Q: What is the difference between simply not getting enough sleep and having a sleep disorder?
A: For many reasons, people often don’t get the recommended eight hours of sleep. A hectic daily schedule, erratic sleep-wake habits and poor sleep hygiene are big culprits. But when someone reports continued difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep—or is getting adequate sleep, but is still excessively fatigued—then sleep is not restorative, and that reflects a sleep disorder.
Q: What’s the first step in finding the cause of a sleep problem?
A: A good medical history and lifestyle evaluation are very important to determine what could be affecting someone’s sleep quality. Not all people with sleep problems require a sleep study. Often, making a few behavioral changes such as removing the TV from the bedroom or eating dinner earlier is sufficient to improve the situation.
Q: What is involved in a sleep study?
A: For a sleep study, or polysomnography, patients check in for a six- to eight-hour period. A technologist connects the patient to various monitors, which document what is going on during sleep by recording brain activity, heart rate, breathing and blood oxygen levels, eye and leg movements, and more. The brain activity, measured by electroencephalography (EEG), is the core of any sleep study because it indicates the occurrence, type and quality of sleep.
Q: What are the most common sleep disorders you find?
A: Obstructive sleep apnea is most common, followed by various insomnias. Less frequently we see periodic limb movement disorders, such as restless legs syndrome (RLS). Sometimes a patient will have a combination of several disorders.
Q: What are some treatment options?
A: For sleep apnea: A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask, nasal surgery and/or weight loss. Leg movement disorders usually respond well to medication, or by treating an underlying condition that may be causing them. Also, stress management and cultivating proper sleep habits will help improve sleep quality.