Not Getting Enough Sleep? You're Not Alone

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Everyone has experienced sleep problems at one time or another. This may include trouble falling asleep or maintaining sleep, awakening earlier than you wish, not feeling refreshed after sleep, or suffering from excessive sleepiness during the day.

Most adults need about eight hours of sleep each day on a regular schedule for optimal functioning, although some require less and others more. Many people, however, don’t have adequate sleep quality. A lack of sleep is more than just feeling tired—it can adversely affect your health, mental performance, and even your safety.

Sleep Disorders
People are not always aware that their sleepiness may be due to unrecognized sleep disorder or related to a medical or mental health condition. Though sleep disorders are not common among the general population, their incidence increases with age.

Determining the cause of daytime sleepiness or poor quality sleep is critical for proper diagnosis and treatment. Persistent, inappropriate daytime sleepiness and nonrestorative sleep, despite an adequate number of sleep hours, are key indicators of a sleep disorder.

The most common sleep disorders include:

  • Sleep apnea, the recurrent episodic cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or longer during sleep. Apneic episodes may occur many times each hour, disrupting the quality of sleep and leading to excessive daytime sleepiness. There are two types of sleep apnea:

     - Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the breathing muscles. This type of apnea can occur with other medical conditions such as congestive heart failure.

     - Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the more common form of sleep apnea. OSA usually is caused by a blockage in the upper airway. The throat collapses during sleep, preventing the flow of air to the lungs. When breathing stops, a person may make grunting, gasping, or snorting sounds. As breathing resumes, loud snoring starts. OSA is more common in obese people who snore, and may be associated with cardiovascular disease.

  • Narcolepsy—a neurological disorder marked by a recurrent urge to sleep. This disorder usually occurs at a younger age than OSA.

  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS)—a painful, ill-defined sensation in the legs that makes it difficult to fall asleep. Symptoms are worse at night and when trying to hold the legs still, and are relieved by movement of the legs. RLS is associated with other medical disorders such as kidney failure, diabetes mellitus, peripheral vascular disease, and low iron stores.

Sleep Studies
If you’re having sleep problems, consult your physician. He or she may recommend a sleep study if a sleep disorder is suspected. A sleep study, combined with the patient’s history and a physical exam, can help a physician in diagnosing the cause of poor sleep. Performed in a sleep lab, a sleep study allows direct observation and measurement of sleep—something the sleeping person is unable to do.

Depending on the disorder, treatment may include medication, behavioral therapy, surgery, or other individualized treatment. The Milwaukee Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Columbia St. Mary’s specializes in diagnosing and treating a variety of sleep problems and disorders.

Fortunately, increasing awareness of sleep disorders is leading to increased recognition, effective treatment, and more rested and productive individuals.

Dr. David Klein is a pulmonologist and sleep specialist on staff at Columbia St. Mary’s. For more information on sleep disorders, call the Milwaukee Regional Sleep Disorders Center at 414-961-4650.


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