Health Topics

Ask a Sleep Specialist

Sleeping Pills

If you feel you are suffering from insomnia, should you seek help and get a sleeping pill prescribed? I am afraid of becoming dependent on the medication.

Millions of Americans are asking the same question. While sleeping pills can help a person fall asleep more quickly, most patients with chronic insomnia would better be served by learning healthy strategies for getting a restful sleep. It is true that some of the newer medications advertised on TV are not addictive as was the case with drugs of the past. But still some people get psychologically addicted to medicine and find themselves shopping between one drug and another. I generally prescribe sleeping pills for short term use only.

For an occasional sleepless night the following can be effective:

  • Chamomile tea
  • Warm glass of milk
  • Soothing bath
  • Valerian

But for the person experiencing insomnia every night that interferes with daytime functioning, the best approach is to talk to your doctor.


Please address snoring issues and available treatment options. Is there any product available to help reduce snoring?

Snoring is quite common and must be differentiated from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea presents with snoring and periods of breathing cessation in sleep. Typically a sleep study is needed to diagnosis sleep apnea.

For people who snore only and do not have symptoms of sleep apnea, nasal strips could be used as well as nasal sprays to reduce inflammation in the nose thus minimizing snoring. There are minimally invasive surgical procedures that are excellent to reduce snoring.

Unfortunately, there is no magic cure for snoring.

Sleep Apnea

My partner tells me that I snore loudly and occasionally quit breathing while I sleep. Could these be signs of sleep apnea?

Often the first signs of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are recognized not by the patient, but by the bed partner. Many of those affected have no sleep complaints.

The most common symptoms of OSA include:

  • Snoring
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Restlessness during sleep
  • Sudden awakenings with a sensation of gasping or choking
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon awakening
  • Intellectual impairment, such as trouble concentrating or forgetfulness, or irritability
  • Night sweats
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Headaches

I would recommend seeing a sleep specialist to further diagnose your symptoms. However, your current symptoms do place you at a greater risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can increase your risk for other medical problems including:

I’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea and use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. However, I’ve had trouble adjusting to sleeping with the device. Do you have any suggestions?

If you find the mask uncomfortable, ask your home care company to find a more properly-fitting mask or go to their offices for a refitting of your current mask. Adjusting the pressure levels on your current CPAP machine may also be beneficial. In addition, it may be beneficial for you to meet with a respiratory therapist.

I do not exhibit the usual symptoms of sleep apnea, such as snoring, difficulty breathing while sleeping, or being overweight. Despite even a good night’s sleep, I feel exhausted during the day and have difficulty focusing. Could I have sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is not always related to being overweight. It is a common sleep disorder that usually manifests itself by daytime sleepiness, unrefreshing sleep, and nocturnal behaviors such as snoring and witnessed apneas. Sleep apnea can be related to the structure of the underlying anatomy of the upper airway.

Instead of a CPAP machine, what are other potential options for an individual suffering from sleep apnea?

Based on the individual patient, other options may include oral appliances or surgery. Ask your sleep specialist or dentist for a referral to an expert in oral appliances for sleep apnea. Typically, oral applications are better options for individuals suffering from mild sleep apnea, not severe cases.

CBTI (Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia)

It has been recommended that I take a prescription drug for my insomnia. What are my other options besides medication?

Cognitive and behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) encompasses many different behavioral treatments to effectively manage insomnia. This can be an effective long-term treatment option. First, contact a sleep medicine specialist who can determine if any additional conditions are affecting your insomnia. Your specialist could then refer you to a sleep psychologist who is trained in CBTi.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

I have been told by my partner that I appear to ‘act out’ my dreams while I sleep. What is causing this?

Acting out dreams is the hallmark symptom of a condition referred to as REM Sleep Behavior Disorder. This potentially dangerous condition is often identified when a partner notices movement while the individual sleeps. If awoken, the individual describes a dream that correlates to his or her movement. Contact a sleep disorders specialist for further information.

RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome)

I often experience a tingling, itchy feeling in my legs. Could these be a sign of RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome)?

RLS can be identified by numerous symptoms including an urge or desire to move their legs, usually accompanied by sensations such as numbness, tingling, or itching. These sensations may worsen during periods of rest or inactivity. Contact the Sleep Disorders Center to discuss options to control or help manage RLS symptoms.

Tips for Getting a Better Night’s Rest

What are a few recommendations to get a better night’s rest?

Before Bed:

  • Establish a regular bedtime routine
  • Create a positive sleep environment by limiting light in the room and keeping a cool, comfortable temperature
  • Avoid alcohol, smoking, and caffeine at least a few hours before bedtime
  • Do not go to sleep unless you are sleepy

While in Bed:

  • Turn your clock around in order to hide the numbers
  • If you’re unable to fall asleep in 20 minutes, get out of bed to read a book or do a relaxing activity. Return only to bed when sleepy.
  • Do not use your computer in bed

In the Morning and During the Day:

  • Wake up the same time every morning, even on weekends
  • Avoid naps during the day