For most people, sleep is associated with mental, emotional, and physical relaxation and replenishment. During sleep, the brain and body relax to allow sleep processes to occur.
Typically, this physical relaxation includes the muscles of the throat to permit the flow of air into the lungs during sleep. However, some people have a narrower passage, and this can result in snoring and labored breathing.
Snoring and other problems that interfere with sleep are of interest to Sleep Psychologists. They want to know more about these problems and how to treat them. Read on to learn more about Sleep Psychologists and how to stop snoring.
What is a Sleep Psychologist?
Sleep Psychologists are specially trained to understand sleep and treat sleep disorders. They have training in normal sleep, sleep physiology, sleep cycles, sleep regulation, sleep changes that occur with age, sleep deprivation, the effects of sleep medications on the brain, assessments of sleep, and treatments for sleep disorders.
Sleep Psychologists are trained to use many different tests to assess and diagnose problems. They also work in a variety of settings including educational, residential, and private practice, as well as medical and mental health centers.
What do Sleep Psychologists do?
Sleep Psychologists integrate psychological research and science with applied practice to understand and improve sleep. They are concerned with the behavioral, psychological, and physiological factors that lead to normal sleep and those factors that cause sleep problems. They study sleep and sleep disorders, to evaluate the problems and develop treatments.
Why is Sleep So Important?
Sleep is essential for physical and mental health. While you are sleeping, your body rests and restores. This supports physical health and brain functioning. During sleep, our brains go through stages and cycles. Each is important, and we need a certain amount of sleep regularly to maintain physical and mental functioning.
Without regular and adequate sleep, you will have a sleep deficiency. Many body systems can start to malfunction.
Lack of sleep can lead to many problems, a few examples include—hormonal imbalance, elevated blood sugar levels, and impaired immune system. Over time, you may become so sleep deprived you have micro-sleeps.
A micro-sleep is when you briefly fall asleep. It can happen anytime, anywhere, even while driving. Sleep Psychologists want to prevent these sorts of problems.
Why Study Sleep Disorders?
These researchers are concerned with sleep and sleep disorders for three reasons. First, they want to know what might be happening in the human brain to cause these disorders. Second, they want to know how these conditions might affect mental functioning. Third, they want to know how to help treat these disorders.
Sleep Psychologists study disorders, including snoring, because of the negative effects they can have on people’s mental and physical health.
What Sleep Disorders do Psychologists Study?
Sleep Psychologists study many different sleep disorders including insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep cycle disorders, nightmares, sleep walking, sleep terrors, and nighttime teeth grinding.
They also study disorders that cause snoring and/or problems with breathing during sleep, such as sleep apnea. Currently, sleep apnea is one of the most active areas for sleep research.
Many key agencies and funding sources work with Sleep Psychologists to study sleep apnea. Some of these disorders come in pairs, which are even worse. One example of that occurring is with insomnia.
What is Insomnia and How is it Treated?
People with insomnia have great difficulty falling asleep. Psychologists are concerned with ensuring people get adequate sleep because it is necessary for healthy functioning.
Insomnia is one disorder that can negatively affect people’s quantity and quality of sleep. This is further compounded by problems with snoring or sleep apnea.
Sleep Psychologists often use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approaches to help people with insomnia. These approaches often help people achieve long-term results as they can fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps in two ways. First, it addresses people’s false beliefs and misconceptions about sleep.
These can include unrealistic expectations that might put too much pressure on you and make it harder to fall asleep. Reducing these thoughts relieves the pressure you might put on yourself to fall asleep.
Second, the behavioral components change how you interact with your bed. The idea is to maintain a regular sleep schedule (no napping).
Then, only use the bed for sleep (in other words, do not eat, read, or watch television in bed). It is important to wait to go to bed until you are tired. If you are unable to fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and leave the bed until you feel tired.
What is Sleep Apnea Disorder?
Another disorder that can disrupt the quality of sleep is sleep apnea. This disorder involves impaired breathing. Two factors can disrupt normal breathing during sleep. One is when the airway is physically obstructed. Another is when an area of the brain that controls breathing does not correctly signal the muscles (called Central Sleep Apnea).
When breathing is disrupted, the brain will signal the body to automatically restart the process. Often, this can happen outside of conscious awareness. However, these stops and starts cause a physical toll.
Often, people with sleep apnea will experience daytime fatigue and early morning headaches. In some cases, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. In this way, it can lead to premature death.
Those who experience sleep apnea will typically exhibit snoring (luckily not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but if you do snore and feel fatigued, you may want to be checked for it). The sleep apnea events are often associated with choking sensations.
Sleep apnea can have a big impact on mental functioning due to disrupted sleep patterns. Lack of quality sleep causes sleepiness, lethargy, headaches, attention problems, memory loss, poor judgment, and other personality changes, including depression and anxiety. Some individuals may also show symptoms of hyperactivity or unusual automated behaviors.
Sleep apnea can have a negative effect on work and school functioning, as well as on relationships. Spouses or significant others may be kept awake by the snoring and noises.
Coworkers and friends may notice a change in the person. Sleep Psychologists want to help prevent these negative effects on mental functioning and quality of life.
How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
When you exhibit sleep problems, a doctor may refer you to a specialized sleep center. You might work with neurologists, pulmonologists, and other doctors with special training to work with sleep disorders. You might be asked to do a sleep study at home, or you may be asked to sleep at a sleep center for an evaluation.
