If you believe that you may be sleeping poorly for physical reasons,
you should consult your doctor and ask to be referred to a sleep
laboratory for diagnosis and treatment. Physical causes of poor
sleep include sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and periodic limb
movements in sleep.
Sleep Apnea is a disorder of breathing in sleep. It is often associated
with loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. Persons suffering from sleep
apnea stop breathing for 20 seconds or longer, tens or even hundreds of
times each night. Each time they stop breathing, they eventually wake,
gasping for breath - and then immediately fall asleep again.
The person with sleep apnea is often not aware of any of this, but a
person who is awake while the apnea sufferer is sleeping can usually
confirm that sleep apnea could be the problem.
For people suffering from sleep apnea. A variety of medical treatments
are available, depending on the particular type of apnea and its severity.
Periodic limb movements in sleep
People whose legs (or less commonly arms) jerk and twitch during sleep
may be suffering from Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep (PLMS). Each
twitch may last from one to three seconds, and the movements of the legs
are spaced about 10 to 60 seconds apart. The episodes of twitching may
last only a few minutes or they may continue for hours, with intervals
of sound sleep in between. In severe cases the twitches may occur
throughout the night. They can cause a disrupted sleep pattern, and
These PLMS movements should be distinguished from the occasional whole
body jerk that occurs when you are falling asleep. Nobody really under-
stands what causes these whole body jerks, but they have no medical
significance, and they are not related to PLMS.
For people suffering from PLMS, a drug treatment is available.
Restless legs syndrome
Many people with PLMS also suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS),
and vice versa. A person suffering from RLS will feel sensations deep
within the legs that cause a powerful urge to move. These are sometimes
described as a feeling as if bugs are crawling in the muscles, or ants
are crawling under the skin. The sensations are made worse when the
person lies down, and they are eased when you stand up and walk
around - which of course makes it very hard to fall asleep.
For people suffering from RLS, a drug treatment is available.
If you believe that you may have one of these physical problems,
consult your doctor and ask to be referred to a sleep laboratory for
diagnosis and treatment. If, however, you do not have a physical
problem, you may suffer from a form of insomnia.