How to Know When to See a Sleep Professional?

If you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll know that you’re not sleeping right because your days are so challenging, but too many of us take it for granted that fatigue and lack of focus in the daytime are just “normal.”

The question is, given repeated poor nights’ sleep and subsequent less-than-perfect daytimes, when do you seek help?

First, let’s count the number of sleep disorders affecting people everywhere. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), sleep disorders number around 88, including the most common — insomnia. NSF also says that about 70 percent of all Americans report having sleep difficulties at least a few nights every week.

What are sleep professionals? The general answer is that they are professionally trained doctors and psychologists who have dedicated their education and training to sleep issues, diagnosing and treating them.  According to the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM), there are more than 3,500 registered sleep professionals in the United States, along with others who are perfectly qualified but opt not to join the group.

How to know when to seek the help of a sleep professional? First, recognize that your days are being shortchanged because your nighttimes are not rejuvenating you. Then discuss matters with your family physician, armed if possible with a sleep diary — a record for a week or more of everything you did in the daytime leading up to sleep and then a like record of everything that happened while you tried to sleep.

Your family physician will know when to recommend you to a sleep professional, who will most likely administer what’s called a polysomnogram, where you sleep with about 25 electrodes attached to your body so a technician can watch your brainwaves, heart rate, eye movement, muscle tensing, leg twitching, airflow in and out of your mouth and nose, and chest wall movement.

After that, a variety of self-help measures and/or medical treatments might be recommended, providing the test shows you suffer from a sleep disorder such as apnea, restless leg syndrome (RLS), narcolepsy or others. (If you suffer from no sleep disorder, you will no doubt be instructed on good sleep hygiene.)

Many times, simple in-offer laser and other nonsurgical treatments might be advised for your sleep disorder. Those with sleep apnea — characterized by repeated cessations of breathing while sleeping — might be put on a device known as the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure) mask, which pumps air into the mouth and nose to compensate for the apnea.

At any rate, the first step in getting your days back is to realize that bad days physically and mentally often originate in poor sleep, whether caused by a sleep disorder or by one’s life-style choices. See your doctor ASAP if you suspect or know you have sleep problems.

Thus the answer to “when” is “now.”

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