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Woman sleeping at home

Daniel Gartenberg: Sonic Sleep

As a sleep scientist, I have focused most of my adult life studying sleep intricacies. I use my PhD in cognitive psychology and ten years of experience in the field to help people improve their sleep. I have worked extensively on a sleep application, Sonic Sleep, to enhance sleep environment and thus, overall sleep quality. Additionally, I provide personalized, insightful solutions to help get to the root of your sleep issues. Our work has been featured on TED, Daily Mail and Time Magazine.

Sleep is a critical component in optimizing our daily functionality and overall health. There are four common sleep disorders that hinder the ability to get the restful, regenerative sleep we need. It is important to know the potential signs for each one to get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan from a professional.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that involves difficulty and disruption of breathing throughout the night. The word “apnea” literally translates from the Latin to “without breathing.” Snoring loudly is a common symptom of sleep apnea. This occurs during the night when a person is gasping for air. This gasping that results in snoring, prevents healthy sleep because it reduces the time one spends in restorative deep sleep. It is important to recognize that snoring is common and doesn’t necessarily mean you have sleep apnea.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimated in 2006 that one in fifteen people suffer from sleep apnea. There are additional indicators of sleep apnea. These include waking up tired, being overweight, menopause, heredity, and the distribution of fat in the stomach and neck areas. Recent population health studies have found that individuals with untreated sleep apnea have a five times higher morbidity rate than those with treated sleep apnea. It is important to see a doctor to get the proper diagnosis and treatment if you think you might have sleep apnea.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is a condition that involves the irresistible urge to move the body to stop an uncomfortable or odd sensation, often described as a burning, itching, or tickling. It usually affects the legs, but it can also be present in the arms or torso. This sensation typically happens in the evening or throughout the night when you’re lying down or sitting. Individuals with this syndrome move to temporarily ease the uncomfortable feeling, which disrupts sleep.

It is estimated that restless leg syndrome affects seven to ten percent of Americans. Approximately two percent of the population experience severe symptoms. Restless leg syndrome occurs in females twice as often as in males. It is also more common in individuals who are Caucasian, iron deficient, pregnant, elderly, or obese. It has been linked to some cancers, depression, multiple sclerosis and a sedentary lifestyle.

Restless leg syndrome is treatable, and it can often be alleviated with a healthy lifestyle, certain nutrients, and moving around once symptoms are experienced during nighttime. It can also be treated with medicine. It is important to consult your physician to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan if you are experiencing these symptoms at night.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Delayed sleep phase syndrome is a preventable sleep issue that is widespread among adolescents. This disorder is characterized be a delay in sleep by two or more hours beyond the conventional bedtime. This delay in falling asleep results in difficulties waking up at the preferred times. For example, teenagers naturally have their sleep cycle shifted towards later in the night, usually described as “night owls.” Therefore, teens often have trouble falling asleep until late in the night and are unable to wake up to their alarm for those too early school days.

Delayed sleep phase syndrome is the result of erratic sleep habits that confuse your body and prevent it from stabilizing the desired sleep and wake times. The syndrome is often characterized by staying up late and sleeping in on weekends, then waking up early on weekdays and taking an afternoon nap. I’m pretty sure I suffered from this as a teenager (one of the reasons I got so interested in sleep). This erratic schedule can make it extremely difficult to wake up in the mornings. Treatments for this syndrome are largely behavioral. They include becoming aware of the importance of consistent sleep patterns and following a modified sleep schedule.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a less common, chronic sleep disorder. It is characterized by excessive tiredness even after getting an adequate amount of sleep, and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep at inappropriate times. This type of behavior is frequent, occurring several times a day. Individuals who suffer from narcolepsy also undergo frequent awakenings throughout the night.

Some narcoleptics experience the sudden loss of muscle tone, cataplexy, which can be triggered by highly emotional situations. This can cause physical collapse with retained consciousness. Other symptoms of narcolepsy include the temporary inability to move or talk immediately after waking up, vivid and often frightening hallucinations, and, more commonly, appearing conscious while not remembering any events that may have occurred. As this disorder can be dangerous, it is important to see a physician if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Treatment includes certain medications, behavioral interventions, and symptom management and support from close friends and family.