Getting a Better Night's Sleep

May 26, 2017 11:00 AM with Dr. Joya Paul

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According to the American Sleep Association, between 50 and 70 million Americans are suffering from a sleeping disorder. Disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome are preventing people of all ages from being fully rested, which have major impacts on their daily lives and health. How can you figure out how to identify your disorder and get help? Start here with Dr. Joya Paul, NorthShore Neurologist specializing in sleep disorders within the Sleep Center. She will be taking your questions about sleep disorders and improving your sleeping habits, and talk about the current technologies and procedures in use.

Kathryn (Moderator) - 11:00 AM:
Our chat on getting a better night's sleep is now open. You can submit questions at any time during our chat.

  Chanel (Crete, IL) - 11:01 AM:
I find that I very rarely sleep through an entire night uninterrupted. I usually wake up maybe 2 or 3 times. If I'm not in any pain or discomfort, and it isn't because of noise, why is this happening so frequently?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Chanel, There are many reasons that one does not stay asleep the entire night. The most common reason if you snore may be something called sleep apnea. Other reasons may be due to limb movements/twitches or pain. If this is something that is causing you fatigue and symptoms during the day, I would start by talking to your primary care physician and then maybe see a sleep specialist for a possible sleep study looking for why you are waking up so much at night.

  Kaya (Evanston, IL) - 11:04 AM:
Lately, it seems like no matter what time I go to bed, I wake up feeling tired. I don’t snore or have issues with breathing at night, so I was wondering if you have any ideas on what else it might be?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Kaya,

If you are feeling tired and fatigued despite getting 7-8 hours of sleep/night then it is possible that you may have a sleep disorder that is affecting the quality of your sleep. The most common sleep disorders include sleep apnea, but also limb movements/twitches. If you are under a lot of stress, this could be impacting the quality of your sleep as well.

I would discuss this further with your primary care physician to rule out any medical causes of fatigue such as metabolic, endocrine, hematologic, vitamin deficiencies, etc, but if nothing is found, you may wish to see a sleep specialist to see if a sleep study would be helpful.


  Anthony (Chicago, IL) - 11:08 AM:
I am told quite frequently by my wife that I am a very loud snorer, so much so that she can hear me from one end of the house to the other, even when the bedroom door is only slightly ajar (and she has the video to prove it!). Is this something I should really be concerned with or is it just a natural thing?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Anthony, Snoring alone is a relatively benign phenomenon, but if it is associated with any pauses in breathing, choking, gasping or daytime symptoms such as sleepiness, fatigue and difficulty concentrating, it may be more than snoring and you may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea has a lot of negative effects on health heart, so if you have any of these associated symptoms, I would start by talking to your primary care physician, and then possibly see a sleep specialist for a sleep study.

  Mary (Chicago, IL) - 11:12 AM:
I am constantly getting up throughout the night, maybe twice to go to the bathroom, and it interrupts my sleep. Is there anything I can do to stop it? I am not drinking before I go to bed, but I always wake up and it makes me tired the next day.
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Mary,

Depending on your age and what medications you are on, there are many causes for going to the bathroom frequently at night. I would first make sure you are not taking any medications that may be causing this.

If you are not and this problem is more of an issue at night, then you may have an underlying sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or limb twitching that may be waking you up and making you feel that you need to go to the bathroom at night.

If this is an issue day and night, then it may be more of a urological issue. Lastly, diagnoses such as diabetes may also cause this. If this is causing you to be tired, I would start by bringing it up to your primary care physician so that he/she may get some basic work up and then refer you appropriately to a specialist as needed.

  Peter (Long Grove, IL) - 11:16 AM:
Any tips for sleeping in a loud location? I'm 20 feet from a highway with a lot of creatures around.
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Peter, This is tough because you have no control over the sounds. The best things to do would be to get heavy duty ear plugs (maybe even the ones swimmers use), and/or noise reducing headphones or a sound machine to drown out the loud noises as much as possible.

  Irene (Evanston, IL) - 11:20 AM:
On more than one occasion, I have awoken from my sleep choking, seemingly on saliva. Quite a scary feeling! I'd like to say it occurred 5-10 times at least. However, it hasn't occurred recently - maybe a few months ago. I was wondering what might be the cause of this, in the event that it happens again?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Irene,

Waking up in the middle of the night choking is most often a sign of something called sleep apnea, which is a breathing problem during your sleep that ends up putting a lot of strain on your heart and body. You may only notice it on nights when it is severe, but it is likely happening more often than you think.

If you have these symptoms and any signs of daytime fatigue/tiredness and/or you have any underlying heart problems such as hypertension or arrhythmias, I would definitely discuss this first with your primary care physician and then possibly see a sleep specialist for a sleep study for further evaluation and treatment.


  Jenna (Medford, MA) - 11:23 AM:
Do you know what treatments work best for idiopathic hypersomnia?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Jenna,

There are a variety of things that work for idiopathic hypersomnia, including behavioral and pharmacological treatments. Scheduling naps throughout during the day can help negate the overwhelming desire to sleep and help you control the symptoms a little more.

There are a variety of stimulant medications and wake-promoting medications that may be used, and this is something you could discuss with your primary care physician or a sleep specialist further. Lastly, ensuring that you get your 8 hours of sleep nightly is crucial to avoid sleep deprivation at all costs.


