If getting a good night’s sleep is something you can only dream of, you’re not alone. It’s thought sleep-related problems affect between fifty to seventy million Americans.
Finding out why you have trouble sleeping is sometimes not as easy as it sounds. Your doctor may think you need a sleep study to get to the root cause. That means you’ll be able to get a diagnosis and the right help. Here’s how it works.
What Is a Sleep Study?
It will mean spending the night at a sleep laboratory. These are usually located in a hospital or outpatient sleep clinic. Once you are lying down and ready to sleep, electrodes are attached to your head and body.
These will monitor your brain waves, movement, and breathing. A qualified member of staff will watch and take notes as you sleep, often by using a discreet camera.
Here are some of the most common conditions that are diagnosed.
1. Excessive Snoring
Snoring can put a huge strain on relationships. It can keep a partner awake. That, in turn, can cause tiredness, resentment, and frustration. It also means that the person snoring is not sleeping as well as they could.
Snoring disrupts your sleep and that can lead to excessive daytime tiredness. Consistent snoring or gasping may lead to a diagnosis of sleep apnea. This could be the result of nasal obstruction or congestive heart failure.
Sleep apnea is usually treated with CPAP. That stands for continuous positive airway pressure. The treatment works by sending a constant stream of air to your airways. That stops air passages from closing and becoming blocked.
This will lead to sufferers experiencing a better quality of sleep with the brain receiving more oxygen. You can read more about CPAP here. Sleep apnea is relatively common and can often go undiagnosed without a sleep study.
2. You’re Unable to Stay Awake During the Day
Those people who cannot stay awake to perform daily activities could be suffering from narcolepsy. This condition is sometimes described as a ‘sleep attack.’ It’s far more common than many people realize.
What happens is that people have unexpected muscle weakness or cataplexy. That can result in sluggish speech. They may also then fall asleep at inappropriate times. This could be during a period of physical activity, for example.
Treatment may include a combination of stimulant medications as well as behavioral interventions.
3. Restless Legs Syndrome
Sufferers experience a need to move their legs or walk around. This can begin as an irritating ‘creeping’ feeling starting in the lower part of the leg. It can cause discomfort in both legs. The sensations can also occur in the arms, head, and chest.
Moving or stretching the limbs can provide some relief but the symptoms often return when the body is still again.
This syndrome is known as RLS and happens most often in the evening or at night. It usually occurs when a person is lying down or trying to get to sleep. It may also happen if a person has been sitting for a long period of time.
RLS can lead to difficulties with falling and staying asleep. That can cause sleep deprivation along with a restless and poor quality sleep. This may result in tiredness during the day.
Treatment often involves avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. A prescription that contains dopamine is also known to help to relieve some of the symptoms.
4. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
This involves involuntary muscle movements which can happen during sleep. This disorder is a specific sleep condition but associated with restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy.
The movements tend to happen in the lower legs but can occur in other areas of the body too. The movements are most common during periods of sleep although they can occur whilst sufferers are awake as well.
As with many sleep disorders, people may be unaware of them. Partners are more likely to know about this disorder. The result can be an unrefreshing sleep for both parties. It can also lead to memory issues and depression.
This condition includes sitting up in bed or walking around whilst asleep. Some people are also known to leave the house and even drive long distances. It’s really important to wake someone up who is sleepwalking to prevent injury.
Treatment is needed if the condition is caused by an underlying health problem. This could include restless legs syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux. Obstructive sleep apnea, periodic leg movements or seizures could also be responsible.
There are measures that can be taken to prevent sleepwalking. These would involve limiting stress and avoiding excessive stimulation before bed.
There are also steps that can be taken to mitigate the risk of harm. Sleeping on the ground floor, if possible, is often recommended. Windows should be covered with heavy drapes and an alarm could be triggered when the bedroom door is opened.
6. Regular Nightmares
It’s quite common to experience nightmares from time to time. However, if these are happening on most nights then there is cause for concern. Thrashing about, screaming, excessive sweating or hyperventilation during sleep is not normal.
These kinds of night terrors often happen to children but they can also affect adults as well. They are usually the result of some form of emotional tension. In adults, they could be a result of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.
If this is the diagnosis, then your doctor would be able to prescribe a course of medication to treat the occurrence of nightmares. This is often combined with some form of psychological therapy.
Sufferers are also advised to establish a regular and relaxing routine before bedtime. Calming activities like reading books or soaking in a warm bath will help. You should combine these with meditation, deep breathing or relaxation exercises.
Do You Need a Sleep Study?
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms or conditions above then it could mean you need a sleep study.
Continue reading our blog for tips on healthy sleeping habits and natural ways that can help you to sleep better.