Diagnosis of sleep apnea is difficult because of the different causes. Multiple tests might be needed to clarify the problem. At a sleep center, you may be connected to testing equipment.
One test for sleep apnea is polysomnography. This test can record brain waves, heart rate, breathing, and blood oxygen.
Another test is the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT), which measures how fast you fall asleep. Patients are given opportunities to fall asleep during the day and the time to sleep is measured.
Most people usually take 10-20 minutes to fall asleep (because they are not very tired). People with sleep disorders usually fall asleep in less than five minutes (because they are so sleep deprived).
What are the Treatments for Sleep Apnea?
When sleep apnea is diagnosed, there are multiple treatments that may be prescribed, depending on the severity of the condition and your situation. It is not recommended to use any sleeping medication because those can reduce the body’s natural reflex of waking to restart breathing. Nose strips are also not very helpful.
The goal of treatment is to open the airway and keep it open during sleep. This will prevent sleep apnea episodes. Specific treatments are selected based on the severity of the sleep apnea and the person’s circumstances (such as medical history). For example, for individuals with nasal congestion, a decongestant might be prescribed.
Doctors may initially treat sleep apnea with prescribed behavioral changes. This might include also stopping drinking and smoking because these can contribute to airway collapse. Sometimes these behavioral changes are enough to reduce sleep apnea.
Someone with mild sleep apnea, who is overweight may be asked to lose weight. Research has shown that a 10% weight loss can reduce sleep apnea for most patients. For some people, weight loss and sleep positions are not enough to reduce sleep apnea.
Some individuals may be asked to have surgery to correct anatomical problems. Surgery options may include removal of the adenoids, tonsils, nasal polyps, or other growths that should not be in the airway.
It could mean correcting other structural deformities. These surgeries are typically more helpful for young people. Some surgeries will reduce the snoring sounds, but they will not reduce the sleep apnea.
Some patients will benefit from oxygen administration. However, this does not eliminate the sleep apnea or prevent some of the other associated concerns. Some patients may not respond to this treatment well. So, the use of oxygen is debated.
Some patients may be asked to avoid sleeping on their back. You may be asked to take steps to prevent this. For example, special pillows can help.
As noted, some sleep apnea cases are caused by obstruction such as too much relaxation in the throat, tongue, uvula, and roof of the mouth. In some cases, these obstructions can be reduced with devices such as CPAP or EPAP machines.
What Pillows Help Sleep Apnea?
If you are struggling with sleep apnea and your doctor recommends that you avoid sleeping on your back, you can invest in an anti-snoring pillow to help. A good pillow will keep you off your back, support side sleep, support the position of your head for optimal air flow, and some pillows can even prevent too much relaxation in your throat muscles, which will alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea.
One good option is the Nitetronic goodnite™ Anti-Snoring Pillow. This pillow does more than just help with your body position. It also monitors breathing sounds.
The pillow can detect any snoring and will inflate/deflate to gently move your head. This will stimulate the throat muscles and reduce snoring. It also communicates with apps through Bluetooth to provide data on your sleep and help reduce your snoring.
Another good option is the Smart Nora Pillow. Some people may enjoy this option because you can use it with your own pillow. It also communicates with the Pebble device to detect snoring sounds.
The Smart Nora Pillow then inflates and deflates throughout the night to change your head position and reduce snoring. One drawback is this pillow requires more equipment to manage when compared to the Nitetronic.
Another good option are u-shaped pillows. These pillows are great for people who do not usually sleep on your side. The design helps to keep you in a side sleeping position.
The u-shape will support your head and neck while you sleep on your side. The curved part of the pillow helps to reduce weight off your shoulders and neck.
Contour pillows are also a good option for people with sleep apnea. These pillows have a wave design that supports the back of your neck while holding your head in place. This prevents the head from tilting forward and keeps the airway free from obstruction. In general, they support good body posture.
How are CPAP and EPAP Used for Sleep Apnea?
Some serious cases of sleep apnea require treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A Nasal CPAP is one such device. It uses a mask and pump that work together to keep the airway open. If you use a CPAP machine, CPAP pillows will also be helpful. These help with posture and are designed for use with the CPAP Machines.
EPAP or Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure is a newer method to reduce snoring and sleep apnea. With this device, pressure is created while exhaling. This pressure then stabilizes the upper airway and snoring is reduced with your own breathing. Currently, the only FDA-approved EPAP device is Theravent.
Sleep Apnea Prognosis
The prognosis for sleep apnea varies. For some people, eliminating the obstruction reverses the problem and any associated side effects (such as high blood pressure). Some people need ongoing treatment with special devices. If you fall into this group, you will need to incorporate these into your lifestyle and sleep routine.
If you experience a sleep problem, such as snoring and/or sleep apnea, it can be more than an inconvenience. It can have a negative effect on your functioning, disrupting your mental and physical health. It can even be dangerous. Sleep Psychologists study sleep problems, including sleep apnea and snoring. They research ways to diagnose and treat sleep problems, to improve your quality of sleep and quality of life.
Do not let your sleep problems, such as snoring or sleep apnea, go untreated. If you have one or more of these conditions, visit a Sleep Psychologist and see what they recommend. If they recommend snoring aids or other snoring solutions as part of your treatment, you can easily purchase those items and build your treatment regimen.