  George (Evanston, IL) - 11:27 AM:
How can you tell if you have restless leg syndrome?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi George,

Restless leg syndrome is defined as having four cardinal symptoms:

  1. 1. An indescribable discomfort in your legs/limbs that makes you want to move
  2. 2. This discomfort is mainly at rest
  3. 3. This discomfort is most prominent in the evenings and
  4. 4. The discomfort goes away when you move or walk around

If you feel that you fit these symptoms, I would discuss further with your doctor and/or a sleep specialist, as there may be some reversible causes of this such as having a low iron or a side effect from a medication. They may also rule out other causes for limb discomfort such as neuropathy. There are also different exercises and medications they may recommend to alleviate the discomfort.


  Jenah (Glenview, IL) - 11:33 AM:
Does the softness/firmness of the pillow you use really matter? If so, why?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Jenah, The type of pillow you use is usually dependent on personal preference, and there is really no strong evidence that a certain consistency/material is superior to another.

  Rebecca (Evanston, IL) - 11:34 AM:
Sometimes during a nap, I’ll start to wake up and feel like I can’t move even though my eyes are open. What could be causing this? Is it safe?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Rebecca, What you are describing sounds a lot like something called sleep paralysis, which is when your mind wakes up before your body so half of you is awake and half of you is asleep. In general, sleep paralysis is a benign phenomenon that may be caused by sleep deprivation or stress. If this is occurring frequently and is associated with other symptoms, such as excessive daytime sleepiness or a feeling of weakness, I would discuss this further with your doctor to possibly see a sleep specialist. Certain medications may also cause this.

  Elsa (Chicago, IL) - 11:39 AM:
Is it normal for kids to move in their sleep? I’ve noticed that my son (7) kicks his legs during naps and when he’s in bed for the night.
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Elsa,

Some movement during sleep is normal. If the movements occur soon after he falls asleep, they may be something called hypnic jerks, which are not worrisome. If the movements are occurring constantly throughout the night, then it may be indicative of something called periodic limb movement disorder, which for the most part is benign and may be a part of "growing pains", but if you find that he is more irritable, having trouble concentrating or feeling tired during the day, then this may be something to discuss with his pediatrician and/or a sleep specialist for further evaluation.


  Martha (Waukegan, IL) - 11:43 AM:
Is it safe to take medicine that makes you drowsy (allergy or cold medicine) if you have issues falling asleep? Are there medications made for people who are suffering from insomnia?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Martha,

Taking a medication for a purpose other than what it is intended is usually not recommended. There are many medications both over the counter and prescription that can help people fall asleep, but they are generally intended for short term use, and if you find that you are needing something nightly, then it is time to talk to your doctor because there may be something else underlying going on that needs to be addressed.


  Ben (IL) - 11:46 AM:
Is sleep apnea genetic? I haven’t had a problem with it, but my father and a few other older family members all developed this.
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Ben,

Sleep apnea is somewhat genetic in that it depends on the structure of your airway. Some people are born with narrower air passages, and thus are more prone to developing sleep apnea, and this structure is something that can be passed on.

If you feel that you are having any symptoms of snoring, choking at night, pauses in your breathing at night or have daytime symptoms such as feeling tired, sleepy or having trouble concentrating, I would get evaluated for sleep apnea given your family history. I would also get evaluated for it if you have underlying high blood pressure or heart disease. If you do not have any symptoms, then you are probably okay. You can start by talking to your primary care physician and/or a sleep specialist for further evaluation.


  Anna (Skokie, IL) - 11:50 AM:
My mouth is always so dry when I wake up – is there something wrong with my sleep for this to happen? What can I do?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Anna,

Dry mouth is often a sign of mouth breathing. If you snore as well, this may be related. You may wish to discuss this with your doctor, as nasal sprays and washes may help make it easier for you to breathe through your nose so you will not breathe through your mouth as well. You may also wish to get a humidifier in the room especially during the winter months.

Also, if anyone has noticed that you stop breathing in your sleep, this may be a sign of sleep apnea, which you should be evaluated for, as it can put stress on the body and heart.

Lastly, some medications may cause dry mouth so check to see if you are on anything that can be causing this.


  Lana (Chicago, IL) - 11:55 AM:
Can warm milk really help with falling asleep faster? Are there any other drinks or items that can help the body relax before bed?
Dr. Joya Paul (NorthShore)
Hi Lana,

Warm milk has been thought to help because it contains tryptophan (also found in turkey), which can be calming/sleep inducing. More so than drinks or foods, it is more relaxation behaviors prior to bed that promotes better sleep.

I usually encourage people to set some relaxing routines 1-2 hours prior to bed to help promote sleep. Warm showers/baths followed by some meditation/relaxation and time to unwind in another room prior to bed is usually recommended. We encourage people to avoid going to bed until they are fully relaxed and sleepy so that when in bed, you can fall asleep quicker.


Kathryn (Moderator) - 12:00 PM:
This will be the end of our chat. Thank you for your questions. For more information about sleep and sleep disorders, or to speak to a specialist like Dr. Paul, contact the NorthShore Sleep Center.

This chat has ended.

Thank you very much for your participation.

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