Inova Medical Group - Inova ALFA Neurology





Sleep Disorders Treated

Our practice tests for and treats all forms of sleep disorders. The following information highlights some of the more common.

  • Sleep Apnea
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS)
  • Narcolepsy
  • Periodic Leg Movements in Sleep (PLMS)
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
  • Circadian Rhythm Disruption


Over 100 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, yet very few people know the symptoms or the serious, potentially life threatening dangers of some of these conditions. Beyond an occasional night when you might have trouble falling asleep, sleep disorders can affect your health and well-being more than most people realize. With at least 84 known types of sleep disorders, people who have sleep disorders experience diminished health, a lower quality of life and can become public safety risks due to the effects on driving and industrial accidents.

However, many sleep disorders, even serious ones, if diagnosed properly can be effectively treated so that you needn't suffer from their ill effects.

Symptoms and Dangers

If you or someone you care for suffers from one or more of the following symptoms, it may be the cause of, or the result of, a sleep disorder.

  • Daytime fatigue
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Low energy levels
  • Waking up feeling tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Personality changes
  • Weight gain
  • Reflux (heartburn)
  • Snoring
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Chronic pain
  • Feeling the need to sleep more than 7-8 hours a day
  • Frequent accidents
  • Jittery legs
  • Mild to severe depression
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Nightmares
  • Sleepwalking
  • Bed wetting
  • Sleep-time anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Stroke

To find out of you have a sleep disorder and what type, it is important that you have a thorough examination by a physician trained in sleep disorders and possibly one or more types of tests.

Sleep Apnea is a condition where a person stops breathing for short and often frequent periods during sleep. This prevents the person from getting a good night's sleep and can lead to many other serious problems. It is rare for the person with sleep apnea to know that they have it. There are three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed. "Obstructive" sleep apnea, the most common form, is when the airway becomes physically blocked, usually by a relaxation of the throat muscles or tissue. "Central" sleep apnea, the least common, is caused when the brain fails to send the correct signals to the body to continue breathing. "Mixed" sleep apnea is a combination of the two causes.

Sleep Apnea is very treatable, but the type and severity of your condition must be evaluated by your doctor before the proper treatment plan can be determined.

Insomnia is a disorder in which the person has problems either falling asleep, staying asleep or both. Anyone of any age can experience insomnia. It is more common, however, among women and older adults. You might experience insomnia for as little as one night or for years. Three terms used to describe insomnia are "transient" (insomnia lasting a few days up to one month), "short-term" (lasting between one and six months) and "chronic" (lasting longer than six months). Over 20 million Americans suffer from chronic insomnia.

Many things, or a combination of things, can cause insomnia. Among these are stress (of any kind), anxiety, depression, chronic pain, the use of stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, the use of alcohol, keeping erratic hours, shift work, jet lag, lack of physical activity, misuse or over-use of sleeping pills, sleep apnea, involuntary leg or arm movements, gastrointestinal reflux (commonly called heartburn) and environmental factors such as noise and light in the sleeping area. There is also a type of insomnia called "learned" insomnia where after just a few nights of having trouble sleeping your body starts to associate your bedtime rituals (getting into your pajamas, brushing your teeth, turning off the lights, getting under the covers) with not sleeping, so that these routine activities actually inhibit your falling asleep.

Unlike sleep apnea, most people with insomnia know they are having sleep problems, Insomnia has many treatment options and you should seek proper diagnosis and treatment from your physician if your insomnia lasts for more than four weeks or if it is severe enough to be interfering with your life or public safety, such as being able to concentrate on important tasks such as driving, work, etc.

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) is often the result of other sleep disorders, but is a disorder in its own right. Its symptoms are an overwhelming desire to sleep during what should be waking hours, the need for frequent naps, the inability to concentrate, falling asleep during meetings, class, at work or driving. People find that EDS can interfere with their ability to be productive and maintain healthy social relationships. They sometimes feel low self-esteem, frustration, and anger at oneself caused by the disorder and are sometimes misunderstood as being lazy or unintelligent. Treatment of EDS starts with proper diagnosis of the underlying causes of these symptoms.

