What to Do When Your Life Is Invaded by a Sleep Disorder

It seems that everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. You had a stressful day, ate the wrong thing, or can’t stop singing one of those songs your 4-year-old grandson sang for the last six hours. But having a sleep disorder is something altogether different. It can be scary, hard to deal with, and can create major issues in your life.

What is a sleep disorder?

A sleep disorder is a disruption in a person’s sleep pattern. The term is used to label a variety of sleep disruptors, the most common being insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, and shift work-related disorders.

While the commonality of each sleep disorder varies, the estimate is that about one in every 15 Americans is affected by at least moderate sleep apnea. In middle age, it is estimated that about nine percent of women and 24 percent of men are affected, undiagnosed, and untreated.

How do you know you have one, versus just having a bout of insomnia?

Incidents of insomnia may come and go (episodic), last up to three weeks (short-term), or be long-lasting (chronic). It is worth bringing a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, to the attention of your doctor if it is negatively impacting your life.

What are the causes of a sleep disorder?

They are as varied as the types of sleep disorders themselves. Causes of sleep apnea could be attributed to weight gain and structural abnormalities in the airway.

What is the impact of long-term sleep disorders?

Many people discount how much sleep, or the quality of sleep, affects their health and lives. Untreated sleep apnea can help cause heart disease, strokes, hypertension, depression, sexual problems, and make it more difficult to control blood sugar.

What are the treatments for sleep disorders?

Behavioral Modifications for Sleep Apnea—In mild cases of sleep apnea, conservative therapy may be all that is needed. Conservative approaches include:
• Losing weight;
• Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills;
• Changing sleep positions to promote regular breathing; • Stop smoking (smoking can increase the swelling in the upper airway which may worsen both snoring and apnea); • Avoid sleeping on your back.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)—In this treatment, a mask is worn over the nose and/or mouth while you sleep. Connected to a machine, the mask delivers a continuous flow of air into the nostrils. The positive pressure from air flowing into the nostrils helps keep the airways open so that breathing is not impaired. CPAP is considered by many experts to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea.

Dental Devices—Dental devices can be made that help keep the airway open during sleep. Such devices can be specifically designed by dentists with special expertise in treating sleep apnea.

Surgery—If you have a deviated nasal septum, markedly enlarged tonsils, or a small lower jaw with an overbite causing the throat to be abnormally narrow, surgery may be needed to correct sleep apnea. The most commonly performed surgical procedures include:
• Nasal surgery: Correction of nasal obstructions such as a deviated septum.
• Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): A procedure that removes soft tissue on the back of the throat and palate, increasing the width of the airway at the throat opening.
• Mandibular maxillar advancement surgery: Invasive surgery to correct certain facial abnormalities or throat obstructions that contribute to sleep apnea.

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