The Down Low on Dozing

sleep It’s National Sleep Awareness Week—ready to improve your sleep habits? 

Do you have difficulty catching some shuteye? If so, you’re not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, 60 million Americans suffer from sleep disturbances every year. In light of National Sleep Awareness Week, which kicked off on Monday, March 5, we’ve taken the opportunity to look into the most common sleep disorders and unearth some tips for improving bedtime habits.

“There are simple ways to get a restful night’s sleep,” says Nora Distefano, physician and patient services representative at Central Coast Sleep Disorders Center. “Avoid any stimulant, like caffeine, before bedtime. Take a hot bath or shower to promote relaxation. If you’re having trouble sleeping in your bed, get out of bed and into another room.”

 Distefano recommends that spending time outside of your bedroom, and engaging in a relaxing activity like reading or meditating. Once you feel sleepy again, return to your bed.

Here are a few of the most common sleep disorders, how to identify them, and how to get some relief.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is the result of repeated pauses in breathing and can be caused by the brain’s failure to regulate breathing, the muscles in the back of the throat obstructing the airway or a chronic medical condition like asthma. Sleep apnea not only disrupts a person’s sleep, it can place undue stress on the body.

“The biggest health risks for someone who has severe sleep apnea are high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and congestive heart failure,” says Distefano.

Sleep apnea is most often treated with the use of a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP), a mask which blows air into a person’s airway to keep it open during sleep. Other treatments include dental devices, weight loss and, in some cases, surgery.


While insomnia can be an isolated disorder, it is often a symptom on another problem, like stress or a medical condition. If you experience insomnia for more than a few weeks or if it is unrelated to stress, talk to a doctor about your symptoms. Relaxation techniques, like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can be very helpful in reducing insomnia symptoms. Eating a healthy diet and regular exercise can also promote sleepiness at night.

“Insomnia can be treated short-term with medication, although we don’t advise people to stay on medication long-term,” says Distefano.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

“Patients describe it as having a sensation of tingling or of insects crawling on their legs and it can only be relieved by moving the legs,” says Distefano.

Because the tingling sensation only occurs during periods of inactivity, RLS can have a huge impact on a person’s sleep patterns. While the syndrome is commonly treated with medication, there are a number of activities a person suffering from RLS can engage in to improve their symptoms. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that sufferers practice walking, massaging and stretching the legs, hot or cold packs, vibration of acupressure when symptoms flare up.

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