Sleep Care

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Sleep Issues May Point to Other Health Issues or Disease

Most often when we think of sleep issues like insomnia or excessive sleepiness, we assume that a sleep disorder is at the root. But sometimes, sleep issues can be a symptom of an underlying condition. For instance, there are a number of medical conditions where doctors ask about a patient’s sleep habits in order to help diagnose a problem. In this three part series we will explore the top medical conditions where sleep can be an issue. Bipolar Disorder Bipolar disorder, which is sometimes called manic depression, is a condition that causes extreme shifts in mood. For example, a person who is bipolar may spend weeks feeling like they are on top of the world and that things are going great for them. Then, without warning, they plunge into a terrible depression. The length of each

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high (mania) and each low (depression) varies from person to person. But it is not surprising that sleep is major component. Bipolar disorder affects sleep in a number of ways. For example, the condition often leads to:

  • Insomnia, especially during manic periods. However, depressive episodes may cause insomnia as well.
  • Delayed sleep phase syndrome, which is a circadian-rhythm sleep disorder.
  • REM sleep issues causing dreams to be vivid or bizarre.
  • Irregular sleep-wake schedules.

During the high periods of bipolar disorder, people may feel so awake that they go days without sleep. In fact, someone who is bipolar may not miss sleep the way other people do. Still, the lack of sleep leads to additional moodiness and a higher risk for injury. Because sleep or the lack of sleep is so integral to this condition, people who are bipolar use the onset of sudden sleep problems as a signal that a period of mania is about to occur. Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism People with hypothyroidism have under-active thyroid glands, which causes a deficit of thyroid hormones. This deficiency slows down many of the body’s processes often causing fatigue, weakness and an overall lack of energy. Sometimes this fatigue can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), which makes completing daily tasks a challenge. Additionally, people with hypothyroidism often struggle with sleeping at night and some even experience obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Although doctors have not pinpointed the reason why patients with thyroid issues often suffer from sleep disorders they are fairly certain that the two are connected. Meanwhile, people who suffer from hyperthyroidism have an overactive thyroid gland and have large amounts of thyroid hormones coursing through their body. The result is an excessive amount of energy. But having all this extra energy can be tiring and create high levels of fatigue. Additionally, this excess energy makes it difficult to calm down and sleep at night. As a result, people with hyperthyroidism often struggle with insomnia. And it’s not uncommon for them to feel wide-awake at 2 or 3 a.m. Not surprisingly, this insomnia worsens feelings of fatigue. Lastly, when people with hyperthyroidism do get to sleep, they often have difficulty staying asleep and wake up multiple times throughout the night. As a result, they sleep restlessly and move around a great deal at night. Alzheimer’s Changes in sleep patterns often plague Alzheimer’s patients in the later stages of the disease. Although scientists don’t know why this happens, many people with Alzheimer’s wake up more often and stay awake longer during the night. For those who cannot sleep, they may wander about, have trouble lying still, yell out and disrupt the sleep of their caregivers. Meanwhile, brainwave studies showed marked decreases in both dreaming and non-dreaming sleep stages. Other changes include daytime napping and other shifts in the sleep-wake cycle. In addition Alzheimer’s patients may feel very drowsy during

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the day and then be unable to sleep at night. They also may experience what is known as “sundowning,” which causes them to become restless and agitated in the late afternoon or early evening. In the late stages of the disease, experts estimate that patients spend about 40 percent of their time in bed at night awake and a large part of their day sleeping. In extreme cases, Alzheimer’s patients have a complete reversal of the day-night sleep pattern. Anyone experiencing sleep issues should discuss them with a physician, as they may be a symptom of another disease or issue. Be sure to check back for the next installment of this series as we explore additional health issues related to sleep disorders. See More Sleep Issues in Part 2

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