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Ep. 19: Are you getting a restful sleep? Maybe not

October 22, 2019

Most people who have sleeping disorders, don't know it.  Those that do know about it, usually only find out from their spouse, after a night of loud snoring or kicking their spouse one too many times.

Nevertheless, conditions such as sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome can take a toll on a person's physical and mental well-being, and even put you in danger of car accidents.  These conditions can go unnoticed because they cause you to wake up only momentarily during the night; even so, when that happens often enough, your body never gets the restful sleep it needs.  Fortunately, these problems often can be solved easily.  Respiratory therapists perform the important job of diagnosing sleep disorders and arranging treatment to improve the quality of sleep each night.

As part of National Respiratory Care Week, Tim Schultz, Director of Respiratory Care, joins the Pulse to discuss sleeping disorders, how they are diagnosed and treated, and other roles respiratory therapists fill. 

Episode Summary

It is difficult to know that you are not getting enough sleep.  Being tired seems like an expected part of life, especially when you feel like you're sleeping for a long time at night.  Most people who have sleep disorders don't realize how often they actually wake up throughout the night.  Most commonly, people's airways collapse while sleeping, they actually stop breathing, and the brain triggers them to wake up long enough to turn and start breathing again.  It happens so fast, people don't remember it in the morning.  When this happens over and over again, a person never gets a restful, rejuvinating sleep.  

The consequences are physical and mental.  First, falling asleep at inappropriate times, while at work or even while driving.  Being too tired to participate fully in conversations or register important information.  And mentally, being tired at work and too tired to do anything after work takes its toll and can lead to depression.

Sleep disorders most commonly take the form of sleep apnea--in which breathing starts and stops throughout the night--insomnia, or restless leg syndrome.  All of these conditions are diagnosed by respiratory therapists and have treatment options, coordinated with the help of your primary provider.  Sleep apnea is treated using a CPAP machine, which ventilates through the mouth or nose and creates a positive pressure to keep the airways open.  Insomnia, which is a difficultly falling or staying asleep, is treated behaviorally rather than using machines or medication.  Practicing good sleeping habits and guided practice are often the best ways to overcome insomnia.  Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is that irresistable urge to move your legs, which can keep you awake at night or simply affect the quality of your sleep without you noticing.  The condition is often treated using prescribed medication.  Most of the time, these conditions are not necessarily "curable," and treatments are long-term, often life-long.  

Practicing Restful Sleep

Diagnosing and treating sleep disorders starts with primary providers.  During Medicare Wellness Visits and routine appointments, it is important to communicate with your provider about any problems or changes in sleeping habits.  One of the best ways to know is by trying good sleeping practices at home; if your sleep does not improve, then it's time to talk to your provider for a more thorough look.  Good sleeping practices include the following:

  • Wait to go to bed when you are sleepy, not before.
  • Get up at the same time every day, seven days a week.
  • Sleep only in bed.
  • Avoid reading, watching TV, eating, talking on the phone, or anything stimulating in bed.
  • Cover the clock or put it where you cannot see it.
  • Get regular daily exercise, but avoid exercising after dinner.
  • Soundproof your bedroom against noise.
  • Keep the temperature moderate.
  • If needed, eat a light snack to avoid hunder.
  • Avoid drinking too much before bed (a full bladder is counter productive to a restful sleep).
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Avoid alcohol, especially in the evening.
  • Avoid using tobacco.
  • Do not take your problems to bed.
  • Avoid naps.  If it must happen, only 30 minutes, one time, in bed.
  • Do not "try harder" to fall asleep.  It often makes the problem worse.  Instead, get up, do something calmly and quietly until you become sleepy, then try again.

If the above steps do not help, contact your provider for further help with your sleep problems.


Tim Schultz, RTT

Director of Respiratory Care Department



Sleep Apnea - Mayo Clinic

Insomnia - Mayo Clinic

Restless Leg Syndrome - Mayo Clinic

American Association for Respiratory Care