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Diagnosis & Treatment of Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can be very frustrating, not to mention hazardous to your health. Throughout Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, our experienced sleep medicine specialists can treat all types of sleep disorders to help you sleep and stay well.

Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders cause decreased alertness, memory and thinking impairment, and a higher risk for accidents and injury. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious conditions, including heart attack, high blood pressure, obesity and stroke. Getting treatment for your sleep disorder can help prevent these diseases. 

Diagnosing sleep problems

Many patients benefit from one or more "sleep tests" that allow objective measurements to be made about a person’s sleep. These tests can be valuable for the proper diagnosis and management of sleep disorders.

At-home sleep test

Depending on your symptoms, your health insurance and other factors, we may recommend that you do a home sleep study first. An at-home sleep study begins by having a 30-minute meeting with a sleep technologist at our Sleep Disorders Center. It’s important to learn about all the components of the home sleep test equipment and how to place them properly. After taking the kit home, you’ll put on all the sensors (chest, airflow, oxygen, snoring) just before going to bed that night. After waking up the next morning, you should return the set to Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in time for downloading the information so the sleep physician can analyze it. A home study may identify or rule out sleep apnea, which helps us determine your next steps.

In-lab sleep study

During an in-lab study, you’ll spend 10 to 18 hours in a quiet room—much like a bedroom—with a comfortable bed. Our registered sleep technologists attach sensors, wires, electrodes and belts to your body, a painless process. The instruments collect data about your breathing, brain waves and body movements while you sleep. The sensors will detect:

  • Airflow for breathing
  • Chest and abdomen movements
  • Oxygen levels in the blood
  • Snoring intensity
  • Muscle tone of the chin and leg
  • Electrical activity of the heart (EKG) and brain (EEG)

Our sleep specialists, physicians with advanced study in pulmonology, neurology and/or sleep medicine, will analyze the data from your study to find the cause of your sleep problems. Then, your sleep specialist will recommend general health measures and specific treatments for your sleep disorder. Your quality of life and even other health conditions can improve dramatically when you start appropriate treatment.

Treating sleep disorders

Once the cause of your symptoms has been determined, your sleep medicine physician can determine the best treatment options for you. These may include:

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

A CPAP device is considered to be the gold standard for treatment for those diagnosed with sleep apnea. A CPAP device is a small electric pump that delivers pressurized air through a mask over your nose and is used to treat sleep apnea and other respiratory problems. You may be fitted with a mask if you’re treated with CPAP, which may help you breathe easier and sleep better. We offer a variety of styles and sizes to find you an easy, comfortable fit.

Insomnia treatment with shared medical appointments (SMA)

Whether you’re having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both, insomnia treatment with shared medical appointments may be the medication-free, cognitive-behavioral approach you need for getting a good night's sleep. Learn more about insomnia SMAs.

Other treatment options

Sleep disorders have a variety of treatments in addition to CPAP, including medications, lifestyle adjustments and sometimes surgery. 

Sleep disorders we treat

  • Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing during sleep isn’t normal. In more severe forms, a person will have episodes in which there is complete absence of breathing (apnea). Even though there are frequent, brief awakenings from sleep to restart breathing, the person with sleep apnea is usually unaware of the problem.

    Sleep apnea will include some combination of the following: snoring, gasping, difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking (often to go to the bathroom), restless sleep, excessive tiredness, or sleepiness in the day. Since sleep apnea can contribute to potentially serious medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes, evaluation of possible sleep apnea may be warranted even if the person doesn’t feel they have any problems with poor sleep or tiredness. The complete evaluation of sleep apnea usually involves a sleep test, which plays a role in the treatment decision-making process. 

  • Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early in the morning, or experiencing poor-quality sleep. Many people with this disorder have some combination of the above, which leads to problems with daytime functioning. There are many factors that contribute to insomnia. Just a few of the possibilities include poor sleep habits, medicine side effects, medical conditions, difficulty with excessive thinking in bed, and stress. After a thorough evaluation, patients with insomnia gain a better understanding of why they aren’t able to sleep. Individualized treatment plans may include medications (sleeping pills) and/or cognitive-behavioral treatment (ways to improve the way you sleep that aren’t related to medications). 

  • Restless legs syndrome is a very common disorder in which a person will feel some discomfort in the legs that makes that person want to move, wiggle, stretch or massage the leg until the feeling goes away. It’s most noticeable during periods of rest in the evening or night, and has the possibility of interfering with sleep quality. 

  • Narcolepsy is a disorder in which a person experiences severe sleepiness in the day, sometimes to the point where sleep seems irresistible. One symptom that is highly suggestive of narcolepsy is "cataplexy," a sudden, brief episode of muscle weakness usually triggered by an emotion such as laughter. The muscles involved are usually those in the legs or the jaw. 

  • Shift work is an increasing problem in which sleep is disturbed because a person has to work during hours in which they would otherwise be asleep. For example, this can be a significant challenge for those who work night shifts. However, even people who wake up very early to beat the traffic or "swing" shift workers who get home late at night can have significant problems with their ability to sleep and function at their best while awake. In some ways, the definition of shift work can be expanded even to include many teenagers, who may have a tendency to stay up late, but struggle to wake up in the morning for school. Another example of this sleep disorder occurs when a person travels to other time zones and has to adjust quickly.

  • Sleepwalking and other sleep-related behaviors are called parasomnias. People who experience parasomnias are often the last to know what they’re doing while asleep. However, these behaviors may have negative consequences. Some people can be violent toward their bed partners, whereas others may binge eat. Many children may outgrow sleepwalking, but if it occurs very frequently or persists beyond a certain age, evaluation for the cause and possible treatment is indicated.

Find a sleep specialist near you

If you have symptoms of a sleep disorder, such as snoring or excessive daytime sleepiness, our sleep medicine specialists can help.