Sleep Disorders

Common problems and how you can get a good night's rest

The most common sleep disorders are sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition which causes a person to stop breathing for up to one minute, hundreds of times throughout the night. This makes blood oxygen levels drop, which increases heart rate (or could make it irregular) and causes blood pressure to rise.

The brain, which detects that something is wrong, signals you to wake up. Sleep apnea happens because the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses, resulting in a blocked airway, and the brain fails to signal the body to control breathing.

Behavioral treatments include losing weight. Just dropping 5 to 10 percent of your body weight makes a difference. Avoid sleeping pills, tobacco and alcohol - these all increase the chances of soft tissue collapse at night. Alcohol and pills also increase the frequency and duration of pauses in breathing. Avoid sleeping on your back. Prop yourself with pillows to encourage sleeping on your side.

Medical treatments include continuous positive airway pressure, which involves an apparatus worn at night to push air into your mouth, keeping your airway open. It's a temporary fix and has to be repeated each night. The apparatus can be uncomfortable and can cause nasal and skin irritation, bloating and headaches. A dental appliance worn in the mouth at night to keep the airway open is another option. It also only provides relief on a nightly basis and is not a cure.

Additionally, it can damage your teeth, soft mouth tissue and your jaw. Another option is surgery, such as upper or lower airway, nasal and bypass. In severe cases this is often the only remedy. All involve some risk and are rarely completed successfully. In most cases, surgery is not recommended.


Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep, or to remain asleep for adequate periods of time.

Behavioral treatments include a well-balanced diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. You should avoid evening stimulations such as television, exercise or going to bed right after coming home. A warm bath to promote circulation can help, but note that it should be taken at least one hour before bed to give your body time to cool down and relax. Breathing techniques, yoga and a consistent bedtime routine are also effective.

Medical treatments involve prescription medications and are only recommended for the most severe cases. They can become addictive and cause side effects such as headaches, mood swings and irritability.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

RLS is a central nervous system disorder characterized by uncomfortable leg sensations, resulting in the urge to move your legs. It's described by some suffers as an itchy, tingling or crawling sensation.

Behavioral treatments include taking a warm bath before bed, which alleviates tension and promotes circulation. Massage, yoga and relaxation techniques also help circulation and to release tension.

Medical treatments include prescription drugs, iron supplements and electric nerve stimulation, which is applied to the feet or legs 15 to 30 minutes before bed.

If one of these conditions is keeping you up at night, consult your physician for diagnosis and treatment options.

By Trudi Buck