Not all sleep disorders require direct treatment or a full polysomnogram like the one described on the previous page. And not all the conditions that are considered sleep disorders are distressing or overly damaging to the person experiencing them. Still, even people with more minor disorders can still be assessed and potentially alleviated by sleep lab staff if they seek treatment. Take exploding head syndrome -- something much less dramatic than it sounds. The disorder is characterized by loud imagined noises that startle sleepers awake. For many people, this sort of thing is simply an occasional annoyance to be borne, and only people who experience it to a debilitating extent need to be worried about talking to a specialist.
Many sleep disorders are common in childhood but disappear in adulthood, like sleepwalking and sleep terrors, so if grownups are still experiencing them, that might be cause to visit a sleep doctor. Especially since for many adults who do still experience conditions traditionally linked to children, it can be the sign of another underlying sleep disorder or the result of a certain medications, mental health disorders, medical conditions or substance abuse. In fact, these other factors frequently trigger additional sleep disorders.
The treatments for sleep disorders vary wildly. A standard one for obstructive sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure, commonly referred to as CPAP. At bedtime, people who need to use a CPAP system put on a mask and turn on a small wall unit that contains a fan, and sometimes a humidifier as well. Once the mask is snuggly in place, the air flowing from the fan keeps the person's airway open.
Sleep lab workers help patients fine-tune how fast the air flows, since different pressure settings work better for different people. In order to find the ideal air flow and humidity levels, sleep labs perform a titration procedure, during which they analyze how well the CPAP is performing. Newer CPAP units can even monitor a patient's usage, and sleep lab technologists can use this information to further calibrate the machine's programming.
Other treatments commonly recommended for sleep disorders by sleep labs are bright light therapy and melatonin supplements to treat issues with a person's internal circadian rhythm. Medications may also be prescribed for sleep disorders, and sometimes cognitive behavioral therapy strategies are used to help people develop healthier sleeping habits. These can include learning how to better control outside stimuli, setting up strict patterns and restrictions concerning sleeping schedules, becoming proficient at relaxation techniques and understanding biofeedback cues. Psychotherapy sessions may be another asset in a management plan.
Sleep specialists can also educate those who have trouble sleeping on how to practice smarter sleep hygiene. This includes common sense steps such as avoiding eating, smoking, drinking and exercising close to bedtime, as well as setting up a proper sleeping environment. A lot can go into getting a good night's rest, and sleep labs are available to make sure people know it. More info on the next page.