Feeling tired? It could be a sleep disorder
By: Nichole Hance, BS, RRT, RCP, Director, Cardiopulmonary Services
Do you feel tired today? Many of us probably do. Between work, taking care of kids, cold weather, and more, there are plenty of reasons we might be feeling a little sleepy every now and then. With the recent time change tonight, you may even be expecting some extra tiredness this week. However, if you wake up day after day exhausted and not feeling refreshed after a full night’s sleep, you could have a sleep disorder.
A good night’s sleep is essential to a productive day and healthy lifestyle. Yet, an estimated 50-70 million Americans are affected by a sleep disorder. Unfortunately, because we have so many things in our lives to blame tiredness on, sleep disorders often go overlooked and untreated.
What are sleep disorders?
The term sleep disorder refers to conditions that affect sleep quality, timing, or duration and impact a person’s ability to properly function while awake. These disorders can also contribute to other medical problems or may be a symptom of an underlying health issue.
There are over 100 identified sleep disorders. Some of the most common are:
- Sleep Apnea (both obstructive and central): the intermittent blockage or disruption of airflow during sleep
- Bruxism: teeth grinding
- Narcolepsy: uncontrollable urges to sleep
- Hypersomnia: excessive daytime sleepiness
- Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: repetitive cramping or jerking of the legs during sleep
- Shift Work Disorder: problems due to abnormal work shifts
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: acting out dreams while asleep
- Sleep Paralysis: temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or upon waking
- Somnambilism: sleep walking
- Somniloquy: sleep talking
Signs of a sleep disorder
While there are many different sleep disorders and today’s classifications use complex methodologies to categorize them based on causes, symptoms, physiological and psychological effects, and other criteria, most sleep disorders can be characterized by one or more of the following signs:
- You have trouble falling or remaining asleep
- You find it difficult to stay awake during the day
- There are imbalances in your circadian rhythm that interfere with a healthy sleep schedule
- You are prone to unusual behaviors that disrupt your sleep
Another common symptom of sleep disorders, especially sleep apnea, is snoring. Snoring can be a common part of sleep for many people and there is nothing harmful about it on its own. However there are some indications that your snoring may be a sign of a larger issue:
- Loud snoring: while light sighs aren’t usually cause for concern, loud snoring may be a sign that something is seriously wrong with breathing during sleep. Snoring indicates that the airway is not fully open and the noise of snoring comes from the efforts to force air through a narrowed passageway. Louder snores have a greater chance of being associated with sleep apnea.
- Consistency: Many people may snore occasionally, especially if they’re suffering from a cold or congestion or anything that causes a temporary blockage of the airways. With an underlying condition like sleep apnea thought, a person will snore nearly every night even when he or she is otherwise in good health.
- Gasping: Another telltale sign of sleep apnea are bouts of breathlessness and gasping during snoring sessions.
If you have any of these symptoms you may have a sleep disorder and should talk to your doctor and/or schedule a sleep study to help diagnose a sleep disorder so you can receive proper treatment and find relief.
What to expect with a sleep study
To diagnose a potential sleep disorder, a painless evaluation called a sleep “test” or sleep “study” (also known as a polysomnography) is performed during your normal sleeping hours. Polysomnography records your brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood, heart rate, and breathing as well as eye and leg movements. The sleep study will monitor your sleep stages and cycles to identify if or when your sleep patterns are disrupted and why.
Sleep studies are normally done at night during your normal sleeping hours. However, if you work night shift, they can be done during the day when you would normally sleep. You may be advised to avoid drinks or food containing alcohol or caffeine in the afternoon and evening before your study. Napping in the afternoon before is also discouraged.
The night of your sleep study, you will arrive in the evening and stay overnight. You can bring items for your normal bed time routine and can sleep in your own pajamas. The room is dark and quiet during your test and will have a low-light video camera so the technologist can see what’s happening when the lights are out. There is also an audio system so they can talk to you and hear you from the monitoring area outside your room.
After you get ready for bed, small metal discs are placed on the scalp, face, chest, and legs to monitor you while you sleep. The sensors are connected by wires to a computer, but they are long enough to let you move around in bed.
After the test, the sensors are removed and you can go home. You will schedule a follow-up visit with your doctor or a the physician at the sleep center to go over your sleep study results and discuss any possible treatment.
Nichole Hance is the director of cardiopulmonary services at Fisher-Titus. The Fisher-Titus Sleep Center provides services for adults and children ages 3 and older. The Sleep Center is currently celebrating its 10 year anniversary and recently moved to a newly renovated space on the Fisher-Titus campus. For more information, visit fishertitus.org/sleep.