Sleep Apnea, RLS and Associated Sleep Problems
Sleep disorders affect between 50 and 70 million Americans. And it’s likely that number is considerably higher, sleep researchers theorize, considering the millions that don’t deal with their sleep disturbances.
According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep scientists have identified and classified over 100 different kinds of sleep disorders. These conditions may stem from some physical or medical condition, a psychological problem, or from involuntary movements and behaviors. Sleep disorders can significantly alter your sleep patterns resulting in chronic insomnia, which, by the way is not theoretically a sleep disorder, but an associated symptom.
Common Sleep Disorders
Of the few dozen types of sleep disorders a select number of them have become nearly household names:
- Obstructive sleep apnea is widespread particularly common among overweight middle-aged males. The disorder is characterized by alarming pauses in nighttime breathing caused by obstruction of the airway due to obesity, anatomical obstructions, and poor sleep hygiene. Many sleep apnea sufferers are also profound snorers, though not all snorers turn out the have sleep apnea.
- Restless Legs Syndrome, or RLS, may be one of the more underreported, undiagnosed, and untreated sleep disorders. Few people feel leg discomfort and insomnia a valid reason to spend time and money at their doctor’s. For this reason sleep specialists believe that the true numbers of RLS sufferers is millions more than what are actually reported. Key symptom is the uncontrollable urge to keep moving your legs due to sensations described as tingling, creeping, creepy-crawlies, jumping and in its most serious form—pain.
Others common disorders include narcolepsy and sleep walking.
Symptoms of Sleep Disorders
The main symptom of all sleep disorders is insomnia. Often mistaken for a sleep disorder in itself, insomnia is a set of symptoms that are almost always secondary to a sleep disorder or psychological problem.
Diagnosing Sleep Problems
The diagnosis of sleep disturbances and disorders offers its own challenges. First, a significant part of the medical community still fails to address the symptoms of sleep disturbance and give them the seriousness they deserve among other medical conditions. Second, the prevailing perception is that insomnia and lost sleep are not vital enough concerns to warrant a trip to the doctor.
However, when sleep disorders become disruptive enough to land you in a doctor’s office expect that he or she will:
- Collect a full medical history, including any relatives with similar symptoms
- Give you a sleep questionnaire to complete
- Possibly ask you to keep a short-term sleep diary
- Possibly refer you to a sleep clinic for further testing.
Treatments and Remedies
Treatments for sleep disorders can include a complement of strategies. Some common remedies include:
- Sleep hygiene or behavioral and lifestyle changes
- Pharmacological interventions
- Non-pharmacologic medications: over-the-counter aids, devices and equipment, natural remedies, dietary supplements
- Alternative therapies: acupuncture, hypnosis, relaxation, massage.
Many types of sleep disorders remain relatively misunderstood, but you should see your doctor if you think you or a partner suffers from a disorder.