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How to beat common sleep disorders

Author: Canadian Living

Sleep

How to beat common sleep disorders

Not getting any sleep? You're not the only one. According to a 2004 survey conducted by the Better Sleep Council Canada, one in 10 Canadians always have trouble sleeping at night. If you are having trouble sleeping, you should take it very seriously.

"When sleep is poor, there is no quality of life," says Dr. Rachel Morehouse, who established the first sleep investigative centre in Atlantic Canada at the QEII Health Science Centre in 1991.

Sleeping poorly can be much more than a nuisance. If you cannot sleep on a consistent basis, you might have a sleep disorder. We asked Morehouse to give you the straight goods on the most common sleep disorders to help you get to the bottom of your own shut-eye problems.

Insomnia
"Insomnia is a catch-all term for an endless variety of problems that cause a patient to have difficulty sleeping," Morehouse says. "The first thing you need to do is figure out what's causing your insomnia."

The root of insomnia can be anything from stress to physical pain to medication, alcohol, caffeine or sleeping out of your natural phase (such as switching to the night shift and trying to sleep during the day). "The treating GP must find the cause, which can be difficult because there is commonly more than one," says Morehouse.

Doesn't sound easy? But it is, if you are honest with your GP -- and yourself. "People are pretty good at figuring it out," Morehouse says. "It's just that sometimes the conclusions aren't ones we want to reach, that's why people look for medication to help. I encourage people to work it through, and to fix what's fixable before going the medication route."

As for medications, Morehouse says there is a common misconception that there are drugs for insomniacs. In fact, she says, there are medications to help you relax or to fix underlying problems, such as depression, but there isn't one cure-all treatment. "Again, it really depends on the patient," she says.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Like insomnia, this disorder doesn't have one-size-fits-all symptoms. Sleep apnea is difficulty breathing while asleep, caused by an obstruction in the airway. Sufferers don't get a good night's sleep because repetitive apnea disrupts REM or deep sleep, leading to exhaustion during daytime hours.

The reasons why one would suffer from sleep apnea, says Morehouse, can vary. "Typically, a sleep apnea sufferer is overweight and/or abuses alcohol, medication or sedatives and/or has a family history," she says. "There are also those simply born with a small airway."

Morehouse advises getting to the root of the problem and again, fixing what's fixable. For example, a person who is overweight can improve sleep by losing weight. Treatment varies, depending on what's fixable. Many patients now opt for wearing an air-pressurized mask to keep airways open during sleep, because, says Morehouse, "Surgery is not a guaranteed fix, and is quite an invasive and painful procedure. For those with a naturally small airway, surgery is often the only solution.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
RLS and its counterpart Restless Kicking Syndrome have been around as long as people have been sleeping but it's only been in the past few decades that its been recognized as a serious disorder.

RLS, Morehouse says, is a disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move around while in a resting position. Restless Kicking Syndrome is its more common sleeping counterpart, where the person experiences involuntary kicking or leg movements during the night, while asleep. Both disorders get in the way of the sufferer getting a good night's sleep.

Again, says Morehouse, the first thing to do is fix what's fixable. "Low iron or anemia, when people aren't getting enough iron is a cause," she says. "Being on kidney dialysis or having B positive blood can also cause RLS. But, for a big chunk of patients, we can't find a cause."

After lifestyle changes, there are several good medications for RLS sufferers. "Ten years ago, doctors discovered that drugs (dopaminergics, which give the patient a transmission of dopamine) used to treat Parkinson's – there's no relation between the two – helped with RLS patients", says Dr. Morehouse. For a more "band-aid" effect, she says, there are sedatives to help sufferers relax enough to sleep.

With medications being developed, entire centres being devoted to sleep disorders and support groups being formed across Canada, you don't have to suffer alone anymore. Get the help you need, and get some sleep already!

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