About Sleep Disorders

Most people are unaware that they may be suffering from sleep disorders, primarily because the problems occur during sleep. By definition, sleep is a reversible state of being unconscious; as a result, many symptoms are unnoticed until someone "connects the dots."

Historically, for instance, many people have considered sleep apnea to be a disorder of overweight people who snore loudly, choke or gasp during sleep and have extreme daytime sleepiness. While this represents an obvious case of (probably severe) sleep apnea, many patients who suffer from sleep-disordered breathing (SBD) do not complain of these dramatic symptoms.

Earlier signs and symptoms of a potentially serious sleep disorder include any one of the following: unrefreshing sleep, daytime fatigue, lack of energy, poor or restless sleep, insomnia, and irritability or mood changes.

Other common symptoms include mouth-breathing during sleep, waking up congested or with a dry mouth, headaches, difficulty losing weight, snoring, sexual dysfunction, frequent awakenings at night (sometimes to use the restroom), memory problems, and other symptoms.

Additionally, people with the following conditions deserve serious consideration to be screened for sleep disorders by a qualified sleep physician, because identification and appropriate treatment are likely not only to improve quality of life, they may also increase lifespan and reduce medical disease and cost burden: high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, diabetes, thyroid problems, ADD/ADHD, memory loss, and heartburn (acid reflux disease) must all be considered.

Other sleep disorders (though much less common than sleep-disordered breathing) include restless legs syndrome, REM sleep behavior disorder, recurrent nightmares or night terrors, narcolepsy, and primary insomnia.

It is critical to remember that these are not symptoms -- rather, they are disorders requiring proper, thorough evaluation and treatment. When the disorder is successfully identified and treated, patients sleep well and enjoy an improved quality of life.