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Disorders That Are Depriving You of Sleep

Disorders That Are Depriving You of Sleep

Identify Your Sleep Impairment


One of the challenges of treating a sleep impairment is first recognizing that you have one. Many of us shrug off the symptoms, refusing to treat them as anything serious. In some cases, we may tell ourselves "get more sleep," but this is easier said than done.


To be successful, you need to make a concerted effort to fix the mounting problem: a lack of sleep. If not, then the only thing that will pass is time.  Here's a quick primer of common sleep disorders to give you a head start on identifying your sleep deprivation issues:


Insomnia: A common sleep disorder that's defined by sleepless nights. You may have difficulty getting to sleep and/or staying asleep and as a result, you often wake up feeling tired. Fatigue is a warning sign, which can lead to irritability, drowsiness, and daytime sleepiness.


Sleep Apnea: Though there are three types of sleep apnea, the most common is "obstructive sleep apnea," which occurs when enough air isn't able to get through your mouth/nose and into the lungs.


As a result, your breathing will grow shallow and, in some cases, cease completely - at least for a few seconds. This tells your body to re-trigger the breathing process, so you may snort, cough, or snore. 


You'll resume sleeping, but it's been interrupted, so the quality isn't there and you'll begin seeing signs of sleep deprivation.  Not everyone who snores suffers from sleep apnea.


Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): If you suffer from RLS, you're literally unable to rest your legs, just as the name implies. For a number of reasons - including a burning, crawling, or tingling sensation - you may feel the need to attend to your legs. By moving them, the sensation is addressed, but the result is a restless sleep.


Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD): Similar to RLS, if you have PLMD, then you move often during sleep. However, unlike RLS, the movement is involuntary. The limbs move periodically in twitches or jerks.


This usually takes place in the legs, but for some, the arms are also affected. These movements - though you may be unaware of them - lead to a restless sleep. Upon waking up, the deprivation is apparent through the moodiness, fatigue, or drowsiness that you feel.


Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS): If you're suffering from DSPS, it seems as if your circadian rhythm (an internal 24-hour cycle) is off by half a day, and you're unable to sleep during nighttime hours. As a result, you need to sleep during the day, which can seriously interfere with your lifestyle - from work to quality time spent with the family.


Narcolepsy: A dangerous disorder defined by excessive sleepiness during the daytime, as well as periods when the body's muscles are weakened into a state of cataplexy. You're at risk when you're doing everyday tasks, like driving a car from Point A to Point B, since a narcoleptic attack could occur at any time.


In addition to these sleep impairments, there are also others - such as snoring, seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.), night terrors, and sleepwalking. All of them can lead to sleep deprivation and each is sure to have a physical, mental, or emotional impact on your life.


It's important that if a sleep disorder is present, that you identify and address it quickly. You may have to try different methods to find a solution that works best for you.


Does Your Sleep Attack Without Warning?


Chronic sleep disorders can be paralyzing, depending on their severity.  Narcolepsy is one of the most damaging sleep disorders because it strikes without warning, sending you into a sudden state of sleep.  This sleep disorder can begin younger than 10 years of age, on into your 30s.  It's rare for it to show up in your 40s or later.


A narcoleptic person can't stay awake for any long period of time - even if they've had plenty of sleep the night before.  It's difficult to enjoy your personal life, let alone manage your professional responsibilities at work.


Narcolepsy sometimes gets misdiagnosed as everyday depression, fainting, or seizures.  There's no known cure, but there are ways to manage this particular sleep disorder and lessen the symptoms you experience. 


You'll know if you have narcolepsy if you find you're abnormally sleepy during the daytime, but not the usual sleepyhead syndrome many people feel.  A narcoleptic individual will feel an uncontrolled need to sleep, and they'll nod off without warning for anywhere from a couple of minutes to a half hour or more.


It can be humiliating to fall asleep when it's not the right time or place, and many who suffer from narcolepsy enroll in counseling to help them cope with the sleep disorder and how it affects their life with friends, family, and co-workers.


Another sign that will emerge will be cataplexy, when you lose control of your muscles.  You might slur your speech or hang your head, or even fall when your legs give out from beneath you.  This symptom can occur daily - or only once or twice a year.


Narcolepsy's symptoms don't end there, unfortunately.  Some people are paralyzed right before or after their sudden sleeping spells - they can't move or talk - which is very frightening to you and anyone else watching it happen.


Some people also hallucinate if they have narcolepsy because they fall into a fast REM sleep.  They're half awake and half dreaming, which can be scary depending on what type of dream you're having at that moment in time.


Lapse of memory can occur with narcolepsy, too.  You might be carrying on with your tasks as usual, but unknowingly you've had a sleep episode, so you forget what you just did.  You wake up and see that you've accomplished something (usually not as well as you would if you were fully awake) and you know it's due to the narcolepsy. 


