Entries in Sleep Disorders (5)


Sleepwalking More Common Than Suspected, Study Says

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- About 8.5 million Americans walk in their sleep, according to a new study, the largest ever to document the prevalence of these nighttime walkers.

Researchers from Stanford University interviewed nearly 16,000 adults in 15 states about their nocturnal habits. They found that 3.6 percent of them reported sleepwalking more than once during the previous year. About 1 percent said they had two or more sleepwalking episodes in a month.

Previous studies found that sleepwalking was pretty common, especially in children. But Dr. Maurice Ohayon, the study's lead author and director of Stanford's Sleep Epidemiology Research Center, said he was surprised to learn just how many sleepwalkers there were.

"There are very few sleep disorders with so high a prevalence," he said.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, is the first in 30 years to look at how many Americans sleepwalk, and the only study to do so on so wide a scale.

Scientists still don't know exactly what makes people walk in their sleep. But it is clear that the behavior can be risky if they get into dangerous situations without being conscious of what they're doing.

Ohayon and his colleagues found a number of factors showed up more often in people who reported sleepwalking. People who got less than seven hours of sleep each night were more likely to report sleepwalking, and those with sleep apnea (meaning they stop breathing in their sleep) were 3.9 times more likely to do so. People with major depression were 3.5 times more likely to sleepwalk, as were people who abused alcohol. Other psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobias also showed up more often in sleepwalkers.

The researchers also found that sleepwalking may be a family affair. About one-third of the study's participants reported having a family member who was also a sleepwalker.

Medications were linked to sleepwalking, particularly over-the-counter sleeping aids and hypnotics, although the data linking sleepwalking to such hypnotic drugs as Ambien was not as strong as some reports have suggested. Researchers also noticed a link between sleepwalking and selective serotonin uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which are antidepressants.

Ohayon said it's not that these factors cause someone to begin sleepwalking. Instead, they may trigger the disorder in people who are predisposed by genetics, physical or psychiatric conditions.

Experts say the numbers in the study are likely an underestimate of sleepwalking, especially since researchers did not observe people during sleep, relying only on a person's memory of a sleepwalking episode.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Insomniacs Suffer Depression, Heart Woes After Years of Little Sleep

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(QUEBEC CITY, Canada) -- Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, according to an article published Thursday in the journal Lancet.  But it often goes unrecognized and untreated.  Doctors say it's an alarming trend because of increasing evidence that untreated insomnia causes other health problems and can lead people to rely on sleep aids that don't work.

Almost everyone has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or feeling well-rested after sleeping at some point.  But these occasional frustrations become insomnia when they happen for days or weeks at a time, according to the National Institutes of Health.  Insomnia that lasts for a month or more is chronic.

Studies have shown that 6 to 10 percent of adults meet the criteria for an insomnia disorder.  But many people deal with sleepless nights and exhausted days for years at a time.

Charles Morin, a professor of psychology at Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada, and an author of the Lancet editorial, said that is a concern because untreated insomnia can create bigger health problems for the sleepless.

"Sometimes insomnia is a symptom of something else, like depression or hypertension," Morin said.  "But it can also be a cause of the problem.  It can go in both directions."

People with insomnia were five times as likely to develop depression or anxiety and more than twice as likely to have congestive heart failure, according to a U.S. National Health Interview Survey in 2002.

Stopping insomnia in its early stages would be the key to preventing these health problems from developing. But psychologists say many people don't recognize insomnia as a health problem.

"Most people won't go to their physicians right away for insomnia. They go to the drug store instead," Morin said.

Pharmacy shelves are full of pills that people use to get some shut-eye: cold and allergy medicines (the drowsy kind); synthetic versions of the body's sleep hormone, melatonin; and even some anti-depressants.  The problem with these drugs is that there's little evidence that actually stop chronic insomnia. Prescription sleep aids, like Ambien or Lunesta, are effective but are not intended to treat years of sleeplessness.

"Generally, the way medications are recommended is for short-term use," said Philip Gehrman, clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania. "If you need to travel and you know you won't sleep well or you're going to have a stressful month at work, that's an appropriate use. That's short-term."

Gehrman said primary care doctors are often reluctant to prescribe sleep aids to their patients, leading many to simply not ask about their patients' sleep habits and problems at all.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Sleep Apnea: Hidden Illness for Women Can Lead to Real Dangers

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- Cathy Rossi, 57, had never had never had trouble sleeping, but when she started experiencing mental blank outs on her morning drive to work she knew something was wrong.

“I was on my way to work and I was on one interstate and next thing I knew I was on another road and I had no idea where I was,” she said.

