How Can Your Doctor Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep?

How Can Your Doctor Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep?

It’s common for people with sleep apnea to go many years before ever getting a diagnosis of the disorder from their doctor.  It generally goes undiagnosed because people learn to live with their tiredness.  But if they get a proper diagnosis – typically after a sleep study – the physician can prescribe a CPAP machine. This will allow the patient to achieve a better night's sleep.

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are daytime sleepiness and impaired alertness. However, there are many possible reasons for these symptoms. And, most people never think they may have a condition that a CPAP machine can easily treat.  Most don’t see a doctor until the symptoms are so bad or their bed partner forces them to.

Various types of physicians are qualified to diagnose sleep apnea including lung and nerve specialists; ear, nose, and throat specialists; and doctors who specialize in sleep disorders.  They can all prescribe a CPAP machine for their patients.

Determination of Sleep Apnea

In determining that a patient has sleep apnea, a doctor will take down the family history and the patient’s personal medical history.  The doctor will listen to the symptoms and learn about their severity.  The afflicted also will take a simple “sleepiness” test which helps to narrow the potential outcomes. The test will also rule out other conditions that can cause the same symptoms.  In most cases, before an accurate diagnosis of sleep apnea can be made and a CPAP machine ordered, a sleep study will take place.

How Are Sleep Studies Performed?

Sleep studies, usually performed in a facility that specializes in the procedure, involve having your sleep monitored throughout the night by trained technicians who determine how many (if any) apneic events (stoppage of breathing) occur.  Some sleep apnea patients, before using a CPAP machine, experience hundreds of these events every night.

If the sleep study shows that you’re ceasing to breathe as you sleep, your physician will diagnose sleep apnea and prescribe CPAP therapy including a CPAP machine and CPAP mask.  This technology helps the sleep apnea patient by providing continuous positive airway pressure, thus the acronym CPAP.  Doctors understand there are few alternatives, so the CPAP machine is, in most cases, the preferred mode of treatment.

Various types of CPAP machines are available for sleep apnea patients.  They are light and easy to use, and some models are capable of recording important information for physicians to read which will help them understand the details during a patient’s sleep.

How Sleep Apnea Is Diagnosed

Reviewing Sleep Habits

Being aware of your nightly sleep patterns can help determine if you have any sleep issue red flags. If you notice that you awake frequently at night unexpectedly and your awakenings are accompanied by coughing or gasping for air, then you may have sleep apnea.

Also. if you find upon awakening in the morning that you still feel sleepy and are drowsy throughout the day, then you may be feeling the side effects of sleep deprivation due to sleep apnea.

Conducting Sleep Study

The most conclusive approach to determining a sleep disorder diagnosis is with a sleep study. Sleep studies are conducted in a lab setting. You spend the night attached to monitoring equipment that will gauge sleep behaviors and other data.

The data collected during the night of the sleep study is analyzed by sleep doctors who will look for erratic patterns in your sleep, along with other biological indicators. The results will conclude whether or not you have a sleep disorder.

Conducting Physical Exam

Doctors may also see indications of a sleep disorder through a routine physical exam. Sleep deprivation impacts your overall health. Over time, sleep loss can affect blood pressure, blood sugar, and heart health. Doctors during a physical exam may note that these biological factors are at benchmark points.

While other health concerns may also be influencing your physical exam results, losing sleep should always be considered by your doctor as a potential cause for health issues.

Therapy For the People with Insomnia

Light Therapy

Light therapy is a common treatment for insomnia, one of the most common sleep disorders. Using a light box or lamp, insomnia patients are exposed to light for periods. The light exposure helps stimulate melatonin, serotonin, and vitamin D, which can all help induce sleep when bedtime rolls around.

Using light therapy regularly helps the body naturally adjust to healthy sleep patterns. Experiencing more light during waking hours makes it easier to fall asleep during the nighttime.

Staying Awake Passively

Insomnia patients may also take matters into their hands by simply staying awake long before they go to bed. Often forcing an early bedtime ritual may not be natural and cause insomnia. By adjusting sleep schedules an insomnia patient can prolong bedtime by staying awake and thus achieve better and healthier sleep at a later hour in the night.

Understanding when and how much sleep you need can help insomnia patients find the right sleep schedule that fits their sleep needs.

Relaxation Technique

Often insomnia is caused by racing thoughts or stress provoked while awake. Unresolved issues experienced during the day at work or home can keep you up at night. Using relaxation techniques like meditation an insomnia patients can learn to relax their minds and let racing thoughts slip away before bedtime.

Meditation can help insomnia patients focus on healthy sleep by putting their minds at rest, at least for a few hours to sleep well.

Stimulus Control Therapy

The main goal of stimulus control therapy is to reduce the anxiety or conditioned arousal individuals may feel when attempting to go to bed. Specifically, the therapy uses a set of instructions designed to reassociate the bed/bedroom with sleep and to re-establish a consistent sleep schedule. These steps include:

  • Going to bed only when sleepy
  • Getting out of bed when unable to sleep
  • Using the bed/bedroom only for sleep and not reading or watching TV
  • Arising at the same time every morning
  • Avoiding naps

Restriction to Sleep

Sleep restriction therapy is a behavioral treatment for insomnia that works to decrease variability in the timing of sleep while increasing the depth of sleep.  The goal is to shorten the amount of time spent in bed to consolidate sleep.  The therapy helps establish sleeping patterns including when an individual goes to bed when they arise and restricting behaviors in bed such as reading or watching TV, which can overstimulate rather than induce sleep.

By establishing strict sleep patterns, insomnia patients can train themselves to fall asleep when it is time. And they can stay asleep longer.

Prescriptions Medications Recommended by Doctors

If common therapies do not work for sleep disorders, doctors may recommend using prescription medications to maintain healthy sleep. These medications include:

  • Antidepressants- reduce anxiety and help induce sleep
  • Benzodiazepines-stays in the body’s system longer to promote a full night’s sleep
  • Doxepine-helps block histamine receptors and induces a full eight hours of sleep
  • Lemborexant- this drug is approved for people who have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. It works by suppressing the part of the central nervous system that keeps you awake. It may cause you to feel sleepy the next day.

Basic Remedies

A doctor may also make some lifestyle recommendations to help insomnia patients achieve better sleep. Recommendations include:

  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime, which can disrupt healthy sleep.
  • Avoid taking naps so that you are ready to sleep at night.
  • Quitting smoking to avoid inflammation in the throat that can disrupt sleep.
  • Exercising regularly to induce sleep.
  • Eating a healthy diet as some foods such as fatty or fried foods can take longer to digest and disrupt sleep.

Bedtime Remedies

Healthy sleep can also be resolved by following a bedtime schedule that promotes sleep. Your doctor may recommend bedtime remedies such as:

  • Keeping your sleep schedule consistent-when you go to sleep every night.
  • Following the same routine every night before going to bed to remind your body it is bedtime.
  • Practicing meditation before bedtime to relax the mind.
  • Keeping pre-bedtime activities outside the bedroom, like watching TV or reading, so that the bed and bedroom are associated just with sleep.

The CPAP Shop carries a full line of CPAP machines for those who have sleep apnea.  Only a physician can prescribe a CPAP machine, so please see your doctor if you believe you have symptoms that are the result of this specific sleep disorder.

Chris Vasta

Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.