Sleep deprivation is a common health issue, affecting one in every three individuals worldwide. The causes for sleep disruptions are vast; there are about 80 types of sleep disorders, and other few reasons outside of it: pain, stress, and medications, among them.
Sleep requirements vary with every person. In general, the older you get, the less sleeping hours required. Adults need to get, at least, six up to ten hours of shut-eye to function properly, while children aged five and below need to doze off for, at least, ten hours.
Because it affects the ability to make sound decisions and to react quickly, most daily activities are negatively impacted by sleep deprivation. When it becomes a regular occurrence, sleeplessness can lead to serious health issues.
If you’re sleeping hours are not anywhere near the normal range, or if you can’t sleep at all, it’s time to seek sleep help.
Whom to Seek Help From
Sleep specialists are doctors who diagnose and treat individuals with sleep disorders. Besides physicians, sleep psychologists are considered as sleep experts, too, with their main task focusing on resolving mental and behavioral issues that contribute to sleep problems.
These medical specialists are considered experts in treating different causes of sleep disorders which can include narcolepsy, insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome (RLS).
Most Common Causes of Sleep Problems
There are many causes of sleep problems. To enumerate a few:
- Medical/ health conditions
- Mental issues such as depression and anxiety
- Certain types of medicines
- Chronic pain
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Circadian rhythm disruption
The link between lack of sleep and depression is like a “chicken-and-egg” situation. While sleep disturbances might contribute to neurochemical changes in the brain and result in depression, the latter may also lead to erratic sleeping patterns.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that’s mostly attributed to genetics and the patient’s environment. Gene mutation is a possible culprit as far as genetics is concerned, but this is only in a few rare diseases.
In some cases, your room conditions can disrupt your circadian rhythm, too. A hard, worn-out mattress and too much ambient light can cause discomfort, affecting your slumber. Using a firm mattress and installing light-blocking curtains can help encourage a sound sleep. In these cases, the problem lies in the environment.
How Doctors Diagnose Sleep Problems
To come up with a correct diagnosis, your doctor will perform physical tests and gather your medical as well as sleep histories. The sleep specialist may interview you to determine your sleep and waking patterns and how your daily life is affected by these. You may be asked to jot down your sleep-related activities for two weeks.
A sleep study called polysomnogram, involving the monitoring and recording of various data that your body goes through during a full night’s sleep may likewise be conducted. These tests include checking the patient’s blood and thyroid functions, brain wave fluctuations, eye movements, breathing, blood pressure and heart rates, among others while asleep.
Doctor-Recommended Treatments for Sleep Problems
To solve sleep deprivation triggered by specific health problems, the sleep specialist will work with your doctor to treat its underlying causes. For other causes of sleeplessness, the sleep expert may recommend the following treatments:
Oral Appliances. The mandibular advancement device (MAD) is the most commonly prescribed oral appliance to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It works by moving the mandible and the tongue slightly forward, keeping the airway open when the throat muscles relax. This way, the device prevents the airway from collapsing during deep sleep.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Machine. Doctors recommend this device to be used on persons with obstructive sleep apnea. By keeping a patient’s airways open and sending a steady supply of oxygen, it promotes proper breathing in a sleeping OSA patient.
Surgery. For severe OSA cases that cannot be addressed by a CPAP machine, different types of surgery may be recommended, mostly to correct structural problems in the nasal passages and nearby regions covered by the nose and throat.
Here are the common surgeries likely to be performed:
- Nasal passage surgery: These cover a few procedures that aim to open up your airways and allow for improved breathing, one of which is called septoplasty.
- Tonsillectomy: This involves the removal of the tonsils or the glands located in the back of the throat.
- Adenoidectomy: Another surgery meant to treat OSA, this is done to remove the adenoids on the roof of the mouth behind the soft palate where the nose joins the throat.
- Relocation pharyngoplasty: This procedure opens the airways by sewing the muscles on the side of the throat together.
- Tongue radiofrequency: This refers to a controlled cauterization of the tongue muscle.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Psychotherapists perform this type of psychosocial intervention that seeks to promote mental well-being. In applying CBT to address sleeplessness, a therapist works with a patient to control the beliefs and negative perceptions that impede sleep.
Bright Light Therapy. Individuals who have erratic circadian rhythms often suffer because bedtime gets mixed up with their regular waking activities. As the body clock gathers external signals such as exposure to bright light for the sleep-wake cycle, a light therapy in the morning could help correct this disorder.
Medications. Various sleep medications are available in the market. As with other prescription drugs, these medicines have accompanying health risks and should be used sparingly and with medical advice.
Sleep is just as important as water and air; people need it to survive. Not getting enough of it causes a host of health problems as well as disruptions to everyday functioning.
While chronic sleep deprivation is a common health concern, majority can be addressed with lifestyle changes and non-invasive medical interventions. Some cases, however, require surgeries to be treated. In deciding which treatments work best for you, it’s always prudent to ask for a sleep doctor’s advice so that you can finally get back on track.