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that most notably causes sufferers to suddenly fall asleep or lose muscle control (such as getting weak in the knees or experiencing a complete body collapse) at often inappropriate and sometimes unsafe times, such as while driving, walking, eating. Other symptoms include the inability to talk or move when waking or falling asleep, vivid and sometimes unpleasant dreamlike experiences while dozing or falling asleep, inability to remember doing routine tasks, difficulty staying asleep, and memory or learning difficulties.

Narcolepsy can pose great safety and lifestyle risks to the sufferer, so someone with these symptoms should be evaluated by a physician.

Periodic Leg Movements in Sleep (PLMS) is a disorder in which a sufferer's legs twitch or go through repetitive movements every 20-40 seconds during episodes lasting a few minutes to several hours while sleeping. Often sufferers are not aware of the condition. They will likely complain of symptoms such as insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, or feeling tired when they wake up.

The exact cause of PLMS is not known and it is not harmful except to the extent that the side effects such as feeling tired are bothersome. However, if you think you might have PLMS you should get it evaluated as this disorder can be an indicator of serious medical conditions such as diabetes, anemia or kidney problems. This disorder also commonly responds well to several classes of prescription medication.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that causes uncomfortable leg sensations such as a creeping or crawling feeling, burning, tingling or cramping of the legs or feet that occur continually while your body is at rest. This causes the sufferer to want to move, stretch or rub their legs to get rid of the sensation. The discomfort and resulting tossing and turning keeps the sufferer from getting a good night's sleep and so they experience daytime fatigue, sleepiness and many other symptoms similar to that of insomnia.

About 4 million people suffer from RLS and it has been associated with anemia, diabetes, pregnancy, nerve damage, sciatica, arthritis and alcoholism as well as Period Leg Movements in Sleep (PLMS). The symptoms range from bothersome to incapacitating. Treatment for this disorder includes the use of several classes of prescription medication.

Circadian Rhythm Disruption is a man-made, but no less troublesome disorder resulting from changes in a person's sleeping patterns, such as those caused by shift work, jet lag, and other changes in your routine that cause you to be "thrown off" your normal daily schedule. Symptoms include difficulty sleeping, memory and concentration problems, poor job performance, stomach and digestive problems, menstrual irregularities, high blood pressure, heart problems, increased susceptibility to colds and flu, and weight gain.

About 25 million Americans have non-standard work hours. Circadian Rhythm Disruption is not hard to diagnose and could cause health and safety problems if not treated. A sleep disorder specialist can help you with strategies for dealing with the need to have shifting work periods.

What Should You Do?

If you think you may have a sleep disorder, it is important to seek medical attention. Sleep disorders can cause severe problems for the sufferer, can be symptoms of other serious, even life-threatening medical disorders, and many sleep disorders can be effectively treated.

Typically the best place to start is with your Primary Care Physician. They will do an initial evaluation and will be able to either help you with treatment for the sleep disorder and/or underlying causes or refer you to one or more specialists or testing facilities.

The medical specialists most often involved with more complex sleep disorder evaluation and treatment are neurologists and otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat physicians). Some of these specialists even have sub-specialties in sleep disorders.

Some disorders can be diagnosed and treatment prescribed with a simple office visit. Others may require blood, urine, neurological or sleep lab testing.

What is a Sleep Lab?

A sleep lab is a facility where you are carefully monitored while you sleep by a special sleep technician. Some sleep lab tests are performed while you sleep during the day and others while you sleep at night, depending on the condition suspected. Sensors attached to you while you sleep monitor all your brain and muscle activity, breathing, eye movements, dream patterns, heart rate and rhythm. You are also observed and/or video taped while you sleep so the doctor can later compare your visible body activity with the sensor data collected. The results of this type of testing can help your doctor determine not only what type of sleep disorder you have but also help determine and refine the appropriate treatment plan.


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