After a barrage of medical tests Rossi was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a diagnosis she initially had trouble accepting.

“I didn’t snore, I didn’t have any of the typical symptoms of sleep apnea,” she told ABC.  "Anytime you see anything on television…it’s always some big guy sawing logs.”

These are common misconceptions, according to Dr. Grace Pien, assistant professor at the Sleep Medicine Division of the Perelman School of Medicine. She told ABC News that sleep apnea was initially believed to be a disease that almost exclusively affected men, only rarely showing up in women. However, newer findings have refuted this, showing that for every two or three men who have the condition, roughly one woman is also affected.

According to Pien, the consequences of this misconception are evident. “The symptoms we think about with sleep apnea (such as snoring and daytime sleepiness) are those that were first described in men.”

Woman may have far subtler symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue, which lead to frequent misdiagnoses. "Women oftentimes are worked up for other things, for hyperthyroidism, for inactive thyroid, or for depression or other types of medical conditions before somebody says oh, you know maybe this woman does have sleep apnea,” Pien said.

This is especially the case for menopausal woman. They are not only one of the most at-risk groups of women for developing sleep apnea, but they often write off the symptoms to the changes going on in their bodies. "A woman might just think…it’s normal and maybe once I get through menopause this will get better and her doctor might actually think the same thing,” Pien said.

So what are the signs that a woman may have sleep apnea?  Pien can point out a few. “During the day she might just feel run down, tired, fatigued, if she has a few minutes to herself she wants to doze off even if she did get a good night’s sleep the night before.” Other women “may notice that they wake themselves up feeling as if they are gasping for air or choking,” and they may, “report that they wakened, but they’re not entirely sure what awakened them.”

Sleep apnea is associated with long-term health problems. According to Pien “We know that sleep apnea especially if it’s severe can increase the risk for having various types of heart disease including heart attacks and even dying from a heart related condition.  There also appears to be an association with stroke.”

If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea “get it checked out,” advises Rossi, who after treatment tells ABC that she feels “like a whole new person.” “It doesn’t take that much to have a test done” she said. “Everybody owes it to themselves to have it checked out.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obesity, Sleep Apnea, Cognitive Problems Linked in Children

Boy Yawning (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)(CHICAGO) -- Obesity, sleep apnea, and behavior and learning difficulties can cause significant dysfunction in children, but a new study suggests these three problems interact with one another, exacerbating the effects of each individual problem.

Researchers at the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital and Pritzker School of Medicine performed sleep, cognitive, and body weight tests on more than 350 healthy, normally developing children aged 6 to 10, and found a complex relationship between the three factors.

"Cognitive functioning in children is adversely affected by frequent health-related problems, such as obesity and sleep-disordered breathing," the authors wrote.  "Furthermore, poorer integrative mental processing may place a child at a bigger risk for adverse health outcomes."

On the other hand, "good cognitive abilities may be protective against increased body weight and sleep-disordered breathing," said Karen Spruyt, the study's lead author.  "If the brain can function optimally, it can help protect against the clinical manifestation of disease."

The study, she said, published this week in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, is one of the only ones to evaluate the relationship between obesity, sleep apnea and cognitive ability at the same time in either children or adults.

Past research has looked at them separately.  For example, studies have found that the mental functioning of obese people with sleep apnea is impaired, but these studies didn't look at the reverse relationship.  Other research has found a link between both body weight and sleep disorders, and a study published in January found a link between a lack of sleep and childhood obesity.

The new study's findings suggest, Spruyt explained, that when targeting obesity in children, clinicians should also screen for sleep apnea and cognitive impairment, because improving one of these variables could also lead to improvement in the others.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Marital Problems May Predict Sleep Disorders in Infants

Comstock/Thinkstock(EUGENE, Ore.) -- It turns out that problems in a marriage not only keep couples awake, but they can have the same effect in kids.  It's known that marital strife can have a negative impact on a child's emotional and social health.  Now, a study published in the journal Child Development says marriage problems can be a forerunner of sleep problems in children.

Researchers at the Oregon Social Learning Center looked at 357 families with a genetically-unrelated infant adopted at birth. That was to eliminate shared genes as an explanation for similarities between parent and child. 

Couples answered questions such as, "Have you or your partner seriously suggested the idea of divorce?"

Over a nine-month period, the authors found that an unstable marriage when the child was 9 months old predicted sleep problems in the infants when they reached 18 months of age.

The authors conclude that the effects of marital instability on a child's sleep problems emerge earlier in development than has been previously demonstrated.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio