With each passing year there is new research showing the sleep disorders are more prevalent and harmful than previously thought. However, we as individuals often overlook the signs and symptoms of an underlying condition that is both serious and treatable. Being aware of the common sleep conditions can help you know when to seek out medical advice and treatment to improve your sleep health.
Common Sleep Disorders
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea experience a partial or complete interruption of breathing during sleep. This is caused by repeated collapse of the upper airway while sleeping. People with this condition are often tired during the day. They may also snore, wake up gasping or choking, or awake with a headache. 17% of the general population is thought to have OSA, but the prevalence is higher in men, in older people, and in those who are overweight or obese. A combination of these factors could see your chance of developing OSA reach as high as 49%.
Those with untreated OSA risk developing cardiovascular disease like heart attack, metabolic disease like diabetes, stroke, and depression. There are also the complications of being overly tired, such as decreased ability to learn and concentrate, poor performance at work, and increased chance of a motor vehicle accident.
OSA is typically diagnosed with a sleep study, which you can do at home or in a sleep lab. The best first step is to speak to your GP who can help organize the sleep study or send you to a specialist sleep physician.
If your study shows that you do have OSA, there are a number of treatment options. More mild forms of the condition can be managed by lifestyle modifications like weight loss and smoking cessation, or by a dental device called a Mandibular Advancement Splint, which pushes the jaw forward to help open the airway at night. The most effective treatment is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP machine. This works by gently blowing pressurized air into your upper airway to prevent collapse. To learn more about CPAP, click here.
Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)
Like obstructive sleep apnea, CSA causes a disruption of breathing during sleep. However, in this condition the route cause is the interruption of the brain signals that control the muscles of breathing. In additional to the fatigue that can accompany any form of sleep apnea, CSA sufferers can also wake up feeling breathless, feel short of breath while lying down (orthopnea), or have chest pain. Other medical conditions like heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia and stroke can all contribute to the development of CSA. Central sleep apnea can then cause further cardiovascular problems.
Central sleep apnea can be diagnosed with an in lab sleep study. Specialist physician involvement is important, and CSA patients should see both a cardiologist and a sleep physician to make sure their heart and sleep problems are well managed. Treatment often involves the use of a positive pressure machine like CPAP, a ventilator like bi-level positive airway pressure (BPAP), or a more complex device like Adaptive Seroventilation (ASV).
Narcolepsy is a condition characterized by the uncontrollable urge to sleep during the day. While the exact cause is unknown, it is thought that the underproduction of certain brain chemicals (like hypocretin) are responsible for the disorder. Apart from attacks of sleepiness, sufferers can also experience a loss of voluntary muscle tone (cataplexy) and hallucinations that would only occur in health people as they were transitioning from wakefulness to sleep (hypnagogic hallucinations).
You are at higher risk of developing narcolepsy if you have a family history of the condition of if you have had brain injuries in the past. The chances of developing the disorder also increase with age. Sufferers often deal with personal and professional issues, including poor work performance, relationship problems, or stigma due to poor understanding of the disease. You are also at higher risk of injury when you have an episode.
Narcolepsy is diagnosed by a special type of sleep study called a Multiple Sleep Latency Test, or MSLT. This is carried out during the day and looks at how quickly you fall asleep. All patients with narcolepsy should be managed by a specialist sleep physician.
Restless Leg Syndrome
People with restless leg syndrome feel a discomfort in their lower limbs that is only relieved by moving their legs. They will move their legs around more during the transition from wakefulness to sleep and throughout the night. This causes a disruption of sleep, which leads to excessive daytime fatigue.
You are more likely to develop restless leg syndrome if you have a family history of the condition, or if you have another medical problem that effects the nervous system (e.g. peripheral neuropathy that can accompany diabetes).
You will most likely receive your diagnoses based on your description of your symptoms and a physical examination, although you may be asked to do an in-lab sleep study.
There are some medications that can be used to alleviate the symptoms. This condition is best managed by a specialist sleep physician.
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