Many people spend night after night counting sheep to no avail – and the numbers are rising. In Austria alone, 25% of the population are said to suffer from sleep disorders. Chronic fatigue seems to be plaguing more and more people, and the consequences can be fatal. Statistically, nodding off at the wheel is the most common cause of road accidents. Performing monotonous activities over long periods (e.g. motorway journeys), long shifts, stressful days at work and late-night partying result in extreme tiredness. However, chronic fatigue is usually caused by sleep disorders – and these need to be tackled as soon as possible.
How can I cure my sleep disorder?
Ideally, the first thing you should do is visit a sleep laboratory or – even better – a mobile sleep laboratory. The advantage of a mobile laboratory is that readings are taken in your own bed. A familiar environment, free from influencing factors, will produce the most accurate diagnosis possible.
We spoke with Dr Peter R Gartner, Medical Director at the Park Igls Mayr clinic in Tyrol about sleep disorders. Here is a summary of the most important points.
When should I consult a doctor?
There are around 100 different sleep disorders, ranging from lack of sleep and sleep quality to duration issues and excess sleep. Daytime sleepiness is usually an early symptom but sleep quantity (e.g. working too much to get sufficient sleep) is often confused with sleep quality (how restful the sleep is). If this reaches an advanced stage – for example, if a person repeatedly falls asleep for a moment while driving – then a sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea is certainly indicated. If you find yourself in this situation, it is vital that you consult your doctor. Sleep apnoea in particular – a spate of breathing interruptions during the night – can potentially be life-threatening. High blood pressure can also be a sign of sleep disorders.
How do we measure the causes of sleep disorders?
In the sleep laboratory, polysomnography is used to examine the depth, progression and quality of sleep. While the patient is asleep, the laboratory staff measure brain activity via EEG, heart rate via ECG, breathing activity and breath sounds, muscle tension, eye movement, body position, movement and temperature as well as oxygen saturation levels in the blood.
Is it possible to diagnose physical and psychological causes in the sleep laboratory?
Yes, often even during the patient’s consultation with the doctor before entering the laboratory. Trouble sleeping combined with worrying, perhaps during wakeful periods in the night, are a strong indication of psychological sleep disorders. Sleep disorders with a physical cause – such as asthma, chronic pain or heart and circulation problems – are often indicated by snoring, also caused by weak pharyngeal muscles.
What is a mobile sleep laboratory?
The major advantage of the mobile sleep laboratory is that the sleep specialist comes to you and sets up the lab in your bedroom, a familiar environment. This produces precise readings that are not influenced by unfamiliar surroundings.
What happens after sleep laboratory testing?
Your sleep specialist first determines whether therapy is required and then selects the best treatment. Approaches range from sewing a tennis ball into the back of pyjamas – for people who snore when they lie on their backs – to fitting a special sleep mask or even surgical intervention.
Help yourself sleep better!
Follow these simple ways to help you sleep:
• Diet and digestion affect sleep. Make sure to avoid heavy meals in the evening – this will help with your weight as well!
• Alcohol may make falling asleep easier, but it doesn’t help you get back to sleep after waking at night.
• Appetite suppressants can lead to sleep disorders.
• Regular movement and exercise prevent sleep disorders.
• Calming bedtime rituals such as reading, meditating and listening to relaxing music (e.g. alpha wave music) promote healthy sleep.
• Digital detox: taking a break from your phone, tablet, PC, TV, etc. in the evening and at night works wonders!
• Keep calm! Waking up in the night is completely normal and doesn’t mean you have a sleep disorder. Just make sure not to check the time!
In need of medical help? We’re here for you. Sleep better, feel better…