During sleep problems related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea can cause repeated pauses in breathing while asleep. This can wake a sleeper dozens, or even hundreds, of times during the night. Pauses in breathing can be as short as 10 seconds and may not be remembered in the morning. However, they are sufficient to produce disturbed and restless sleep.
Severely disrupted breathing during sleep may affect people who breathe normally while they are awake. Breathing related sleep problems are most common in men, snorers, overweight people and older adults.
Loud snoring that is interrupted by gasps, snorts or other unusual sounds may be a warning sign of a sleep-related breathing disorder. Severe cases of sleep apnea often benefit from a treatment known as positive airway pressure (PAP).
This treatment involves wearing a mask over the nose that is connected by a tube to a machine that blows room air into the nose to keep the airway open with a steady stream of air flowing through a mask worn over the nose and mouth.
Other treatments, such as weight loss, surgery or the use of dental appliances may help some individuals to improve breathing while they are asleep.
Brief muscle contractions can cause leg jerks that last a second or two and occur repeatedly about every 20-40 seconds for varying periods of time throughout the night (often for an hour or longer).
In almost all cases the individual is totally unaware of the limb movements. These movements can cause hundreds of brief interruptions of sleep each night, resulting in restless or non-restorative sleep. Periodic limb movements become more frequent and severe as we grow older.
Treatment can include medication, discontinuing medication, evening exercise, a warm bath, elimination of caffeine or a combination of these. Iron replacement may be helpful if there is an iron deficiency, especially if restless legs are also present.
Waking brain activity can persist during sleep. Sleep monitoring during the night has shown that some people who complain of light, or less restful sleep, show waking brain (EEG) activity accruing simultaneously with sleep activity. Individuals with persistent pain may experience this non-restorative type of sleep.
Back up of stomach contents into the esophagus can awaken a person several times a night. This reflux is commonly know as heartburn because of the pain or tightness it produces in the mid-chest area. When reflux occurs during the day, a few swallows and an upright position will usually clear the irritating materials from the esophagus.
During sleep, less-frequent swallowing and a lying-down position causes more reflux, making the sleeper wake up coughing and choking. Elevating the head, or raising the head of the bed onto six to eight inch blocks may help. Medications can also provide relief.
Other related pages at Relax and Sleep