4 Common Sleep Disorders and How to Manage Them
Prevention & Treatment From restless legs to restless minds, an estimated 50–70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder that affects their ability to obtain quality sleep.
Left untreated, sleep disorders and the resulting sleep deprivation are associated with everything from cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes to depression, increased stress, relationship problems, diminished productivity, automobile accidents and workplace injuries.
It is not uncommon for people to lose their point of reference when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep and waking up refreshed and restored. Many people with sleep disorders are unaware of or ignore the warning signs, which include: daytime sleepiness; falling asleep at inappropriate times; frequent awakenings during sleep; trouble falling asleep; awaking too early; irregular breathing, choking or gasping during sleep; and loud snoring.
Here are 4 common sleep disorders, all of which can be managed effectively once diagnosed:
Insomnia is estimated to affect 30–35 percent of the general population—10 percent on a chronic basis. Insomnia has many possible causes, including stress, poor sleep habits, jet lag, some medications and an excess intake of caffeine, alcohol or nicotine. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia — which targets sleep-disrupting thoughts and actions — is effective and can be provided in individual, group and online settings.
2. Sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is estimated to affect 26 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 70. One type, obstructive sleep apnea, is characterized by abnormalities of respiration during sleep when the airway collapses or becomes blocked, resulting in decreased quality and duration of sleep. Depending on the severity and cause of the apnea, treatments range from lifestyle changes to surgery, with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) being the most common treatment modality. CPAP maintains an open airway during sleep with gentle air pressure.
Oral appliances are also an option, usually for mild to moderate cases. These appliances are worn in the mouth during sleep and position the lower jaw slightly forward and down, reducing the airway resistance that leads to sleep apnea and snoring. Surgical options for sleep apnea treatment include uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (removal of excess throat tissue to make the airway wider), tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy, maxilla-mandibular advancement and palatal implants. Bariatric surgery can also improve sleep apnea by promoting weight loss.
3. Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is characterized by an urge to move one’s legs, usually at bedtime. This disorder affects approximately 10 percent of the U.S. adult population and 2 percent of children. Restless legs syndrome tends to run in families and is more common in women than in men. If RLS is accompanied by low ferritin levels, iron supplementation may be prescribed. Medications such as the dopamine agonists and benzodiazepines can be effective in reducing symptoms.
Estimated to affect over 200,000 U.S. adults, people with untreated narcolepsy suffer from chronic daytime sleepiness, sometimes falling asleep unexpectedly during the day, which is often described as “sleep attacks.” Other symptoms may include hypnagogic hallucinations (vivid images, sounds or feelings that occur when drifting off to sleep), cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone brought on by emotional reactions) and sleep paralysis (mentally waking up but being unable to move). Symptoms are variable and managed with medication and behavioral therapy.
All too often sleep disorders go undiagnosed and untreated, leading to substantial costs for the individual and to society. Adopting a healthy sleep lifestyle, getting sufficient sleep on a consistent basis and promptly seeking medical attention for sleep problems creates a pathway to better health, enhanced quality of life and optimal functioning. Begin today by making sleep health an individual, family, classroom and workplace priority.