A little help for a real night’s sleep
If you’ve been struggling to get a good night’s sleep, you’re not alone. A survey from Consumer Reports found 164 million Americans have consistent issues with sleep, from trouble falling or staying asleep to disordered sleep from a medical condition.
“Adults need to sleep between seven and nine hours each night to maintain good health,” said Dr. Michael Marino, D.O., medical director of Geisinger Sleep Labs. “Sleep helps with weight control, reduces risk of heart problems, increases mental sharpness and boosts the immune system.”
The first step to getting back on track is understanding the problem. Most people can trace sleep struggles to environmental factors, bad habits and stress. However, after an honest conversation with your doctor about these habits and health history, they may recommend a sleep study, or Polysomnogram (PSG), to rule out any health problems.
“Disorders like sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome can have a huge impact on your daily life,” said Dr. Marino. “But they are treatable if you take the proper steps.”
If your care team does decide to pursue a sleep study, here is what you need to know and what you can expect.
What to expect in a sleep study
Sleep studies record your brain waves, blood oxygen levels, breathing, heart rate, and eye movements during the night. Doctors will watch you cycle through the sleep stages to make sure you get non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Though both stages are necessary for a restorative sleep, REM sleep is where most dreaming takes place and when you have more brain activity.
“On the day of the study you should avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine, as they disrupt sleeping patterns,” said Dr. Marino. You will be able to bring any items needed for your nightly routine and can even bring your own pillow and pajamas.
Inside the sleep study room, you will be connected to monitors that allow specialists to keep an eye on your blood oxygen level, heart rate and brain waves throughout the night. There will also be a camera and radio system, so your team can monitor limb movements and speak to you.
In the morning, you wake up and go about your daily routine. Your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment to assess the results.
Common sleep disorders
Sleep apnea is marked by a closing of your airway when sleeping, depriving your brain and body of oxygen. This can cause permanent damage over time. Symptoms include snoring, consistent sore throat or shortness of breath when waking, a lack of energy or consistent tired feeling.
Your doctor will diagnose sleep apnea if they notice irregular breathing during the sleep study.
It can be treated with continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP), using a machine with a mask that applies mild air pressure, helping you maintain an even breathing pattern and keeping your airways open. Some patients have also found success with oral or dental devices to open the airway, or simply through changing their sleeping position.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is marked by uncontrollable urges to move the legs and feet while resting. You may also involuntarily flex or extend limbs while sleeping. These movements will jerk you awake and interrupt the sleep stages, keeping you from feeling rested.
During the study, your doctor will monitor for these movements. If diagnosed, RLS can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. Exercise in the afternoon or evening can make symptoms somewhat better; so do tasks that require heavy concentration just before bed, like knitting or puzzles.