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The Z-Factor: Sleep Disorders

man sleeping in bed

It’s 2 a.m., and you’re still awake … or you sleep all night, but you feel exhausted when you wake up. What’s going on?

It could be …

The Z-Factor

Sleep is crucial to your physical and mental health. Your body rests and your brain recharges when you sleep.

But many things can keep people up at night: too much caffeine, too much activity close to bedtime, a large meal within two hours of bedtime, alcohol or stress. These are all circumstances that you can control.

But sometimes, not being able to sleep is beyond your control.

Sleep disorders , usually thought of as lack of sleep, can also cause a person to sleep too much or sleep at the wrong time. Often the person who suffers a sleep disorder is the last one to know. Parents or partners may notice the repetitive breathing pauses of sleep apnea, feel the movements of restless leg syndrome, or notice the level of wakefulness isn’t what it should be.

Sleep disturbances can wreak havoc in our daily lives, causing us to feel depressed, irritable or constantly fatigued.

A sleep lab may provide some answers to your sleepless nights. During a sleep study, specially trained technicians monitor and study the activity of your brain waves, heart function, breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, and the movement of the leg and facial muscles by attaching small electrodes to your skin. The process is a painless way for your primary care physician, pulmonologist, or neurologist to diagnose your sleep problems – the first step toward relief.

What disturbs your sleep?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can be defined as breathing pauses lasting 10 to 30 seconds between breaths, labored breathing, gasps for air, restlessness, sleeping in unusual positions or changes in skin color. Sleep apnea can contribute to serious, life-threatening conditions, as it may have in the case of former Green Bay Packer Reggie White. Sleep apnea can also lead to heart attack, stroke, or high blood pressure later in life.

Narcolepsy is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, a person’s inability to move when fully awake, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) is defined as decreased alertness or sleepiness during normal waking hours.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a creeping, crawling, and tingling sensation in the legs that might be relieved by moving. Restless Leg Syndrome is closely linked to Periodic Limb Movement During Sleep (PLMS) which involves repetitive movement of the limbs during sleep and may be associated with arousal activity in the brain waves.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is a disorder in which increased muscle tone is associated with REM (deep) sleep allowing the person to physically act out their dreams.

Sleepwalking is usually associated with slow-wave sleep that allows a person to sleepwalk but not recall events.

Insomnia is defined by difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, not being able to go back to sleep, or repeated waking through the night, which leads to waking up unrefreshed.

Help when the schedule changes

School schedules. Work schedules. Daylight saving time. There are many daily-life occurrences that can change the sleep patterns of you and your family. A gradual adjustment will prevent the disruption from having a negative impact on your life.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Don’t compensate for time changes by delaying bedtime or sleeping in.
  • Make gradual adjustments to your sleeping habits before starting a new schedule.
  • Always sleep in a quiet, dark room at a comfortable temperature.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink caffeine close to bedtime.
  • Be patient and give yourself time to adjust.

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, there is help. Contact your primary healthcare clinician and ask him or her for a referral to a sleep lab near you. If you don’t have a primary care physician contact a Ministry Medical Group clinic near you.

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