If you have trouble getting good-quality sleep, you may be suffering from more than just being tired.
Sleepiness is related to several health problems, including depression, anxiety, and decreased cognitive function and memory, and it can lead to chronic conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Sleep deprivation also slows your reaction time, which could negatively affect work performance productivity or cause sleepiness behind the wheel.
Many people suffer from common problems like insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy without realizing the serious health consequences these conditions create.
Christine Chen, MD, a family physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group, shares some tips about sleep disorders and when it's time to see your doctor.
What is a sleep disorder?
Sleep disorders are problems with the quality, amount, or timing of sleep. These disorders can result in daytime sleepiness and can negatively affect your quality of life.
Types of sleep disorders
"Lots of people suffer from sleep apnea," says Dr. Chen. "I also see many patients who have trouble falling or staying asleep. It's much more common than people realize, and it can be dangerous."
- Sleep apnea: interrupted breathing during sleep that causes oxygen deprivation, characterized by snoring or awakening while gasping or choking.
- Insomnia: problems falling or staying asleep, even with adequate opportunities for sleep.
- Restless Legs Syndrome: uncomfortable sensations in the legs or feet and an uncontrollable urge to move them.
- Narcolepsy: falling asleep at inconvenient times or feeling tired, even after having enough sleep.
Signs of a sleep disorder
Daytime sleepiness is one of the biggest signs that you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Do you experience any of these problems?
- Trouble staying alert and focused
- Problems with memory
- Feeling tired, dazed or "zoned out"
- Unusual irritability
- Falling asleep while driving
When to see a doctor
Everyone experiences periodic problems with sleep — that's normal. But if sleeplessness is prolonged, if you have trouble functioning during the day, or if your bed partner complains about your snoring, it's time to do something.
"If your symptoms last for more than two weeks, or cause problems at work or with your daily commute, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor," Dr. Chen advises. "Don't dismiss or ignore what is happening, because not getting enough sleep is a big detractor from quality of life."
Treatment for sleep disorders
The first place to start is a conversation with your healthcare provider. Sometimes there are easy fixes that can get you back to good-quality sleep quickly.
"It all depends on the specific problem and what is causing it," Dr. Chen says. Treatment for sleep apnea may include weight loss, using a CPAP machine, or even a surgically implanted device like Inspire. "If you are waking up during the night to use the bathroom because of prostate issues, then we treat the prostate issues. And we need to address depression and anxiety because they are major sources of disordered sleep."
Some sleep problems can be improved by practicing good sleep hygiene. What is sleep hygiene? "Basically, it's establishing a good sleep routine," says Dr. Chen. She recommends following these steps to a good night's sleep:
- Establish the same bedtime and wake time, every day.
- Create a pre-bedtime routine (read, take a bath, meditate, etc.).
- Turn off all electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
- Go to bed only when you are sleepy, and use the bed only for sleep and sex.
- Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol.
- Get regular exercise during the day.
If the usual treatments are not helping, it may be time to see a sleep specialist. More severe sleep problems may require a sleep study conducted in a sleep lab. This type of testing allows doctors to monitor your breathing and brain activity while you are sleeping so they can make an accurate diagnosis and recommend an effective treatment strategy.
Get the sleep you need
Problems sleeping at night cause problems performing during the day and can create unhealthy and dangerous conditions for you and those around you.
If you are struggling to get enough good-quality sleep, it's time to talk to your doctor. Many times, simply identifying the source of the problem and adjusting your bedtime routine can make a huge difference. When you need additional care, the physicians affiliated with Memorial Hermann are on the forefront of diagnosing and managing sleep disorders for a full range of conditions in people of all ages.
A physician's order is required to undergo a sleep study. If you need to find a doctor, visit memorialhermann.org. If you have a physician’s referral, call one of the Memorial Hermann Sleep Disorders Centers to schedule a sleep study. For locations, visit memorialhermann.org/sleep.