Sleep

What does snoring have to do with heart disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: At my last checkup, my doctor asked if I snore. When I told the doctor that my husband says I snore a lot, the doctor said snoring can be a sign of heart disease, particularly in postmenopausal women. What does snoring have to do with heart disease?

DEAR READER: Snoring is not a sign of heart disease, but it can be a sign of sleep apnea. And people with sleep apnea are at greater risk for heart disease. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes brief, repeated pauses in breathing throughout the night.

Do children who sleep less weigh more?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently saw a headline that said children who sleep less weigh more. Is that true? How much sleep should my preschooler and first-grader get each night?

DEAR READER: I believe you're referring to a study recently published in the medical journal Pediatrics. Researchers found that children who don't get enough sleep may also have a higher risk of being overweight. Researchers from Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital for Children kept track of more than 1,000 children from the ages of 6 months to 7 years. They asked mothers how much sleep their children got at the age of 6 months, 1 year, and then every year until the end of the study.

Is there a surgical fix for obstructive sleep apnea?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is there a surgical fix for sleep apnea? I've tried CPAP and a couple of other treatments, and none of them work well for me.

DEAR READER: Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops intermittently, or becomes shallower, during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form. OSA occurs when muscles in the back of your throat relax as you sleep. This causes the airway -- the space in the back of your throat through which air passes when you breathe -- to periodically collapse. If air can't get into your lungs, oxygen levels in your lungs drop, which then causes oxygen levels in your blood to drop.

Is periodic limb movement disorder and restless leg syndrome the same thing?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Can you discuss periodic limb movement disorder? Is it the same as restless legs syndrome?

DEAR READER: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) are similar disorders, and often (but not always) occur together. RLS causes a wide range of uncomfortable leg sensations. They tend to occur most often when the legs are at rest during the day or in the evening. The sensations are almost always accompanied by an irresistible need to move the legs. Moving the legs can bring temporary relief.

Is too much sleep harmful to your memory?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I read about a new study on sleep and memory. I understand why too little sleep could affect memory. But why would too much sleep be harmful?

DEAR READER: When it comes to memory, sleep is a Goldilocks issue: Neither too much nor too little is good.Aim for "just right," says Dr. Elizabeth Devore, an instructor in medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. Devore led a new study that suggests getting an "average" amount of sleep -- seven hours per day -- may help maintain memory in later life.

What type of mattress helps with lower back pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have chronic low back pain. What type of mattress should I use?

DEAR READER: Considering that we spend roughly a third of our lives lying in bed, this is a very good question. And you'd think medical science would have a very good answer. I asked my colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Katz, professor of medicine and orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School, for his thoughts. He noted that there's not a great deal of research on this topic, but a few studies offer some guidance.

Can you explain the connection between snoring and high blood pressure?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a snorer. I read recently that treating snoring can affect blood pressure. Can you explain the connection?

DEAR READER: Severe snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If you have OSA, then your breathing is blocked temporarily several (sometimes hundreds) of times per night. What happens is that muscles in your upper airway (the back of the throat) relax too much. Normally, these muscles hold your airway open, so that air moves in and out of your lungs without obstruction.

I can’t sleep because I keep waking up to urinate– What can I do?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm an older woman in good health, but I can't get a good night's sleep because I keep waking up to go to the bathroom. What can I do?

DEAR READER: "Nocturia" is the medical term for the need to get up frequently to urinate during the night. It's a common cause of sleep loss, especially among older adults. In severe cases, a person may get up as many as five or six times during the night. This can lead to sleep deprivation and daytime fatigue.

Is it OK to let my teenager sleep late on the weekends?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage son likes to sleep in on weekends, often until noon. Is it OK to let him do this?

DEAR READER: I've been asked this question by nearly every parent of teenagers I know. I checked with my Harvard Medical School colleague, pediatrician Dennis Rosen, who confirmed what I've been saying: Letting your son sleep in on weekends isn't doing him any favors.

I fall asleep easily, but wake in the middle of the night. Do you have tips to help me stay asleep?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I fall asleep just fine, but then I wake up around 4 a.m. It's too early to get up, but I can't fall back asleep. Help!

DEAR READER: Practically everyone has sleep problems occasionally. And a lot of people have sleep problems often. Sometimes it's trouble falling asleep. Sometimes, as in your case, it's trouble staying asleep. And sometimes it's just waking up unrefreshed, even though you think you've slept soundly.