An Insider’s Guide to Understanding Insomnia

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Insomnia is a disorder in which a person cannot get adequate or quality sleep.  People suffering with insomnia may experience difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during sleep, difficulty returning to sleep and unrefreshed sleep. Some symptoms of a sleep disorder can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Constant leg movement
  • Gasping episodes at night
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Loud snoring
  • Dry mouth, sore throat
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of energy

What Causes Insomnia?

Insomnia can be caused by psychiatric and medical conditions, unhealthy sleep habits, specific substances, and/or certain biological factors. Recently, researchers have begun to think about insomnia as a problem of your brain being unable to stop being awake (your brain has a sleep cycle and a wake cycle—when one is turned on the other is turned off—insomnia can be a problem with either part of this cycle: too much wake drive or too little sleep drive). It’s important to first understand what could be causing your sleep difficulties.

There are many medical conditions (some mild and others more serious) that can lead to insomnia. In some cases, a medical condition itself causes insomnia, while in other cases, symptoms of the condition cause discomfort that can make it difficult for a person to sleep.

Insomnia & Lifestyle

Insomnia can be triggered or perpetuated by your behaviors and sleep patterns. Unhealthy lifestyles and sleep habits can create insomnia on their own (without any underlying psychiatric or medical problem), or they can make insomnia caused by another problem worse.

Examples of how specific lifestyles and sleep habits can lead to insomnia are:

  • You work at home in the evenings. This can make it hard to unwind, and it can also make you feel preoccupied when it comes time to sleep. The light from your computer could also make your brain more alert.
  • You take naps (even if they are short) in the afternoon. Short naps can be helpful for some people, but for others, they make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
  • You sometimes sleep in later to make up for lost sleep. This can confuse your body’s clock and make it difficult to fall asleep again the following night.
  • You are a shift worker (meaning that you work irregular hours). Non-traditional hours can confuse your body’s clock, especially if you are trying to sleep during the day, or if your schedule changes periodically.

Some cases of insomnia start out with an acute episode but turn into a longer-term problem. For example, let’s say a person can’t sleep for a night or two after receiving bad news. In this case, if the person starts to adopt unhealthy sleep habits such as getting up in the middle of the night to work, or drinking alcohol before bed to compensate, the insomnia can continue and potentially turn into a more serious problem. Instead of passing, it can become chronic.

It’s important to address insomnia instead of letting it become a regular part of your life. If lifestyle and unhealthy sleep habits are the cause of insomnia, there are things that can help. If you have tried to change your sleep behaviors and it hasn’t worked, it’s important to take this seriously and talk to your doctor.

Insomnia & The Brain

In some cases, insomnia may be caused by certain neurotransmitters in the brain that are known to be involved with sleep and wakefulness.

There are many possible chemical interactions in the brain that could interfere with sleep and may explain why some people are biologically prone to insomnia and seem to struggle with sleep for many years without any identifiable cause—even when they follow healthy sleep advice. Contact us if you have any question or to schedule an appointment.

(Some information provided by the National Sleep Foundation).

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The Sleep Center: How We Can Help You

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According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders, millions of Americans are needlessly suffering from undiagnosed or misdiagnosed sleep disorders. While poor sleep can have a negative effect on performance, alertness, memory concentration and reaction times, it is also being linked to other health issues such as heart disease and depression.

Sleep disorders are a serious health concern. It is especially important for persons suffering from hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart failure to see a sleep specialist for the detection and treatment of sleep apnea as it may prevent heart attacks and strokes as well as minimize underlying symptoms of other diseases. Left untreated, sleep disorders can lead to increased health risks and an overall lower quality of life.

Symptoms of a sleep disorder can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Daytime Sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Constant leg movement
  • Gasping episodes at night
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Loud Snoring
  • Dry mouth, sore throat
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of energy

People who have sleep disorders may experience:

  • More frequent illness
  • Lost productivity
  • Workplace accidents or car crashes from falling asleep on the job or at the wheel

About the ADC Sleep Disorder Center

The sleep disorder center at Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic opened in 1999 and is a comprehensive clinic accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Our sleep center is supervised by highly trained, highly qualified, and board certified physicians. Using the latest technology for diagnosing and treating sleep disorders in a comfortable and home-like atmosphere, our team of sleep professionals is dedicated to improving the sleep of our patients.

What is a Sleep Study?

A sleep study may involve the following:

Polysomnogram (PSG) – a diagnostic test which monitors brain activity, breathing and leg movements which helps to evaluate sleep apnea (obstruction of air flow) or a condition known as periodic leg movements of sleep.

Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) – a daytime sleep study which evaluates how fast a person falls asleep.

What to Expect?

The first step will be an initial visit with our sleep specialist who will review your medical and sleep history. You will then schedule an appointment for an overnight visit. To help determine if a sleep disorder exists, your physician will need to know what physiologic chances occur during your typical night of sleep. We do this by recording your brainwave pattern (known as the EEG) as well as your eye movements and degree of muscle tone. Using an EKG monitor, we will measure your heart rate and check for irregular heart beats during the night. Other measurements will include oxygen saturation, snoring, leg movements or jerking and respiratory effort. An intercom in the room will allow communication with the technician should have any questions or require assistance. Studies will usually begin between 8:00pm and 9:00pm and will conclude at about 6am. You will then follow up with your physician who will make recommendations for treatment of the disorder.

We are a team that’s committed to making sure our patients get the best sleep possible. Contact us if you have any questions or to set up an appointment.