Sleep and Aging

Treating Sleep Disorders

Once You've Been Evaluated

Based on your sleep evaluation, your doctor or sleep specialist may recommend individual treatment options. It is important to remember that there are effective treatments for most sleep disorders.

If you are diagnosed with a sleep disorder, your doctor may suggest specific treatments. You should ask for information to find out more about your condition and ways to improve your sleep.

Therapies

  • You may want to try limiting excessive noise and/or light in your sleep environment.
  • Or, you could limit the time spent in bed while not sleeping, and use bright lights to help with circadian rhythm problems. Circadian rhythm is our 24-hour internal body clock that is affected by sunlight.
  • Relaxation techniques also may be helpful in reducing physical and emotional tensions that can interfere with sleep.
  • There are also cognitive therapies aimed at changing attitudes and concerns people may have about insomnia and not being able to sleep well.
  • Some specialists believe medications also can be useful early in your treatment, and if necessary, you can use them from time to time if you have trouble falling asleep.

Treating Sleep Apnea

People who are diagnosed with sleep apnea should try to lose weight if possible, but often they may need other treatments as well. Adjusting your body position during the night may benefit you if you experience sleep apnea more often when you lie on your back.

  • The CPAP. The most effective and popular treatment for sleep apnea is nasal continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. This device keeps your air passages open by supplying a steady stream of air pressure through your nose while you sleep. To use the CPAP, the patient puts on a small mask that fits around the nose. Air pressure is delivered to the mask from a small, quiet air pump that sits at the bedside. The patient not only wears the mask at night but also during naps, since obstructions can occur during these times as well.
  • Dental Devices. If you have a mild case of sleep apnea, sometimes a dental device or appliance can be helpful.
  • Surgery. If your condition is more severe and you don't tolerate other treatments, your doctor may suggest surgery to increase the airway size in the mouth and throat. One common surgical method removes excess tissue from the back of the throat.

Treating Movement Disorders

Very often, people who suffer from movement disorders during sleep such as restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder are successfully treated with the same medications used for Parkinson's disease.

If you have mild to moderate symptoms of restless legs syndrome, your doctor may suggest certain lifestyle changes. Reducing the use of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may provide some relief. People with restless legs syndrome often have low levels of iron in their blood. In such cases doctors often prescribe supplements. Your doctor may also suggest taking supplements to correct low levels of folate and magnesium. Taking a hot bath, massaging the legs, or using a heating pad or ice pack can help relieve symptoms in some patients.

Learn more about treatments for restless legs syndrome.

Treating REM Behavior Disorder

Medications can also treat people with REM behavior disorder. If there are reports of dangerous activities such as hitting or running during these episodes, it may be necessary to make changes to the person's sleeping area to protect sufferers and their bed partners from injury.