When You Can’t Just Sleep It Off: Recognizing Common Sleep Disorders

Sleep is an essential part of health, and lack of sleep can have dramatic effects on the mind and body. Lack of sleep can cause problems with concentration and memory, extreme fatigue, and other problems. Family caregivers may experience lack of sleep because the senior they are caring for is suffering from a sleep disorder. Understanding when to bring up sleep issues with the doctor can make a great difference. The following are a few common disorders that can disrupt sleep and when a doctor’s assistance may be required:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): OSA causes interruptions to an individual’s breathing during sleep, with breathing pauses that last at least ten seconds. OSA occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite efforts to breathe. Sleep apnea can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels, which may lead to hypertension, heart disease, and mood and memory problems. When to seek help: When a person experiences frequent snoring that can be heard from another room, stops breathing or makes gasping noises during sleep, contact his or her physician for help.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): RLS is a neurological movement disorder characterized by the irresistible urge to move the limbs during periods of rest. Those who suffer from RLS may often experience an unpleasant tingling, creeping or pulling feeling in the legs that becomes worse in the evenings, making it difficult to sleep. When to see help: If RLS is bad enough to disrupt sleep, contact the physician.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): COPD is a term used for lung disorders like emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and chronic asthma. People with COPD often have trouble breathing, experience chronic coughing, fatigue, and tightness in the chest. When to seek help: Morning coughing is often an early sign of the disease. Contact the physician if the person is experiencing difficulty breathing, chronic coughing that produces sputum, wheezing with breathing, frequent nighttime urination, insomnia, weight loss, or daytime sleepiness.

Whenever a person feels that he or she does not sleep well and experiences frequent sleepiness during the day, a physician should be consulted. If you are caregiving for someone who has trouble sleeping at night, call the eldercare professionals at Visiting Angels of the San Francisco Bay area for assistance. Contact us in Alameda County at (510) 284-0000 or in Santa Clara County at (408) 735-0977.