By David B. Cohn, M.D.
Occasionally, everyone has problems sleeping.
But if you regularly cannot get a good night’s sleep, or your snoring is disrupting the sleep of a loved one, you may suffer from a sleep disorder.
A sleep disorder can adversely affect health, work performance, school and relationships, so it is important to seek professional help.
The Sleep Center at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center offers adults and children comprehensive care for sleep disorders, including diagnosis, treatment, and follow up.
Poor Sleep, Poor Health
As many as 70 million Americans are living with a sleep disorder, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Among the most common sleep disorders are:
• Sleep apnea: Abnormal breathing patterns during sleep
• Restless leg syndrome: Uncomfortable sensations that cause an urge to move the legs
• Insomnia: Difficulty falling or staying asleep
• Narcolepsy: A neurologic condition causing extreme daytime sleepiness
Left untreated, sleep disorders can put a strain on your body and inhibit the proper functioning of your heart, lungs, brain, and even your digestive system.
In addition, failing to get the recommended 7-8 hours of nightly sleep for adults can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression. Sleep disorders have also been linked to eye diseases such as glaucoma, memory problems and headaches.
Signs of Sleep Disorder
Excessive sleepiness during the day, trouble getting a full night’s sleep, irregular nighttime breathing, gasping or choking in your sleep, snoring, and increased movement at night are all signs of a sleep disorder.
In addition, poor sleep can cause problems with memory or concentration, irritability, sleepiness when driving and hyperactivity in children.
If you have signs of a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosing a sleep disorder typically begins with a sleep study either at home or at a designated sleep center. Sleep studies help identify problems by assessing brain waves, blood oxygen levels, your heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movement.
Once diagnosed, sleep disorders are usually treatable, with solutions ranging from changing your sleep habits to medication to a device known as a CPAP to improve breathing during sleep.
Patients with obstructive sleep apnea who do not respond well to CPAP or other treatment options may be candidates for a minimally invasive procedure that involves surgically implanting a device that works to sense breathing patterns and deliver mild stimulation to maintain an open airway and promote regular breathing during sleep.
For a select group of patients, this procedure may provide a better quality of life and long-term relief from their obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.
Healthy Sleep Habits
• Wait until you are sleepy to go to bed. This reduces your time awake in bed worrying about sleep. You might find it helpful to follow a ritual of relaxing activities before bedtime, such as taking a bath or reading a book.
• Keep a regular schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same times every day, even on weekends and holidays. Regular times for meals and other activities also help keep the body’s internal clock on schedule.
• Make your bedroom cool, quiet, dark and comfortable. Room-darkening shades, earplugs or a soft “white-noise” machine, and an open window with comfortable blankets can help you achieve these ideal sleeping conditions.
• Don’t read, write, eat or watch TV in bed. Your bed should be associated with sleep. That way, when you go to bed, your body knows it is time for sleep.
• Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine for at least four hours prior to bedtime. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it causes poor quality sleep later in the night. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that can keep you from falling asleep.
• Avoid vigorous exercise within four hours of bedtime. Intensive exercise is important earlier in the day, but too close to bedtime it can stimulate the body and cause trouble falling asleep.
• Don’t eat a heavy meal right before bedtime.
• Don’t use sleeping pills or over-the-counter sleep aids for prolonged periods. Becoming dependent on sleep medicine can interfere with the body’s natural ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
• Don’t take naps. Skipping naps will help ensure you are tired at bedtime. If you do nap, try to limit it to 20 or 30 minutes, and wake up before 3 p.m.
• Try to get a full night of sleep as often as possible. Give yourself the opportunity to sleep at least seven to eight hours each night. Good sleep leads to more good sleep.
People have so many demands on their time, they often feel that failing to get a full night’s sleep is natural and that they can catch up on sleep later.
If you are not dedicating enough time in your schedule for a good night’s sleep, you need to make the time. If you make those adjustments and are still not getting a good night’s sleep, a medical evaluation is in order.
With prompt diagnosis and effective treatment, you can sleep, feel and live better.
The Sleep Center at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center is fully accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a professional organization dedicated to assuring quality care for patients with sleep disorders and to the advancement of sleep research, and related public and professional organizations. Comprehensive services include overnight sleep studies, home sleep studies, daytime sleepiness assessments and individual treatment plans.
To learn more about the Sleep Center at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center call 609-853-7520 or visit www.princetonhcs.org.
David B. Cohn, M.D., is board certified in sleep medicine, pulmonary disease, critical care medicine and internal medicine. He is the medical director of the Sleep Center at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center.