Sleep apnea and being out of sync
6. You sleep fitfully, feel exhausted all the time, and wake with a sore throat or neck pain.
What it's a symptom of: Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder defined as breathing interrupted by intervals of ten seconds or more. A milder sleep breathing problem is upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), in which breathing is obstructed but stops for shorter intervals of under ten seconds. The number of people who have sleep apnea and don't know it is astounding; experts estimate that 20 million Americans have sleep apnea, and 87 percent of those are unaware they have the problem. One mistaken assumption is that you have to snore to have sleep apnea. In fact, many people with apnea don't snore.
How it interrupts sleep: Obstructive sleep apnea results when the throat closes and cuts off airflow, preventing you from getting enough oxygen. UARS is similar, but it's usually tongue position that blocks air from getting into the throat. Blood oxygen levels drop, and when the brain knows it's not getting enough oxygen, it starts to wake up. This causes fitful, unproductive sleep. Weight gain is a major factor in sleep apnea, because when people gain weight they end up with extra-soft tissue in the throat area, which causes or contributes to the blockage.
What to do: See an otolaryngologist, who will examine your nose, mouth, and throat to see what's interrupting your breathing and how to fix the problem. It's also important to have your oxygen levels measured during sleep. Your doctor will likely recommend using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, a mask that blows air directly into your airways. Studies have shown CPAP masks to be extremely effective in treating sleep apnea. Another mask called a BiPap (Bilevel positive airway pressure device) works similarly but has dual pressure settings. Airway masks only work if you wear them, so work closely with your doctor to choose a model that's comfortable for you.
Other options include oral appliances, which change your mouth position by moving your jaw forward to open up the throat, and surgery, which aims to remove the excess tissue from the throat. Newer, minimally invasive outpatient surgical treatments include the Pillar procedure, which involves using permanent stitches to firm up the soft palate; coblation, which uses radiofrequency to shrink nasal tissues; and use of a carbon dioxide laser to shrink the tonsils.
7. You get a full night's sleep but feel groggy all the time or get sleepy while driving.
What it's a symptom of: This signals circadian rhythm problems or, more simply, getting out of sync with night and day. Irregular sleep patterns, staying up late under bright lights, working a shift schedule, using computers and other devices in bed, and having too much light in the room while you sleep can disrupt your body's natural sleep-wake cycle.
Why it interrupts sleep: The onset of darkness triggers production of the hormone melatonin, which tells the brain it's time to sleep. Conversely, when your eyes register light, it shuts off melatonin production and tells you it's time to wake up. Even a small amount of ambient light in the room can keep your body from falling into and remaining in a deep sleep. The use of devices with lighted screens is especially problematic in terms of melatonin production because the light shines directly into your eyes. This light is also at the blue end of the spectrum, which scientists believe is particularly disruptive to circadian rhythms.
What to do: Try to get on a regular sleep schedule that's not too far off from the natural cycle of night and day -- and preferably the same schedule all week. (Experts recommend 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night, but that's just a general outline.) If you struggle with not feeling alert in the morning, go outside and take a brisk walk in daylight to feel more awake; you'll find that it's much easier to fall asleep the following night. This is also a trick experts recommend to help night owls reset their internal clocks. Force yourself to get up and get into bright light one or two mornings in a row and you'll be less likely to get that "second wind" and burn the midnight oil or experience nighttime sleeplessness.
As much as possible, banish all screens (TVs, computers, and iPads) for at least an hour before bed. Reading is much more sleep-inducing than looking at a lighted screen, but make sure your reading light isn't too bright and turn it so it doesn't shine in your eyes. Remove night-lights; if you need to get up in the middle of the night, keep a small flashlight next to your bed, being careful to turn it away from you. Check your bedroom for all sources of light, however small. Does your smoke alarm have a light in it? Put tape over it. Use an alarm clock without a lighted dial, or cover it. If your windows allow moonlight and light from streetlights to shine in, install blackout curtains or shades tightly fitted to the window frames. Don't charge laptops, phones, cameras, and other devices in your bedroom unless you cover the light they give off.