There are a variety of conditions that can cause an interruption to your sleep, reducing both the quantity and the quality. Those who have sleep disorders not only get less sleep, but they do not experience the deep levels of “restorative” sleep necessary for ideal physical and mental health. Diagnosed sleep disorders include obstructive sleep apnea, pulmonary breathing disorders in sleep, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, insomnia and parasomnia.
Many factors can cause a sleep disorder. Some are environmental, such as stress, noise, light or night-shift work, while other reasons are medical such as excessive weight, depression, medications or genetics. Alcohol, caffeine and drugs can also play a role.
Sleep is absolutely essential for normal system functions and to fight disease and sickness. A good night’s sleep is necessary for learning and for normal, healthy cell growth. Inadequate sleep can impair the ability to think, manage emotions and handle stress. It can lead to physical exhaustion, automobile and work-related accidents, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Sleep apnea is characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep and loss of oxygen. In a given night, the number of apneic events may be as high as 20 to 60 or more per hour. The frequent interruptions of deep, restorative sleep often lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and an early morning headache. Early recognition and treatment of sleep apnea is vital because it may be associated with hypertension, heart attack and stroke.
The main treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device that forces compressed air into the nasal passages via a nose mask to keep the airway open during sleep. Very mild cases may be managed by keeping patients off their backs when sleeping. Cases of mild severity also are sometimes are treated by using dental devices that adjust jaw position and maintain airway patency during sleep.