From insomnia to narcolepsy, sleep disorders are varied and surprisingly common. Conditions like insomnia are fairly obvious, but others, like teeth grinding and sleep apnea, are harder to recognize. While many sleep disorders require a visit to your doctor, your most valuable partner in treating certain conditions is actually your dentist. Here is an overview of some of the most common sleep disorders as defined by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).
Insomnia is broadly defined as trouble falling or staying asleep. According to the NSF, chronic insomnia means experiencing insomnia three nights a week, for three weeks or more. Symptoms can include trouble falling asleep, waking during the night, and waking up too early. Insomnia is more common in women and can be associated with hormones during pregnancy, the menstrual cycle, and menopause. In some cases, depression or anxiety can cause insomnia. The NSF suggests a range of treatments for insomnia, from relaxation techniques and setting a routine, to getting help from a therapist or talking with your doctor about medication.
Narcolepsy is probably the best-known disorder involving daytime sleepiness, but the NSF’s daytime sleep disorder umbrella also includes a condition called idiopathic hypersomnia, or extreme sleepiness.
You may be familiar with narcolepsy through portrayals in popular culture. This very real condition involves falling asleep involuntarily during the daytime and can include muscle paralysis when REM sleep occurs during daytime activities and, in some cases, hallucinations. Narcolepsy is diagnosed through a physical exam and sleep study.
Extreme sleepiness is defined as constant or recurring episodes of daytime sleepiness. This diagnosis can be related to nighttime conditions like sleep apnea, which robs patients of sleep at night and causes sleepiness during the day.
If you think you have one of these disorders, see you doctor to discuss treatment options including medication and behavioral therapy.
Restless Legs Syndrome
According to the NSF, this movement-related sleep disorder affects up to 10 percent of the U.S. adult population. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) involves an urge to move the legs when they are at rest and is often characterized by involuntary movements during sleep and a painful itching or tingling sensation.
If you are diagnosed with RLS, your doctor will look at vitamin deficiencies and medications that may contribute to the condition. Physicians often recommend relaxation techniques to treat RLS, and many patients have success with foot wrap treatments that target specific muscles in the foot and help leg muscles to relax.
Nighttime teeth grinding, or sleep bruxism, may go undiagnosed, but a National Institutes of Health survey shows that eight to 16 percent of U.S. adults experience sleep bruxism. This is one sleep disorder that becomes less prevalent in older adults, according to the NSF, so younger patients should be aware of symptoms. Teeth grinding can cause damage to the teeth (including worn enamel and chipping or breaking because of pressure), jaw pain and interrupted sleep.
Your dentist plays an important role in limiting the damage caused by teeth grinding. One of the most common treatments is a night guard custom made by your dentist that covers either the top or the bottom teeth. Your dentist will take a mold of your mouth and order a plastic guard to protect your teeth from grinding and clenching. Behavioral therapy to address the underlying causes of teeth grinding may also be recommended.
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that involves repeated interruption of breathing during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat do not keep the airway open during sleep, causing breath to stop and the patient to wake frequently during the night.
For years, a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine has been the go-to solution for sleep apnea. A CPAP device is a small machine with a mask connected to it. At night, the patient places the mask on their face while the machine blows air down the patient’s airway. CPAP is the most common treatment for sleep apnea and remains the best solution for some patients. But CPAP treatment can be cumbersome, and some patients have trouble following their doctor’s orders to use the device regularly. Recent research suggests that a special night mouth guard may be more effective in treating sleep apnea in many patients because patients are more likely to follow through with treatment.
The most common sleep apnea mouth guard is a Mandibular Advancement Devices (or MAD). This custom-made mouthguard fits both the upper and lower teeth and is designed to bring the lower jaw forward, which helps keep the airway open.
If you think you have sleep apnea, we can issue you a device to help test for the disorder. If the test suggests you have sleep apnea, we will refer you to a doctor who will test further.
Your Physician And Your Dentist: Working Together To Treat Sleep Disorders
Sleep disorders are disruptive to patients’ lives. In many cases, nighttime sleep problems can lead to daytime sleepiness and interrupt a patient’s ability to function. Identifying a problem, getting a diagnosis, and taking the first steps to get treatment can bring much-needed relief. If you think you have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor. And for conditions like nighttime teeth grinding and sleep apnea, your dentist is ready to partner with your doctor to help deliver the most effective treatment.