Imagine being able to sleep soundly through the night, every night. Now contrast that with restless sleep, not being able to fall asleep quickly, and a host of other sleeping disorders that literally sap you of energy even before you get out of bed each morning. Sadly, the latter ends up being the case for most, as anywhere between 50 and 70 million American adults suffer from a sleep disorder according to the American Sleep Association.
Not being able to cash in on a full night of zzz’s affects more than just your energy level, as poor sleep takes a toll on your overall health. A lack of sleep has been proven to affect cognitive ability, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, and can even lead to weight gain. If you struggle with a sleep disorder, how do you receive a diagnosis and in what ways could a sleep study help you? Let’s explore more about this issue that plagues so many Americans.
Sleep Disorders Defined
Nearly everyone has an occasional poor night of sleep, but how do you distinguish between minimal rest that happens every so often and an actual sleep disorder? The American Psychiatric Association notes that a true sleep disorder relates to the amount, timing, and quality of your sleep and its effects on your day to day life.
While a sleep disorder may be a symptom of a mental health issue, they can often be linked to other physical issues as well. Primary care physicians find that 10 to 20% of their patients complain of sleep problems, with 35% of all Americans self-reporting that their quality of sleep is poor.
These nightly issues can range in severity and can be associated with a range of symptoms. Some of the more common sleep disorders include:
- Insomnia – The Sleep Health Foundation states that approximately one in three people suffer from insomnia, a condition that makes it difficult for an individual to fall asleep or stay asleep. This disorder may occur due to mental or emotional stress, or in some cases may have no apparent cause and is then called primary insomnia.
- Sleep Apnea – Three different diagnoses can fall under the(an) umbrella of sleep apnea, but in general this condition involves the repeated stopping and starting of breathing. Symptoms include snoring, waking up with a headache in the morning, and gasping for air while you sleep.
- Narcolepsy – Considered to be a neurological disorder, narcolepsy includes a feeling of sleepiness during the day despite a sensation of being rested upon waking in the morning. The condition occurs when our brains cannot control the body’s sleep-wake cycles. Studies indicate that up to 200,000 people in the United States suffer from this disorder.
- Restless Leg Syndrome – Although this issue affects body parts far away from the brain, RLS creates such a strong urge to move the legs while lying down that it can greatly impact the quality of nightly sleep. Between 7 and 8% of adults in the US suffer from RLS.
Engaging In A Sleep Study
If you struggle to get a good night of sleep and seem to have unexplained symptoms that are related to your quality of rest, where should you turn? First, you should ask your primary physician for their recommendation. Initially, your primary care physician may ask you some questions about your concerns and will determine if another medical professional would be able to offer more specific care. If so, individuals often visit a sleep medicine specialist.
These specialists have undergone extensive training in order to diagnose, study, and treat a range of sleep issues. After discussing your symptoms and completing a clinical assessment, they may recommend a sleep study to further monitor and document your symptoms. In more extreme cases of sleep disorders, a sleep study is essential in providing an accurate diagnosis.
Many individuals opt to complete a sleep study in a clinical setting and will stay the night in a room designed to monitor their behavior. These sleep centers offer tools for your sleep medicine specialist to track your heart rate, brain waves, and physically observe your body while you sleep, all in a completely non-invasive manner. REM sleep, the instances of entering into a deep sleep, will be charted along with eye movements, breathing rates, and blood oxygen levels.
Sleep studies take place in comfortable rooms that are designed to help you get the best night of sleep possible and participants are encouraged to even wear their own pajamas in order to feel more at home. Patients often worry if they will be able to sleep well with sensors attached to their head and body, but thankfully a full eight hours of sleep isn’t required for a specialist to gather the information they need.
Testing At Home
Visiting a sleep center to engage in a sleep study can be difficult for some individuals and may not be recommended by your specialist if you have limited mobility, are very anxious about the testing, or are prohibited by costs. In these cases, you may be able to complete a sleep study in the comfort of your own home.
Commonly recommended when trying to diagnose sleep apnea, a home sleep study aims for the same goal but uses a very different set of procedures. Your specialist will not be able to monitor your sleep firsthand and will instead rely on devices to gather important information that will be analyzed later on. Sleep disorders including sleepwalking or narcolepsy may not be appropriate for a home test, however, you should discuss all of your options with your specialist before making a decision.
Individuals who do undergo a sleep study at home will likely use some of the same equipment as a sleep center, including sensors that attach to various parts of the body along with a device that uses nasal tubes to measure your breathing throughout the night. It’s recommended that you go about your nightly routine as normal and avoid napping during the day of your test. After you’ve slept as best as you can, your doctor will interpret the information collected by the equipment.
The data that’s collected from a sleep study is immense, and specialists are skilled enough to interpret the information in such a way that paints a clear picture about various elements of your sleep quality. Your results will include information about how long you stayed in each stage of sleep over the course of the night, what your non-rapid eye movement looks like, how your REM sleep is affecting your overall rest, and other factors including your breathing patterns and blood oxygen levels.
Depending on the results, your sleep specialist may determine that you’re a candidate for sleep apnea treatment that includes specialized equipment aimed at helping you to continuously breathe throughout the night. Other sleep disorders may call for medication that helps to manage your symptoms while still some conditions may be aided by simple tips to help you sleep more soundly each night.
Those who may not find much relief from clinical treatments yet still need to reap the benefits of better sleep may turn to some of the following routines:
- Create a sleep routine that prepares your body for rest. This can include reading a book, taking a relaxing bath, or listening to soothing music just before bed. The most important element of your routine is consistency, as your mind will soon learn that these actions mean it’s time to unwind.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, at least three hours before turning in for the night. While these liquids tend to have opposite effects on your body, they both contribute to poor sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is a place of rest and encourages the quieting of your mind and relaxation of your body. Black-out curtains are a popular option to keep the room dark and it’s even recommended to remove all electronics from the space.
- Many of us enjoy screen time just before bed, whether it’s on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, but this exposure to blue light can actually prohibit your body’s ability to fall asleep. Try avoiding all electronic screens for at least thirty minutes before bedtime.
Remember, it’s not uncommon to have a poor night of sleep every once in a while. In today’s busy day and age we go to bed with many thoughts on our minds, our schedules aren’t always consistent, and sometimes we simply wake up feeling less than rested. However, if you begin to notice regular issues with your sleep, it might be time to visit a sleep medicine specialist.
Engaging in a sleep study is an easy way to understand the factors that are preventing you from getting optimal rest, and by partnering with your doctor to create a plan of action, you could begin to feel better than you have in years! The importance of getting quality sleep can’t be overlooked, so for your day to day health and your overall well-being years down the road, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
Is a sleep study not covered by your insurance plan and/or out of your budget? Try booking a sleep study through Slingshot Health. Be sure to book a consultation with a sleep specialist first who will be able to write you a script for a sleep study should it be recommended.
About Slingshot Health
Slingshot Health is a health tech startup that brings top healthcare providers and patients together. Patients bid on the cost of services and healthcare providers accept bids based on availability. Slingshot Health is unique in that it is a mutual marketplace putting both patients and providers back in control. Visit us at slingshothealth.com.