No one really knows what causes narcolepsy, but scientists believe it may be genetics coupled with uncommon brain chemicals that respond to triggers in your environment.  They think narcoleptics may have imbalances in the chemicals that regulate sleep, such as a low level of hypocretin, which tells you when to wake up - and stay awake.


If you think you may have narcolepsy, then your doctor will conduct a series of tests to find out if it's true.  You'll fill out a standard sleep questionnaire and may enroll in an overnight sleep study where they place electrodes on your scalp to monitor your sleep cycles.


It's important not to ignore this sleep disorder because it can have potentially harmful consequences.  Aside from affecting your personal and professional relationships, narcoleptics run the risk of wrecking their cards while driving or causing a fire in their home, such as when they fall asleep in the middle of cooking with hot oil and grease.


If you're found to have narcolepsy, then you have several treatment options to consider.  Everyday stimulants may not be enough to keep you awake, so your doctor might prescribe something stronger, like Provigil.


Antidepressants are often prescribed because they suppress REM sleep and aid in the elimination of cataplexy, paralysis, and hallucinations.  Or, your doctor may have you start taking sodium oxybate, which does the same thing antidepressants do, but also helps with nighttime sleep.


You also have to be very cautious about making lifestyle changes that can help you control this disorder.  Make sure you read labels on medications to see if they cause drowsiness.  Simple things, such as making a schedule that includes naps, exercising, and avoiding substances like nicotine and alcohol can curb the effects of narcolepsy. 


Don't feel like narcolepsy has to control your life.  Talk to others about what you're going through and adhere to a safe routine that ensures you won't harm yourself (or others) if a sudden sleep attack should occur.


When Snoring Intrudes on Your Slumber


Snoring can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule - whether you're the one with the snoring issue, or the person lying next to you is causing the noise.  It can become a serious medical condition if the snoring is something more - sleep apnea, where the person's snoring halts their breathing and causes them to gasp for their next breath.


If you're sleeping next to a snorer, then you may not be in full control of the solutions you consider.  Many couples find the sleep deprived spouse routinely moves into another room, wears earplugs, or spends all night tapping the snorer on the shoulder to interrupt the snoring and allow them enough time to get to sleep.


It can be torturous to sleep next to someone who snores, because it's like having someone constantly stand there waking you up throughout the night.  You might get very irritable and feel guilt for getting mad at someone who can't control their noise level during the night.


The person doing the snoring (which may or may not be you) needs to find a solution that will quiet the snoring and allow them - and the ones they love - to have a peaceful night's sleep. 


Snoring is so common that about one-third of adults seek solutions for this issue every year.  It may happen nightly, or only on occasion, such as when you've had alcohol before bed. 


It's caused when the air flows into your throat past the soft tissue, resulting in a loud vibration.  People who are overweight may suffer from snoring more often than those who are not.  Shedding pounds is often enough to shut down the snoring cycle for good.


Some people have resorted to sewing tennis balls in the backs of their pajamas to forcibly keep them on their side, since snoring is more prominent when the person is lying on their back.


Nasal strips and oral appliances can sometimes work.  These keep your nasal passages or airways in your throat open to allow your breathing to continue without interruption.  If sleep apnea is an issue, where your snoring fits suddenly stop with your breathing until you gasp for air, then you might want to consider undergoing a sleep study so you can be fitted for a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine.  This mask pumps air into your airways, keeping them open to prevent snoring and interruption of breathing. 


As a last resort, you might consider getting surgery to address your snoring issues.  All three surgeries aim to do the same thing - remove tissue obstructions to help you breath better during slumber, but each one uses a different technology.


Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is the common surgery done under general anesthesia where the doctor trims your airways of tissue that could be obstructing your breathing.


Uvulopalatoplasty, or laser surgery, is another option where a laser beam is used to remove your uvula.  It removes excess tissue just like traditional surgery, allowing air to flow without the loud, disruptive vibrations snoring usually produces.


Somnoplasty, which is also known as radio frequency tissue ablation, is when a surgeon uses low intensity radio signals to take out part of your soft palate - enough to end snoring and allow air to flow freely.


Talk to your doctor if non-surgical remedies aren't working and see what type of options he or she can offer to help you (and your loved ones) find some peace and quiet during the night.


When Good Limbs Go Bad


You're lying there in bed and all of a sudden, you can't suppress the urge to move your legs.  It makes it hard to fall asleep.  Or maybe you lucked out and fell asleep early in the evening, but awaken because your arms or legs began jerking uncontrollably.


The disruption in quality sleep can be frustrating if you have Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) or Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMB).  Although RLS is something you control, the urge to move your limbs is so great you can't even begin to think of sleeping.


