What are sleep disorders, and what treatment is available?
Many people are aware of sleep disorders. They are one of the most common disorders.
In the best case, sleep disorders are linked to certain, stained situations and do not last for long. But it is more problematic, if sleep is disrupted on a more permanent basis and if the quality of life of the person affected is noticeably impacted upon.
Sleep serves a number of different functions. For example, it helps to
- relax at night
- be optimally efficient during the day
- strengthen the immune system
- retain those things in the brain, which were learned during the day
Generally, sleep disorders are, if the sleep is subjectively or objectively
- too short or too long
- interrupted too often
- not relaxing
Chronic sleep disorders are, if the person affected is unable to sleep properly three nights a week and if it persists for longer than a month.
One differentiates between the following sleep disorders
- Insomnia (sleeplessness)
- Hypersomnia (increased sleep requirement)
- Parasomnia (behavioral sleeping problems)
- Sleep-related breathing problems (for example sleep apnea)
- Sleep-related movement disorders (for example restless legs syndrome)
- Circadian rhythm problems (problems regarding the sleep-awake rhythm)
The causes of sleep problems may vary and one can differentiate between the following factors.
- External influences, such as
- Bright lights
- Heat/ cold
- Alcohol, nicotine, medication, drugs
- Disadvantageous sleep hygiene
- Shift work
- Long-distance flights (jetlag)
- Psychological influences, such as
- Psychological disorders, such as depression
- Organic (physiological) causes, such as
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Hormonal disorders
- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
- Sleep apnea
- Narcolepsy (somnolence)
How are sleep disorders diagnosed?
The diagnosis of sleep disorders is relatively complex, as the disorders are often caused by several things, or by events, which are in the past. This is why a number of different diagnosis procedures are usually applied, in order to obtain a clear impression of the disorder:
- Sleep diaries and sleep questionnaires
- Evaluating the medical history (detailed anamnesis)
- Polysomnography (a method to analyze sleep patterns)
(Long-term)EEG and imaging procedures (such as MRT or CT) can support the diagnosis of sleep disorders and may provide additional findings in regards to the type of sleep disorder.
How are sleep disorders treated?
Persons with continuous sleep disorders should always consult a physician, who will examine and treat them, if necessary.
Even if sleep disorders are not subjectively experienced as such – which is, for example, often the case in regards to excessive snoring or tiredness – they should be examined and treated where necessary. Otherwise, these sleep disorders may become independent and cause serious problems, which could have an impact on the person’s job, social life and general wellbeing.
Sleeping pills and other medication may only lessen the immediate side effects of sleep disorders, but they do not represent a long-term solution (sleeping pills should only be used for a few weeks).
Regarding the treatment of sleep disorders, it is more important to find out, what is causing the sleep disorders and to treat the causes.
In many cases, the treatment focuses on changing nutritional and life habits, and to develop a healthy sleep hygiene, which may include the following aspects:
- Sleeping on the side
- Reducing weight (in case of overweight patients)
- Avoiding late, spicy or rich meals
- Going to sleep when you feel tired
- Sticking to regular sleep times
- Not to stay in bed for too long outside of sleep times
- Not drinking caffeinated drinks before going to bed, as well as not consuming alcohol or drugs
- Not smoking before going to bed or during the night
- Making sure that the bedroom is calm and dark
- Sufficiently airing bedrooms (the room temperature should not be more than 18 degrees Celsius)
- Not undergoing physically challenging sports directly before going to bed (this over-stimulates the metabolism)
- Avoiding extended sleeps during the day (naps should not be for longer than 15 minutes)
Combining behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques, such as autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation, may help to fall asleep more quickly and to sleep through for longer.
Oxygen mask in case of snoring or sleep apnea
If treatments against sleep-related breathing difficulties (such as snoring or sleep apnea) are unsuccessful in the long-term, respiratory therapy equipment may help in combination with an oxygen mask.
Tips for a relaxing sleep
In order to have a relaxed sleep, the following relaxation tips often help
- Relax your body in a hot bath (34 to 36 degrees Celsius). Different bath essences may also have a calming effect.
- Try and relax mentally. Difficult problems or worries should not be discussed right before going to sleep.
- Drink a glass of warm milk with honey.
- Use relaxation techniques, such as autogenic training, yoga or progressive muscle relaxation.
You may be able to obtain information on effects and possible undesired side effects by looking at the packaging instructions or by consulting your physician or pharmacist.