsy – when you have sudden attacks of sleepiness throughout the day and night that you sometimes can’t control
  • REM sleep behavior disorder – when you act out dreams while sleeping
  • Sleep-walking
  • Circadian rhythm disorders – interruptions in your “internal body clock” such as delayed sleep phase disorder

Many people don’t seek help for sleep problems because they think nothing can be done for them. But that’s not the case. Doctors today have a better understanding of sleep disorders and have effective ways of treating them.

Treating Sleep Disorders

The most common type of sleep disorder we see is obstructive sleep apnea, in which muscles in the back of your throat relax too much, causing blockage of your breathing passages on and off through the night. This can make you snore and gasp for air.

Sleep apnea can make you more likely to have high blood pressure, a heart attack, a stroke, and/or congestive heart failure. When severe enough, it can even increase your overall mortality risk.

Because it makes you sleepy during the day, you have a higher risk of having a car accident or another accident at home or at work. Recent studies link obstructive sleep apnea with difficulty controlling blood sugar and possibly type 2 diabetes.

Most people with sleep apnea find relief with a device that uses C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure). C-PAP devices lightly blow air into your nose, or nose and mouth, through a small mask.

Other ways of treating sleep apnea include wearing an appliance in your mouth at night to move your jaw into a more open position, or losing weight.

Disorders such as restless leg syndrome, insomnia, and narcolepsy can be successfully treated with medication or other therapy.