Health Watch -- Sleep Doctors

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

When warm milk and counting sheep don't work, it may be time to call the doctor.

Difficulty sleeping - or sleeping too much - may seem like a trivial complaint, but doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say sleep problems can play havoc with a person's health, personal life and career. In fact, sleep is so important that UT Southwestern has begun a fellowship program to train doctors to treat sleep disorders.

There's a wide variety of sleep problems, with different ways to treat them. Insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, is the most common. Although there are drugs that make people sleepy, doctors usually first try methods like biofeedback, relaxation exercises and behavioral changes.

Sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing frequently throughout the night. As a result, the victim doesn't get much rest and may feel sleepy during the day. This disorder can be treated with a facemask that delivers oxygen throughout the night.

With narcolepsy, sufferers may fall asleep instantly, sometimes during the day. Stimulants are the standard treatment. People who have restless leg syndrome may wake up tired because their involuntary movements may wake them up throughout the night. Other disorders treated by sleep specialists include sleepwalking, nocturnal seizures and circadian rhythm disturbances.

If you're not sleeping or if you're always sleepy in spite of getting to bed on time, you may consider consulting a sleep specialist.