Getting enough sleep is not just an option, it is essential for productivity and to sustain overall health. The body uses sleep as a time to repair muscles and release hormones, and a person who does not get enough quality sleep is at greater risk of injury or illness. Approximately 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, which can influence a person’s ability to fall asleep, stay asleep or can produce daytime sleepiness that affects activities.
Sleep disorder symptoms can vary depending on the cause and type of issue. A person may feel excessively sleepy during the day, due to a lack of quality sleep at night. Some people have difficulty falling asleep and may stay awake for hours; alternatively, other people may fall asleep, but awaken several hours too early. Some medical conditions may affect sleep habits, including the feeling of needing to move the legs frequently or chronic pain. Some children may experience bedwetting, which can awaken them after the fact and disrupt overall sleep patterns.
Insomnia occurs as an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It may be due to other causes or illnesses, such as anxiety or chronic pain. Narcolepsy is a condition in which a person has excessive daytime sleepiness and may have difficulty staying awake, even during some physical activities. Diagnosis of both narcolepsy and insomnia may require a patient to keep a sleep diary, which can look for sleep patterns. Restless legs syndrome (RLS) occurs when a person feels an unnerving sense of crawling or burning underneath the skin. The need to move the legs is sometimes uncontrollable and can interfere with sleep. Some people suffer from sleep apnea, which is disruptive because of an interruption in breathing. Diagnosis is typically made through a sleep clinic, where a patient’s brain function and body activities are monitored while he or she is asleep. Bedwetting among children may be caused by bladder immaturity or deep sleeping. Some children, although they are potty trained, have difficulty holding urine all night, and many children may wet the bed because they are sleeping deeply enough that their brain does not recognize the need for urination.
Testing for sleep disorders is typically done during the diagnostic phase. In addition to sleep studies and a patient’s description of symptoms, a doctor may check a blood sample to rule out other types of illness. A mental health exam may be necessary if the patient’s history suggests difficulty sleeping due to depression or anxiety. Sleep disorder treatments depend on the underlying cause of the problem. Some medications for insomnia can help to induce sleep to ensure a full night’s rest. Medications for narcolepsy are often targeted to reduce daytime sleepiness to improve sleep at night. RLS may be treated by medications that induce sleep as well as those that control painful symptoms. Treatment for sleep apnea may require the use of a breathing machine that provides a constant positive pressure to keep the airway open while sleeping. If this does not resolve symptoms, surgery may be necessary to remove the cause of the obstruction.
Many symptoms of sleep issues can be managed at home in conjunction with physician treatment. Insomnia may be treated by performing breathing exercises before bed or practicing meditation or prayer as forms of lifestyle modifications. People who have RLS often find that avoiding certain foods may cause a reduction in symptoms. Light stretching and range of motion exercises may also prevent some symptoms from occurring during sleep. For those who suffer from sleep apnea, losing weight and quitting smoking are two ways that can help to reduce symptoms. Additionally, avoid alcohol, as it can affect sleep patterns and cause early awakening. Parents of children who are bedwetters can promote better sleep and fewer accidents by routine awakening during the night to use the bathroom. Staying with an evening routine and avoiding situations that trigger sleep disturbances are other remedies that can be done at home to help promote better sleep.
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