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Sleep Disorders

How to get a good night rest

Getting a good night's sleep is a breeze for some people, but there are many more who suffer from sleep disorders. It is estimated that over 70 million Americans suffer from one of the four most common sleep disorders. What are sleep disorders? They are conditions that disturb sleep to the degree of interrupting someone's life. They include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a disorder characterized by difficulty maintaining or falling asleep. Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up in the middle of the night for no particular reason
  • Waking up too early without being able to fall asleep again
  • Feeling tired and that your sleep was not refreshing

If you are diagnosed with insomnia, your doctor will determine whether you have acute (short-term) insomnia or chronic insomnia. Acute insomnia lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and then goes away. The person returns to normal sleep patterns and may not experience insomnia again. Chronic insomnia is characterized by waking up two to three nights a week for a long period of time. Both can be caused by a number of reasons, including stress, anxiety, side effects from medication or as part of another illness.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is characterized by an interruption in breathing during sleep. People with this disorder may stop breathing up to hundreds of times during the night, often for a second or two at a time. Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring
  • Interruption in breathing patterns during sleep
  • A feeling of being tired and not getting enough sleep

Diagnosis of sleep apnea will characterize what kind of problem you have. Obstructive sleep apnea is the more common of the two kinds. This is where the back of the throat collapses, obstructing breathing. Central sleep apnea is the less common version of the condition. This is where there is no obstruction of breathing, but the central nervous system fails to signal the lungs to keep breathing during sleep due to some kind of instability in the respiratory system.

What is restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is characterized by a pulling, itching, creeping or tingling painful sensation in the legs at night. People who experience this often say that they need to get up and walk around to relieve the symptoms. The sensations are brought on by sitting or lying down for long periods of time.

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy happens when people experience excessive sleepiness during the day and periods of uncontrollable falling asleep. It is normally diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25, but can happen at any point in life.

Infant Sleep Disorders

Infants and toddlers are not immune from sleep disorders – in fact, those disorders account for many of the reasons why people bring their children to a doctor. Some infant and toddler sleep disorders include:

  • Night terrors
  • Sleepwalking
  • Sleep talking (somniloquy)
  • Bedwetting
  • Sleep apnea
  • Narcolepsy
  • Bedtime resistance
  • Colic

Treatment for Sleep Disorders

Your doctor may refer you to a sleep disorder center, or a sleep clinic, to determine your sleep patterns. You may also be asked to keep a journal of your sleep habits for two or three weeks so that your doctor can see where you are having problems. Your doctor may suggest a lifestyle change (eating health food and getting more exercise), a more structured sleep routine or prescribe sleep medications.

Sleeping disorders are not something you have to live with. There are resources to help you sleep better, including community support groups, and websites with information and sleep studies.

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