Here are some facts about both disorders along with some helpful information on how to treat it if you suspect one of these may be the root cause of your sleep deprivation:


Restless Leg Syndrome is a sleep disorder where your legs are so uncomfortable that you want to move them to make them feel better.  Moving the legs makes the feeling go away, but it returns once you try to relax and fall asleep again.


You'll know if you have Restless Leg Syndrome if you notice a sudden urge to move your legs because they feel jittery, like they're burning, or as if something's crawling on them.  It will occur when you're sitting or lying down.  If you move your legs and it feels better, it's a sign you might have RLS.


Some people can simply stretch out or change positions in bed, while others have to get up and walk around.  There's no known cause for RLS, but the disorder often runs in families. Scientists are honing in on the chemical dopamine, since it's what manages your muscle movements.


Controlling RLS may be as simple as controlling your stress, which appears to worsen the symptoms.  A doctor can diagnose RLS through a series of questions, but there's no simple test to confirm it.


To treat it, you'll want to make sure you have your doctor check to see if you're suffering from an iron deficiency, because many RLS sufferers have found that their symptoms disappeared after their iron levels were brought back to normal.


Your doctor may prescribe medications similar to what Parkinson's or epilepsy patients receive.  Or, he may recommend a simple muscle relaxant.  Lifestyle changes will also be in order, such as cutting back on stimulants like caffeine.


You can help curb the tendency to move your legs by using hot and cold packs, pain relievers, or a warm bath. Meditation, Yoga, a relaxing environment, and exercise also contribute to the elimination of RLS symptoms.


Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (or Syndrome) is when your legs and/or arms move involuntarily while you're asleep.  This can sometimes wake you up, and if you have a sleeping partner such as a spouse, it can disrupt their sleep as well.  Sometimes people with RLS also suffer from PLMD.


PLMD occurs sporadically and can strike any age group, although it's more common in older adults. There are two kinds of Periodic Limb Movement Disorders  primary and secondary.


Primary PLMD is when there's no known cause, while secondary PLMD is the result of another medical issue, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, anemia, and narcolepsy.  Someone who suffers from PLMD may not know they're doing it, since it occurs during sleep. 


It's usually pointed out by a sleeping partner or sleep study expert, who notes that the sufferer jerks their knees and legs, or thrashes around while sleeping for a couple of seconds.  Although the person may sleep through it, their deep sleep is disrupted, resulting in daytime drowsiness.


There's no cure for PLMD, but many medications work to suppress involuntary muscle movements.  If you have secondary PLMD, then your symptoms may disappear for good once the underlying medical condition improves.  If you're dealing with primary PLMD, then you may see symptoms return periodically even after they're under control.


You might be able to get relief without medicating yourself by trying simple relaxation techniques and optimizing your sleep environment.  A combination of therapies could help banish the restlessness in your limbs for good!


How to Get Back to Sleep Once You Wake Up


Having a sleep disorder that's ongoing can be very frustrating.  You're sick of being irritable, tired of feeling sleepy all day, and too exhausted to think straight and find a solution on your own.


Your anxiety about not sleeping will build over time.  As one night turns into one month, you begin to panic, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, your anxiety contributes to you not being able to get back to sleep.


First, think about why you're not sleeping soundly through the night.  Try to remedy any exterior distractions, such as the alarm clock light that glows in your face, the noise you hear outside from the traffic, or a pet that routinely crawls in and out of your bed, waking you up every couple of hours.


Sometimes it's a habit that you need to change. You may think you're doing yourself a favor going to bed at 7 PM, but because it's so early, it might actually be causing you to wake up too early.


Whatever the cause - the solution you seek when you're awoken during the middle of the night is to get back to sleep.  But how - when your frustration is at an all-time high?  Make sure you don't add anything stimulating to the mix.


Flipping on the TV or turning on the light to read a book is only waking you up further. You want to do something relaxing, but don't lay in bed fuming over the fact that your sleep partner's snoring woke you up again.


Instead, try visualization or self-hypnosis to calm your nerves and help you fall back asleep.  You can release tension to start the visualization process by tensing and releasing different parts of your body, such as your fists, your toes, your shoulders, and more.


Then begin a series of deep breathing exercises.  Breathe in deep through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Some people like to focus solely on their breathing to fall back asleep, while others prefer to visual a tranquil scene, like a brook running through a lush forest. 


Others like to visualize themselves in the scene, such as a warm day at the beach, listening to the waves roll in and out.  If this helps you, try to concentrate on all of your senses during the visualization process.


If you're unfamiliar with self-hypnosis or visualization, you can invest in some downloads or CDs that provide instructions and guidance in the process as well as ideas and sounds to set the scene for you.   

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