Dealing with sleep disorders for physical, mental fitness


Dealing with sleep disorders for physical, mental fitness. PHOTO | POOL

Sleep is essential for health. It refreshes the mind and repairs the body.

A lack of sleep can cause fatigue, poor concentration, memory loss, mood disturbances, impaired judgement and poor physical coordination, putting one at risk of accidents and injury.

Sleep disorders are conditions that disturb your normal sleep patterns. Some people who feel tired during the day have a true sleep disorder, but for others, the real problem is not allowing enough time for sleep.

The amount of sleep you need depends on several factors, including age, lifestyle and health. Most adults need about seven to eight hours each night.

What are some common sleep disorders?

Insomnia: This is the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep and is the most common disorder.

People with insomnia also experience excessive daytime sleepiness and other cognitive impairments.

Insomnia is considered a chronic condition when patients exhibit symptoms at least three times per week for three months. Up to one-third of adults live with some form of insomnia.

Sleep apnea: Is a common breathing-related disorder that occurs due to blockage of the upper airway. People with this condition stop breathing for 10 seconds or more during sleep and often wake up choking or gasping for air.

The most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is excessive weight, which is associated with the soft tissue of the mouth and throat.

During sleep when throat and tongue muscles are more relaxed, the soft tissue can cause the airway to be blocked.

Restless leg syndrome: This is characterised by throbbing, itching, and other painful sensations in the legs and powerful urges to move the legs while they are at rest.

People with restless leg syndrome typically experience the strongest symptoms in bed, putting them at an increased risk for sleep-onset and sleep maintenance problems.

Hypersomnia: Excessive daytime sleepiness is a condition characterised by uncontrollable yawning, heavy eyelids and the powerful urge to doze off during the day.

Hypersomnia is different from feeling tired all the time. People with this condition regularly take a nap during the day and do not feel refreshed, they fall asleep while eating, or talking and still sleep for long hours at night.

Snoring: This is the sound made when breathing is blocked while a person is asleep.

It is caused by tissues at the top of the airway that strike each other and vibrate.

Snoring is common, especially among older and overweight people. When severe, snoring can cause frequent awakenings at night and daytime sleepiness.

What causes sleep disorders?

There are different causes for different sleep disorders.

Generally, disorders may result from a wide range of medical and psychological conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism heart and lung disease, nerve disorders, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and medications. Sometimes the cause is unknown.

Some factors can contribute to sleep problems including poor sleeping habits, caffeine, alcohol and an irregular schedule such as working the night shift.

Ageing also affects the quality of sleep, as people age, they often get less sleep and are also more easily awakened.

Some symptoms of sleep disorders

The symptoms of sleep disorders depend on the specific disorder.

Some signs include taking more than 30 minutes each night to fall asleep or waking up several times each night and then having trouble falling back to sleep or waking up too early in the morning.

Often feeling sleepy during the day, taking frequent naps or falling asleep at the wrong times during the day are also symptoms.

You could also be suffering from a sleep disorder if you are told that you snore loudly when you sleep, snort, gasp, make choking sounds or stop breathing for short periods.

Another sign is having a creeping, tingling or crawling feeling in your legs or arms, especially in the evening and when trying to fall asleep.

These are only relieved by moving or massaging them.

How are sleep disorders diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis, the healthcare provider will use your medical and sleep history, and a physical exam. You may also have to undergo a sleep study — a polysomnogram.

This monitors and records data about your body during a full night of sleep.

The data includes brain wave changes, eye movements, breathing rate, blood pressure, heart rate, and electrical activity of the heart and other muscles.

Other types of sleep studies may check how quickly you fall asleep during daytime naps or whether you can stay awake and alert during the day.

Are there treatments for sleep disorders?

Treatments depend on the sleep disorder and its severity.

Therapists may suggest cultivating good sleep habits and other lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy, or relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety.

A continuous positive airway pressure machine will help with sleep apnea, medicines including sleeping pills used for a short while or weight loss for snoring and sleep apnea.

Dr Musyoka is a consultant ENT and head and neck cancers surgeon at Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi.

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