Sleep Disorders

Sleep is a very important part of a thriving and successful life. Without the proper amount of sleep, we may be, at the least, irritable and groggy during the day. Prolonged periods without a healthy amount of sleep can cause much serious issues such as dangerous drousy driving, severe mood changes and a decline in mental capacity.

The sleep specialists at Semmes Murphey Clinic have the knowledge, experience, and advanced technologies to treat all sorts of sleep disorders:

Almost everyone occasionally suffers from insomnia. Insomnia can result from stress, jet lag, diet, or many other factors. It can also affect job performance and well-being the next day.

Each year about 60 million Americans report frequent or extended periods of insomnia. Insomnia tends to increase with age and affects about 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men.

Recurring insomnia can lead to serious sleep deficits and other issues. It is often the major disabling symptom of an underlying medical disorder.


Mild insomnia often can be prevented or cured by practicing good sleep habits. For short-term insomnia, doctors may prescribe sleeping pills. Most sleeping pills stop working after several weeks of nightly use, and long-term use of sleeping aids can actually interfere with good sleep.

Researchers are experimenting with light therapy and other ways to alter circadian or sleep cycles to treat more serious cases of insomnia.

It is important to talk openly with your doctor about everything going on in your life and in your body, as insomnia could be caused by both internal issues and external stimuli such as stress.

Sleep apnea causes interrupted breathing during sleep which, if advanced, can not only prevent a good night’s sleep but can be quite dangerous.

It is usually associated with loud snoring, although not everyone who snores has this disorder. An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. However, few of them have seen a doctor have the problem properly diagnosed and treated.

Basically, sleep apnea can prevent proper oxygen flow to the brain, which could result in daytime sleepiness and other issues.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs in association with fat buildup or loss of muscle tone with aging which can allow the windpipe to collapse during breathing when muscles relax during sleep. It can also occur if the neurons that control breathing malfunction during sleep.

During an episode of obstructive sleep apnea:

  • The person's effort to inhale air creates suction that collapses the windpipe which blocks the airflow for 10 seconds to a minute while the sleeping person struggles to breathe.
  • When the person's blood oxygen level falls, the brain responds by awakening the person enough to tighten the upper airway muscles and open the windpipe.
  • The person may snort or gasp, then resume snoring.

This cycle may be repeated hundreds of times a night. The frequent awakenings that sleep apnea patients experience leave them continually sleepy and may lead to personality changes such as irritability or depression.

Sleep apnea also deprives the person of oxygen, which can lead to morning headaches, a loss of interest in sex, or a decline in mental functioning.

It also is linked to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, and an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.

In fact, patients with severe, untreated sleep apnea are two to three times more likely to have automobile accidents than the general population.

In some high-risk individuals, sleep apnea may even lead to sudden death from respiratory arrest during sleep.


Patients experiencing loud snoring, interrupted sleep, and extreme daytime sleepiness should be tested at a specialized sleep center—like Semmes Murphey Clinic—that can perform a polysomnography test which records the patient's brain waves, heartbeat, and breathing during an entire night.

The Semmes Murphey team will assess the patient’s level of sleep apnea and propose treatment options.


Mild sleep apnea frequently can be overcome through weight loss or by preventing the person from sleeping on his or her back.

Other people may need special devices or surgery to correct the obstruction.

It is important to note that people with sleep apnea should never take sedatives or sleeping pills, which can prevent them from awakening enough to breathe.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes unpleasant crawling, prickling, or tingling sensations in the legs and feet along with an urge to move them for relief. It is emerging as one of the most common sleep disorders.

This familial disorder, which affects as many as 12 million Americans, leads to constant leg movement during the day and insomnia at night.

Severe RLS is most common in elderly people, though symptoms may develop at any age, but it may be linked to other conditions such as anemia, pregnancy, or diabetes.

Many RLS patients also have a disorder known as periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) which causes repetitive jerking movements of the limbs, especially the legs. These movements occur every 20 to 40 seconds and cause repeated awakening and severely interrupted sleep. In one study, RLS and PLMD accounted for a third of insomnia seen in patients older than age 60.


Currently, RLS and PLMD are most often relieved by prescribed drugs that affect the neurotransmitter dopamine, suggesting that dopamine abnormalities underlie these disorders' symptoms. Learning how these disorders occur may lead to better therapies in the future.

Affecting an estimated 250,000 Americans, narcolepsy causes frequent "sleep attacks" at various times of the day—even though they had a normal amount of night-time sleep. These attacks can last from several seconds to more than 30 minutes.

People with narcolepsy may also experience cataplexy (loss of muscle control during emotional situations), as well as hallucinations, temporary paralysis when they awaken and disrupted night-time sleep. Scientists have linked these symptoms seem to be features of REM sleep that appear during waking, which suggests that narcolepsy is a disorder of sleep regulation.

The disorder, or a predisposition to it, is usually hereditary, but it occasionally is linked to brain damage from a head injury or neurological disease. Symptoms of narcolepsy typically appear during adolescence, though it often takes years to obtain a correct diagnosis.


Once narcolepsy is diagnosed, stimulants, antidepressants, or other drugs can help control the symptoms and prevent the embarrassing and dangerous effects of falling asleep at improper times. Naps at certain times of the day also may reduce the excessive daytime sleepiness.

In 1999, a research team identified a gene that, when defective, causes narcolepsy. The defective versions of the gene could be preventing the relay of the messages to the cells that promote wakefulness. This breakthrough brings us closer to a cure for this disabling condition.

Tips for a Good Night's Sleep

Before taking sleeping medication, try some simple tips for better sleep.

First, think about all the factors that can interfere with a good night's sleep. Chances are you can identify one or two major issues — from work stress and family responsibilities to unexpected challenges, such as illnesses.

While you might not be able to control the factors that interfere with your sleep, you can adopt habits that encourage better sleep.

1. Stick to a sleep schedule

  • Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is at least seven hours. Most people don't need more than eight hours in bed to achieve this goal.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour. Being consistent reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle.
  • If you don't fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read or listen to soothing music. Go back to bed when you're tired. Repeat as needed.

2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink

  • Don't go to bed hungry or stuffed. In particular, avoid heavy or large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime. Your discomfort might keep you up.
  • Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine take hours to wear off and can wreak havoc on quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.

3. Create a restful environment

  • Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet.
  • Exposure to light might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens just before bedtime.
  • Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
  • Do calming activities before bedtime, such as taking a bath or using relaxation techniques, might promote better sleep.

4. Limit daytime naps

  • Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep. If you choose to nap, limit yourself to up to 30 minutes and avoid doing so late in the day.
  • If you work nights, however, you might need to nap late in the day before work to help make up your sleep debt.

5. Include physical activity in your daily routine

  • Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. Avoid being active too close to bedtime, however.
  • Spending time outside every day might be helpful, too.

6. Manage worries

  • This could be tough. But try to resolve your worries or concerns before bedtime. Jot down what's on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.
  • Stress management might help. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Meditation also can ease anxiety.

This information was provided by the sleep specialists at Semmes Murphey Clinic. Readers are encouraged to research trustworthy organizations for information. Please talk with your physician for websites and sources that will enhance your knowledge and understanding of this issue and its treatment.

The sleep specialists at Semmes Murphey Clinic have the knowledge, experience, and advanced technologies to treat all sorts of sleep disorders.

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