Missing Your Beauty Rest?

Here's when to see a sleep specialist

photo of woman who can't sleep

“Sleep is as important as food and oxygen for our bodies,” says Munish Goyal, MD, a sleep specialist at the Neurology and Sleep Disorders Clinic. When we don’t get enough high-quality sleep, we’re more susceptible to a host of health problems. So if, despite your best efforts, you’re not catching enough Zs at night, it’s important to be evaluated for possible sleep disorders and get yourself back on track for a good night’s sleep.

If you have any concerns about the quality or amount of sleep you get, talk to your primary care doctor, or make an appointment with a sleep specialist. Below are some common sleep disorders and symptoms to watch out for.

Sleep apnea

This condition is caused by an obstruction of the airway during sleep, which deprives you of sufficient oxygen. “Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, breathing pauses during sleep, as witnessed by bed partner, waking up with a headache and feeling tired despite sleeping for eight or nine hours, daytime sleepiness, not feeling fresh, lack of energy, lack of motivation or feeling depressed,” Goyal says. Sleep apnea can be fatal if left untreated.

Insomnia

“If you have difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking up multiple times a night or waking up too early in the mornings, these are some symptoms of insomnia,” Goyal says. Possible treatments range from medication to cognitive behavioral therapy.

Daytime sleepiness and narcolepsy

“With hypersomnias, people are sleepy and will fall asleep during meetings or in waiting rooms, watching movies, and they doze off without any warning,” Goyal says. “Some people fall asleep while driving and get involved in an accident.” Not only can excessive sleepiness have a detrimental effect on your work and relationships, but it can also put you and those around you in danger.

REM sleep behavior disorder

When you reach the deepest phase of sleep, known as the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage, your brain begins to dream. Normally, your body shuts down its ability to move to keep you from acting out your dreams. With REM sleep behavior disorder, Goyal says, “you'll be acting your dreams out. This dream enactment can be injurious to the patient or the bed partner. Other parasomnias include sleepwalking, sleep talking or sleep eating. 

What to expect at your appointment

When Goyal and his colleagues meet with patients, “we go over their sleep habits, we ask them questions about bedtime, wake-up time, how many hours they sleep, and we talk with a bedpartner if they have one,” he says. “We ask about their symptoms, then we examine the patient. , 

If the patient shows symptoms of a sleep disorder, Goyal will order a sleep study to help diagnose the problem. 

Find more information about sleep studies and treatment for sleep disorders here.

Check your own sleep hygiene with this helpful list from the National Sleep Foundation.