Sleep Disorders

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to identify underlying issues that may be associated with sleep problems.

What are Sleep Disorders?

The importance of quality sleep for the brain and body cannot be overstated. For optimal brain function, emotional well-being, and physical health, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep, teens need 8-10 hours, and younger children need even more. A single sleepless night can lead to fatigue, anxiety, bad moods, and brain fog. People who suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea) may also struggle with anxiety, depression, addictions, memory problems, dementia, pain, obesity, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, hyperactivity, low sex drive, gastrointestinal problems, and more.

Who is Affected by Sleep Disorders?

An estimated 50-70 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder. Nearly one-third of us suffer from short-term bouts of insomnia, the most common sleep disorder. And chronic insomnia affects approximately 1 in 10 people. The rates are even higher among people with psychiatric disorders. In fact, over 50% of the time, insomnia is tied to stress, anxiety, or depression. Research shows that about 75% of people with depression also have insomnia. From 69 to 99% of people with bipolar disorder experience insomnia or feel a reduced need for sleep during manic episodes. Over half of the people with anxiety have trouble sleeping. And children with ADHD are more likely to experience sleep disorders than kids without the condition.

What are the Symptoms of Sleep Disorders?

Signs of sleep disorders include having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, experiencing daytime fatigue, or feeling like you need to take a nap during the day. Other symptoms include anger, irritability, anxiety, depression, lack of concentration, and brain fog.

What Causes Sleep Disorders?

Many things can contribute to occasional sleep disturbances, such as chronic pain, restless leg syndrome, jet lag, medications, hormonal imbalances, depression, exposure to blue light, substance use, aging, and variety of other potential reasons.

Over time, sleep problems can lead to a higher risk of:

  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Brain Fog
  • Memory Problems
  • Dementia
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Sleep Disorder Treatment?

Since sleep disorders occur so often alongside other problematic physical and mental health conditions, at Amen Clinics we take the necessary time to perform thorough testing to really understand each patient’s challenges and to get to the root of the problem. Our goal is to get you back to restful sleep without the use of sleeping pills or sedatives, medications that brain imaging studies show can be harmful to the brain.

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Sleep-Deprived Brains Work Differently

Emerging research shows that during sleep, your brain cleans or washes itself by eliminating cellular debris and toxins that build up during the day (basically taking out the neural trash). This trash includes the beta-amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. During sleep, the brain also consolidates learning and memory, and it prepares for the following day. The brain processes that occur during sleep are also important for the health of your immune system, appetite control, and neurotransmitter production. A chronic lack of sleep means your brain doesn’t perform these important functions at optimal levels.

Healthy Brain Scan

Sleep-Deprived Brain Scan

SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) is a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain. Basically, it shows three things: healthy activity, too little activity, or too much activity. The healthy surface brain SPECT scan on the left shows full, even symmetrical activity. The scan on the right from someone with sleep apnea reveals unhealthy “holes” (areas that represent low blood flow and activity) and resembles the scans we see in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease.

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Types of Sleep Disorders

Sleep disturbances are not a single or simple problem. There are a wide array of issues that can impact your rest and negatively affect your physical and mental health. Some of the most common types of sleep disorders are:

Type 1: Insomnia

Approximately 35% of American adults and 69% of high school students, don’t get adequate sleep at night. In modern sleep medicine we don’t view insomnia as a lack of sleep, but rather excessive wakefulness of the brain.

Type 2: Hypersomnia

Hypersomnia is characterized by excessive sleepiness, in which a person has trouble staying awake and can fall asleep at any time. Hypersomnia can be caused by narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

Type 3: Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by chronic tiredness during the day, snoring, and periods of apnea (temporary cessation of breathing) which can last from seconds to minutes. The primary symptom is excessive daytime sleepiness. The chronic lack of oxygen from the apnea periods is associated with brain damage and early aging. In fact, sleep apnea doubles a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep apnea costs the U.S. economy $87 billion a year.
Common symptoms include:

  • Periods of not breathing in sleep
  • Snoring, snorting or gasping in sleep
  • Drowsiness or consistent fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Memory problems
  • Attention problems
  • Mood irritability

Getting a diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea is critical to keeping your brain healthy and preventing or minimizing symptoms of mental disorders. The gold standard for treatment is called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask, which delivers a steady stream of air through your passageways. Some people are hesitant to use a CPAP machine because they think it will be uncomfortable, but design improvements have made them more user friendly. If you have avoided treating your sleep apnea, it’s time to reconsider taking action. Because the brain is so dependent on oxygen, untreated sleep apnea literally kills brain cells, which doesn’t bode well for your mental well-being.

Type 4: Parasomnias

Parasomnias are disruptive sleep-related events, such as:

  • Disorders of arousal
  • Sleepwalking
  • Sleep-related eating
  • Sleep terrors
  • Sleep talking

Type 5: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep Behavior Disorder

Body muscles that aren’t paralyzed during REM sleep allow for muscle movement during dreams. This type of behavior can be violent and even result in injury. It often involves thrashing around at night because of a bad dream and may even lead to hurting yourself or another.

Type 6: Circadian Rhythm Disorders

This includes people who work late at night (shift work) or who travel across time zones (jet lag). We can help people adapt to their unique sleep schedule by altering their circadian rhythms.


“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.


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