It should come as no surprise that most people do not regularly get good quality sleep. We are a society that burns the candle at both ends, where people stay up all night to study, work, have fun, or deal with children, yet most still need to wake up quite early. However, study after study has shown that going without adequate sleep, or being sleep deprived in other words, results in both short-term and long-term consequences both for your mind and body. Adequate sleep is so important, that there is a whole specialized field of medicine focused on it.
Short-term, lack of an adequate amount of sleep can affect someone both physically and psychologically. Being tired due to lack of sleep affects judgment and decision making, mood, memory, and may increase the risk for injury. Long-term, people who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of severe complications and health issues, ranging from chronic pain, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and more.
One of those things that you’ve probably heard plenty – receiving the proper amount of sleep (7-8 hours on average or more) plays a crucial role in maintaining good overall health. If your primary care doctor suspects you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or restless legs syndrome, they may refer you to a sleep specialist for an overnight sleep study, known as a nocturnal polysomnogram (NPSG), in order to confirm a sleep disorder diagnosis. The earlier the better.
Sleep medicine is a subspecialty within several other medical specialties, including neurology, pulmonology, internal medicine, ENT, and psychiatry. The first sleep clinics to treat these disorders were established in the United States in the 1970s to treat one of the most common disorders, sleep apnea.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep disorders affect approximately 40 million people in the United States. These problems often go undiagnosed and untreated and affect people of all ages. Today, sleep specialists in the field of sleep medicine are making sure these disorders do not go undiagnosed. They are trained to work in sleep clinics or labs, to accurately provide diagnosis, management, treatment, and most importantly, try to prevent the prevalence of these sleep disorders and sleep problems from occurring.
When your doctor refers you to a sleep specialist, they want to send you to a doctor who has specialized medical training in the field of sleep medicine. Sleep medicine is a medical specialty devoted to the subject of all things sleep, mainly, the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders and sleep-related conditions. Sleep medicine specialists treat the following conditions:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
- Insomnia (inability to sleep or sleep well)
- Narcolepsy (chronic, uncontrollable daytime sleepiness)
- Periodic Limb Movement Disorder and Restless Legs Syndrome (PLMD/RLS)
- Circadian Rhythm Disorders delayed sleep phase syndrome (jet lag). This can cause long-term and occasional disruptions in sleep patterns and may result in excessive daytime or nighttime sleepiness or difficulty sleeping.
- Idiopathic Hypersomnia
- Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome
- Nightmares (bad dreams) and Night terrors (episodes of extreme fear)
- Bedwetting (nocturnal enuresis)
- REM behavior disorder (RBD)
- Sleep paralysis (inability to move when falling asleep or awaking)
- Sleepwalking (motor activity, such as walking, while asleep)
- Teeth grinding (bruxism)
- Other Sleep-Related Respiratory Disorders
To diagnose sleep disorders, sleep medicine specialists conduct a clinical assessment and sleep evaluation. Nocturnal means “at night,” so when someone undergoes a sleep study, the polysomnogram measures different functions of their body while asleep. These sleep studies help the sleep medicine professionals or sleep technologist, who are Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (RPSGT), gather critical information that can help sleep specialists properly and accurately diagnose and treat sleep disorders. These common sleep studies – such as a polysomnography, multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), and maintenance of wakefulness test (MWT) – may require an overnight stay in a sleep center. These tests measure heart rate, brain activity, oxygen and airflow levels, eye and leg movements, respiratory effort, and body movement while asleep.
Sleep medicine specialists use a number of different methods to treat these sleep disorders. Common treatments include medications and breathing devices. For example, those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure device, or CPAP, to open the airway during sleep. For those who grind their teeth, a condition called bruxism, an oral appliance or mouth guard is given to prevent teeth grinding during sleep. Lastly, for those with circadian rhythm disorders, treatment usually includes bright light and cognitive behavioral therapy to improve sleep habits.
To learn more about sleep medicine and how sleep specialists can help you get a better night’s sleep, call SC Internal Medicine Associates and Rehabilitation at (803) 749-1111, or request an appointment online.