A comprehensive list of today's common ailments and health conditions.

Sleep Disorders

By Angela Young

Sleep is an important element of good health. When you wake up after a good night’s sleep, you feel rested, energized and ready to face the challenges of a new day. Besides eating well and getting enough exercise, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can to do ensure good health. A lack of sleep can lead to poor work performance, memory problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents, relationship disruptions and even depression.

During sleep, the brain cycles between two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). The first cycle of REM sleep usually occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. For people with normal sleep patterns, heart rate and respiration increase during REM and the eyes may move rapidly in different directions. Intense dreams may occur. REM sleep cycles are followed by NREM sleep. In deep NREM sleep, the body regenerates and builds tissue, muscle and bone. The immune system also benefits from NREM sleep. Recent studies on the nature of sleep indicate that we need to cycle between these two sleep states for several hours in order to reap the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

The number of hours of sleep required for good health varies from person to person. Adults in general need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. When someone is deprived of enough sleep for one or more nights, the need for sleep increases. The body does not adapt when consistently deprived of sufficient sleep.

Sleep Disorder Symptoms

When sleep is continually interrupted by wakefulness, the pattern of cycling through REM and NREM states is broken. Interrupted sleep can result in feelings of fatigue, sleepiness, and an inability to concentrate during the day. If you have problems getting to sleep or wake frequently during the night and are experiencing these symtoms, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder.

In order to determine if you have a sleep disorder, here are some conditions to watch for. When these conditions occur your doctor should be consulted.

  • You're aware of snoring during the night, or a partner or family member says you are snoring loudly or gasping in your sleep.
  • You're taking medication which affects your sleep.
  • You suspect that an underlying medical condition may be causing your sleep problems. For example, you may be suffering from heart or liver problems or depression.
  • You fall asleep during normal daily activities.
  • You attempt to improve your sleeping habits, cut down on coffee and alcohol, and reduce your stress levels but still have problems sleeping.

Sleep Disorder Diagnosis

Your doctor may diagnose you with one of several types of sleep disorders.

  • Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It may be caused by stress, anxiety or depression. It may also occur as a reaction to certain medications. Other factors that can cause insomnia include nightmares and excessive coffee or alcohol consumption. The chances of having insomnia increase for people over the age of 60.
  • Circadian rhythm disruption includes sleep problems brought on by jet lag or working on the night shift. Our brains have an inner clock which programs us to sleep at night when it's dark. Alterations to this pattern that result in sleep problems are known as circadian rhythm disorders.
  • Snoring can disrupt sleep when it's noisy enough to wake the sleeper. It may also be related to a more serious problem called sleep apnea, where breathing is interrupted for short periods of time. The sleeper wakens when breathing stops, often without knowing why.
  • Restless leg syndrome is characterized by an urge to move the legs. The feeling can occur during the night and make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. The syndrome is most common among middle-aged and older adults.
  • Narcolepsy is a condition which causes excessive sleepiness during the day. Other symptoms of narcolepsy include dreaming during daytime naps and the inability to move when falling asleep or waking up (also known as sleep paralysis).

Sleep Disorder Treatment

In order to diagnose your sleep disorder, your doctor will ask questions about your stress levels, medications, coffee and alcohol consumption and lifestyle in general. Your doctor may also send you to a sleep clinic for tests to determine if you’re suffering from narcolepsy, sleep apnea or heart problems. In a sleep clinic, monitors are used to study your brain, heart and respiration while you sleep.

Once a diagnosis has been made, an appropriate course of treatment will be followed. In some cases, lifestyle changes can improve sleep. For more serious disorder like narcolepsy and sleep apnea, several types of treatment may be required.

For insomnia, doctors often prescribe medication. These are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs for insomnia:

  • Lunesta: Lunesta will help you fall asleep and stay asleep for an average of 7 to 8 hours. It may be taken on either a short-term or a long-term basis. Most people don’t build up a tolerance for Lunesta and can continue taking it as long as their symptoms persist.
  • Ambien: The original Ambien formula helped people fall asleep, but they often awakened in the middle of the night. The new Ambien CR as a time release formula which promotes a full night's sleep.
  • Rozerem and Sonata: These medications are prescribed for people who have difficulty falling asleep, but don't guarantee a full night's sleep.
  • Antidepressants: In cases of insomnia that are caused by depression, antidepressant drugs are often effective in treating anxiety and the resulting sleeplessness.

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