Tired of being tired?

After eight hours in bed, you still dread the morning alarm clock. You’re sleeping long enough, but not well enough, and you’re ready to nod off at quiet moments during the day. If this sounds all too familiar, you may have a sleep disorder.
Tired
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Ashgan Elshinawy, D.O., director of the Center for Sleep and Breathing Disorders at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, talks with a patient before her sleep study begins.

After eight hours in bed, you still dread the morning alarm clock. You’re sleeping long enough, but not well enough, and you’re ready to nod off  at quiet moments during the day. If this sounds all too familiar, you may have a sleep disorder.

“Many people have sleep disorders and don’t realize it,” says Ashgan Elshinawy, D.O., a pulmonologist who is director of the Center for Sleep and Breathing Disorders at Saint Peter’s University Hospital. “When a disorder is identified and treated, they’re often amazed at how much more refreshing a night’s sleep becomes.”

The most common sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea, in which one stops breathing for at least 10 seconds, often many times nightly. Sleep apnea affects many overweight people and is often marked by loud snoring—though not all sufferers are overweight, and not all snoring indicates apnea. The obstruction is usually caused by pharyngeal fat pads in the back of the throat, which relax during sleep and close off airways. One predictor for obstructive sleep apnea is a neck sizeof at least 17 inches for men and 16 inches for women.

To test for sleep apnea, a sleep study, or nocturnal polysomnogram, is performed in the sleep lab. Patients are hooked up to a series of wires attached to the skin by electrodes. Electrical signals generated by brain waves, heart rate and rhythm are recorded into a computer. The computer also records breathing patternsand the amount of oxygen in the blood. Afterward, a sleep specialist interprets the results.

 

The sleep lab can also investigate parasomnias— abnormal behaviors during sleep that can include sleep- walking (most prevalent in children), recurrent night terrors and even potentially harmful behaviors. Sleep-maintenance insomnia, in which you fall asleep easily but wake up during the night, and periodic limb movement disorders can also be diagnosed with a sleep study.

Ask your bed partner if you snore incessantly, stop breathing while asleep or kick during the night. If the answer is yes, chances are you should see a sleep specialist.

“There are several treatments we can offer to help with various sleep disorders,” says Dr. Elshinawy. The most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, for example, is to wear a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device at night, the doctor explains. It gently pushes air through a tube into the nose via a face mask. There are also oral appliances that can be fitted to realign the jaw and open the air passage, and losing a substantial amount of weight often can help improve if not eliminate sleep apnea. Surgery to remove fatty tissue in the throat, she says, is not as effective as CPAP.

“If you suspect you or a family member may have one of these sleep disorders,  consider seeking help from a sleep specialist,” advises Dr. Elshinawy.

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