The office of a sleep specialist does not look quite ordinary. The first thing that catches your eye is an ordinary bed. And she’s not standing there because the doctor has to work at night. The thing is that many patients of this specialist quickly move from talking about the quality of sleep to business. More specifically, the bed is needed for cardiorespiratory monitoring, as well as polysomnography. What do these procedures mean and why you need to visit a somnologist, we will tell you today.
The main symptoms of sleep disorders
It is known that almost a third of the adults in our country are not entirely satisfied with the quality of their nightly rest, as well as the subsequent period of wakefulness. Moreover, there is an opinion that in villages people sleep better than in cities. This is due to differences in lifestyle and different frequency of stress. However, not only external circumstances are to blame for the pathology of human sleep.
Anxiety or depression, the so-called obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, some disorders of a psychological or neurological nature can disturb sleep. Sleep disorders can be identified by the following signs:
for a long time it is not possible to fall asleep;
waking up too early in the morning, after which it is no longer possible to fall asleep;
feeling tired in the morning despite a long sleep time;
constant feeling of sleepiness during the day;
loud snoring during sleep.
Unfortunately, many of us do not attach much importance to these symptoms, believing that sooner or later sleep will return to normal. If sleep disturbances become regular or do not go away for a long time, you should consult a specialist.
Doctors sometimes have to listen to patients complain that they do not sleep at all. Let’s just say it’s simply impossible. Complete lack of sleep for several days can be very dangerous. Perhaps that is why some doctors prefer instead of the word “insomnia”, meaning the absolute lack of sleep, to use the term “insomnia”, which means its violation.
By the way, patients who complain about supposedly complete insomnia are not really lying. It really seems to them that they do not sleep all night long, and if they sleep, then no more than an hour a day. Doctors even have the term “sleep agnosia” to refer to this condition, that is, the person actually slept, but did not notice it.
For example, a person is lying in bed and hears a noise in the street — the sounds of traffic, dogs barking, and so on. After a while, he falls into a dream, and when he wakes up, he hears the same sounds. As a result, he is almost certain that he did not fall asleep, but simply closed his eyelids for a couple of seconds. In fact, the sleep time could be several hours.
Treatment of sleep disorders is sometimes, one might say, a vital issue. Patients suffering from a symptom called obstructive sleep apnea are more prone to heart attacks and other diseases of the cardiovascular system than people whose sleep is considered normal. Moreover, sleep disturbance can provoke the appearance of depressive conditions. Finally, constant sleepiness can have the most unpredictable consequences. Imagine the dangerous situation a sleepy driver creates on the road.
Therefore, if it is not possible to rest normally at the prescribed sleep time, and this is 7–8 hours, or a person’s sleep is intermittent, disturbing, it is necessary to go to a specialist. Moreover, at present, doctors in this area have all the necessary equipment both to determine the cause of the pathology and to effectively treat sleep disorders.
Human sleep: apnea and snoring
One of the sleep disorders are snoring, as well as obstructive sleep apnea, which means breathing stops during sleep. Most of all, people over forty years of age, as well as those who are overweight, are prone to this. According to somnologists, most of their patients are people whose weight exceeds 100 kg.
Sleep apnea and snoring are different concepts, although loud snoring is often associated with obstructive sleep apnea. However, the fact is that simple snoring is just an unpleasant problem, unlike sleep apnea, which is the cessation of breathing during sleep. This is not only a problem that disrupts the quality of night rest, but also a serious disease that poses a direct threat to human life.
During sleep, the body is in a relaxed state, and the walls of the nasopharynx also relax. The action of air masses passing through the respiratory tract causes the walls to vibrate, resulting in a special sound, that is, snoring. As such, this phenomenon is harmless. However, when there is an intense oscillation, the walls can close, making it impossible to take a breath. Apnea occurs, that is, breathing stops. A person wakes up, though not always completely. In most cases, he goes into a drowsy state for a couple of seconds. At this time, the walls open, and a person’s sleep returns to normal. As a rule, in the morning he does not remember that during the night he woke up more than once.
Imagine that a person is regularly awakened throughout the night. How well will he feel in the morning? Most likely not very much. And those suffering from this syndrome have a lot of micro-awakenings per night. Hence the feeling of tiredness in the morning. Moreover, if you calculate the time during which such patients cannot breathe, you get a rather impressive figure. This condition can provoke oxygen deficiency, as well as another stress, accompanied by the release of adrenaline and, as a result, an extra load on the heart.
Sleep apnea can be distinguished from ordinary snoring using a diagnostic examination carried out during the patient’s sleep — cardiorespiratory monitoring or respiratory polygraphy.
In the past, sleep apnea was treated with a tracheotomy — punching a hole in the lower part of the neck, which ensured the unimpeded flow of air into the respiratory tract. Today, there is a more humane method of treatment. To do this, a soft plastic mask is put on the nose, into which air is supplied using a small portable compressor. The injected air does not allow the walls to close, as a result of which the dangerous syndrome disappears, and with it the unpleasant snoring.
Insomnia and insufficient sleep
Many sleep disorders have psychological or neurological causes. For example, the fact that a person wakes up early and then cannot fall asleep again, while he has a depressed mood, as well as a loss of interest in his usual activities, may indicate the development of a depressive state. And when you can’t fall asleep in the evening because of anxiety for one reason or another, the cause of the violation is most likely increased anxiety. In this case, the cause of the violation must be eliminated. Therefore, instead of uncontrolled taking sleeping pills, it is better to visit a neurologist or a psychotherapist.
In the case when the cause of sleep pathology is not psychological problems, the doctor prescribes an additional examination procedure for the patient — polysomnography. Before a night’s sleep, a person is put on sensors that will record an electroencephalogram all night long, control the level of muscle tone, respiratory rate and other sleep parameters. After analyzing the data after the patient wakes up, the somnologist will diagnose, and then prescribe the necessary treatment.