Body & Soul: Dealing with Sleep Disorders

Body & Soul: Dealing with Sleep Disorders

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Body & Soul: Dealing with Sleep Disorders

Sound Advice

by Jayne Hobbs

As we age, sleep becomes a precious commodity. We may experience issues that affect our own sleeping patterns, and/or we may share a bed with a partner who is keeping us awake at night with their tossing, turning and snoring. Common sleep disorders include restless legs syndrome, insomnia, hypersomnia (daytime sleepiness), REM sleep behaviour disorder and sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder characterized by shallow breathing, or pauses in breathing (seconds to minutes), which can occur many times during the sleep cycle. There may be a choking or a snorting sound as breathing resumes.


Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a partial, or complete, blockage of the upper airway during sleep. In both cases, the person often feels tired upon waking. In addition to snoring and waking up suddenly (as if gasping for air), patients may also experience restlessness during sleep, night sweats, morning headaches, fatigue, a dry mouth and sore throat, as well as forgetfulness, irritability and difficulty concentrating.

Sleep Apnea may also be caused by smaller airways in the nose or mouth, a larger tongue, enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum in the nose, as well as smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure. To receive an accurate diagnosis, start with a visit to your doctor and request that a sleep study be scheduled. These can now be done at home, or by spending the night at a sleep clinic. In a clinic, a 24-point monitor is connected to the head, legs and chest, in order to measure air flow, breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, eye movements and heart rate, as well as muscle and electrical brain activity.


  • Sleeping on your side may help, as sleeping on your back can block airways.
  • If a back sleeper, a foam, wedge pillow may help to keep airways from collapsing.
  • Try an over-the-counter mouth device, or have a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) custom made. These help to keep the tongue and soft palette stable, so that airways stay open during sleep.
  • Often diagnosed for use after a sleep study, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine comes with a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth. Various machines and mask styles are available to suit individual needs. Used on a nightly basis, the CPAP machine controls the air pressure so that airways remain open during sleep. Side effects may include a dry mouth, nasal congestion, skin irritation and puffy eyes.

These recommended tips are all natural sleep aids, but if your problem persists, consult your doctor. Once the quality of your sleep has been addressed, and, if need be, a treatment plan put in place to help facilitate a better night’s sleep, your body (and your partner) will thank you.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

While many of these suggestions may seem obvious, they’re good reminders. Avoid doing exercises approximately three to four hours before bed, and stave off the consumption of cafeine, alcohol, heavy foods and nicotine. Instead of working, watching TV or using electronics, try de-stressing by reading or meditating. A relaxed, temperature-controlled (20 to 22°C) atmosphere in your bedroom, as well as a comfortable pillow that supports your neck, are extremely important. If you’re a napper, keep siestas to under 20 minutes. As your evening progresses, lower the lights as this signals melatonin production in your brain, which is a hormone that helps to induce sleep. And above all, try to maintain a routine by going to bed, and waking up, at the same times each day.

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