Pensacola, Florida
Monday May 21st 2018


Sleep Study

Diagnosing a Sleep Disorder
By Jennie McKeon

When Christopher Peterson decided to go back to college at 27, he knew it would be a struggle to juggle college and a full time schedule in the bar and nightclub industry.

“Add that to being involved with theater,” he said.

Peterson made time for work, school and theater, but very little time was allotted for sleep.

“I knew something needed to change,” Peterson said. “It was like I had to schedule sleep and, unfortunately, when things finally calmed down near the end of the busy day and night, my brain didn’t really enjoy being on a schedule even though my body was basically screaming at me to rest.”

He said the lack of sleep caused his life to pretty much spin out of control.

“I started to get anxiety in situations that I would have never been anxious about before,” Peterson explained. “My motivation levels decreased, and I found it more difficult to focus. I started to get angry for no apparent reason and had a short fuse with people—not a good thing.”

Desperately Seeking Sleep

Peterson’s first step to seeking help was with his doctor. It was then that he was diagnosed with insomnia.

“At the end of the day, I knew it was due to my sleep habits and I knew something had to be done,” he said. “My doctor took the time to diagnose in detail and address all the aspects of my life that were contributing to the insomnia.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), insomnia—which is Latin for “no sleep”—is the most common sleep complaint among Americans. Whether the insomnia is acute and lasts one to several nights, or chronic, lasting months to years, over half of American adults experience one or more symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights a week according to NSF polls. Symptoms can include: difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night and un-refreshing sleep.

Heading to the doctor is exactly what Bob Dawkins, PhD, MPH and certified sleep specialist at West Florida Hospital, suggests for any sleep-related queries.

“There are 11 or 12 types of insomnia for instance,” he said. “You need someone who knows how to determine which one it is.”

It is also important to bring up any sleep-related issues to your physician because it could lead to diagnosing medical concerns.

“The issue with most sleep problems is it’s a result of a health maintenance issue,” Dawkins explained. “As an example, if I had sleep apnea, you would need to look to see if I have high blood pressure.”

Diagnosing a sleep disorder on WebMD is hardly effective. As Peterson said, doctors take in every minute detail with diagnosing. There isn’t a strict pathway to a diagnosis, it changes and varies between patients.

“That’s one of the challenging things,” Dawkins said. “There are sleep disorders that are linked to behavioral, environmental and genetic conditions—all of the above and a little bit below.”

For some, sleeping is just a burden—time taken away from their busy schedule, but without sleep your health and wellness will only decrease.

“You spend one-third of your life asleep,” said Dawkins. “Poor sleep can lead to mood disorders, cognitive changes, and caloric intake. Many people gain weight with poor sleep, few people actually lose weight.”

Sleepovers and Sleeping Pills

After a visit with your physician, he or she might send you to a sleep center, much like the one at West Florida Hospital. From there, you may need to be monitored through electrodes during your two-night stay at the hospital.

“Yes, you bring your pajamas and your pillow,” explains Jane Wilkinson, sleep lab director at West Florida Hospital. “We get a lot of people asking ‘Can I bring my dog or cat?’”

It may sound silly to think of sleeping with wires all over you while technicians in another room monitor your eye movement, or wearing a mask to sleep, but treatments—while varied—work. Wilkinson remembers one patient who was treated for sleep apnea.

“It changed his life,” she said of his treatment. “He’s a big hunter and now if he forgets his CPAP mask [a mask connected to a pump that provides a positive flow of air into the nasal passages] he’ll drive back home to get it.”

Snoring, a common symptom of sleep apnea, can often cause a decrease in sleep for spouses and family.

“A wife might say, ‘Honey, you snore,’ but a lot of men say, ‘It’s your problem,’” Wilkinson said. “Until they go to the hunting camp and the guys complain.”

Just like diagnosis, what works for a patient can vary.

“There isn’t a specific, hard and fast number for how long the typical adult should sleep a night,” Dawkins said. “They should sleep for whatever amount of sleep it takes to be rested and ready to perform well the next day.”

In general, to get a better night’s rest, Dawkins suggest exercise, a healthy diet, avoiding significant levels of caffeine, no smoking, no drugs and no sleeping pills.

“There’s no redeeming value for chronic usage,” he said of sleeping medications. “For short-term or travel purposes—possibly.”

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for the makers of Ambien and similar sleeping pills to lower the dosage of their drugs. The FDA said new research shows that the drugs remain in the bloodstream at levels high enough to interfere with morning driving. Regulators have ordered for the dosage for women to be cut in half, since they process the drug more slowly.

Healthy body, Healthy Rest

After years of staying up and out until the sun came up and sleeping in—the good ole’ days as Peterson called it—he had to change his lifestyle in order to get good rest. With his doctor, he mapped out a plan to a healthy lifestyle.

“We started coming up with ideas to change bad habits,” said Peterson. “I was prescribed medication to help me relax at bedtime, and we went over ideas to live healthier in general like diet and exercise, working smarter and not harder, and rearranging my schedule so I can actually have a day or two where I can rest.”

Working at a club hasn’t made his transition any easier, but he’s managed to quiet-down his “party boy ways” while also cutting out vices such as caffeine and cigarettes.

“I’ve cut out caffeine at certain time, I try to exercise three times a week and I try not to eat after a certain time,” he said. “Quitting smoking has definitely helped.”

It’s only been six months, but Peterson has already seen positive changes.

“I am able to focus much better. I am more driven and overall my attitude is better,” he said. “Just my overall outlook has matured. I no longer ignore what my body tells me and it’s been awesome.”

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