APPROACH TO THE PATIENT: Sleep Disorders
Patients may seek help from a physician because of: (1) sleepiness or tiredness during the day; (2) difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep at night (insomnia); or (3) unusual behaviors during sleep itself (parasomnias).
Obtaining a careful history is essential. In particular, the duration, severity, and consistency of the symptoms are important, along with the patient’s estimate of the consequences of the sleep disorder on waking function. Information from a bed partner or family member is often helpful because some patients may be unaware of symptoms such as heavy snoring or may underreport symptoms such as falling asleep at work or while driving. Physicians should inquire about when the patient typically goes to bed, when they fall asleep and wake up, whether they awaken during sleep, whether they feel rested in the morning, and whether they nap during the day. Depending on the primary complaint, it may be useful to ask about snoring, witnessed apneas, restless sensations in the legs, movements during sleep, depression, anxiety, and behaviors around the sleep episode. The physical exam may provide evidence of a small airway, large tonsils, or a neurologic or medical disorder that contributes to the main complaint.
It is important to remember that, rarely, seizures may occur exclusively during sleep, mimicking a primary sleep disorder; such sleep-related seizures typically occur during episodes of NREM sleep and may take the form of generalized tonic-clonic movements (sometimes with urinary incontinence or tongue biting) or stereotyped movements in partial complex epilepsy (Chap. 445).
It is often helpful for the patient to complete a daily sleep log for 1–2 weeks to define the timing and amounts of sleep. When relevant, the log can also include information on levels of alertness, work times, and drug and alcohol use, including caffeine and hypnotics.
Polysomnography is necessary for the diagnosis of several disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and periodic limb movement disorder. A conventional polysomnogram performed in a clinical sleep laboratory allows measurement of sleep stages, respiratory effort and airflow, oxygen saturation, limb movements, heart rhythm, and additional parameters. A home sleep test usually focuses on just respiratory measures and is helpful in patients with a moderate to high likelihood of having obstructive sleep apnea. The multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) is used to measure a patient’s propensity to sleep during the day and can provide crucial evidence for diagnosing narcolepsy and some other causes of sleepiness. The maintenance of wakefulness test is used to measure a patient’s ability to sustain wakefulness during the daytime and can provide important evidence for evaluating the efficacy of therapies for improving sleepiness in conditions such as narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea.
EVALUATION OF DAYTIME SLEEPINESS
Up to 25% of the adult population has persistent daytime sleepiness that impairs an individual’s ability to perform optimally in school, at work, while driving, and in other conditions that require alertness. Sleepy students often have trouble staying alert and performing well in school, and sleepy adults struggle to stay awake and focused on their work. More than half of Americans have fallen asleep while driving. An estimated 1.2 million motor vehicle crashes per year are due to drowsy drivers, causing about 20% of all serious crash injuries and deaths. One needn’t fall asleep to have an accident, as the inattention and slowed responses of drowsy drivers are a major contributor. Reaction time is equally impaired by 24 h of sleep loss as by a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 g/dL.
Identifying and quantifying sleepiness can be challenging. First, patients may describe themselves as “sleepy,” “fatigued,” or “tired,” and the meanings of these words may differ between patients. For clinical purposes, it is best to use the term “sleepiness” to describe a propensity to fall asleep; whereas “fatigue” is best used to describe a feeling of low physical or mental energy but without a tendency to actually sleep. Sleepiness is usually most evident when the patient is sedentary, whereas fatigue may interfere with more active pursuits. Sleepiness generally occurs with disorders that reduce the quality or quantity of sleep or that interfere with the neural mechanisms of arousal, whereas fatigue is more common in inflammatory disorders such as cancer, multiple sclerosis (Chap. 458), fibromyalgia (Chap. 396), chronic fatigue syndrome (Chap. 464e), or endocrine deficiencies such as hypothyroidism (Chap. 405) or Addison’s disease (Chap. 406). Second, sleepiness can affect judgment in a manner analogous to ethanol, such that patients may have limited insight into the condition and the extent of their functional impairment. Finally, patients may be reluctant to admit that sleepiness is a problem because they may have become unfamiliar with feeling fully alert and because sleepiness is sometimes viewed pejoratively as reflecting poor motivation or bad sleep habits.
Table 38-1 outlines the diagnostic and therapeutic approach to the patient with a complaint of excessive daytime sleepiness.
TABLE 38-1Evaluation of the Patient with Excessive Daytime Sleepiness ||Download (.pdf) TABLE 38-1Evaluation of the Patient with Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
|Findings on History and Physical Examination ||Diagnostic Evaluation ||Diagnosis ||Therapy |
|Difficulty waking in the morning, rebound sleep on weekends and vacations with improvement in sleepiness ||Sleep log ||Insufficient sleep ||Sleep education and behavioral modification to increase amount of sleep |
|Obesity, snoring, hypertension ||Polysomnogram ||Obstructive sleep apnea (Chap. 319) ||Continuous positive airway pressure; upper airway surgery (e.g., uvulopalatopharyngoplasty); dental appliance; weight loss |
|Cataplexy, hypnogogic hallucinations, sleep paralysis ||Polysomnogram and multiple sleep latency test ||Narcolepsy ||Stimulants (e.g., modafinil, methylphenidate); REM sleep-suppressing antidepressants (e.g., venlafaxine); sodium oxybate |
|Restless legs, kicking movements during sleep ||Assessment for predisposing medical conditions (e.g., iron deficiency or renal failure) ||Restless legs syndrome with or without periodic limb movements ||Treatment of predisposing condition if possible; dopamine agonists (e.g., pramipexole, ropinirole) |
|Sedating medications, stimulant withdrawal, head trauma, systemic inflammation, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, hypothyroidism, encephalopathy ||Thorough medical history and exam including detailed neurologic exam ||Sleepiness due to a drug or medical condition ||Change medications, treat underlying condition, consider stimulants |
To determine the extent and impact of sleepiness on daytime function, it is helpful to ask patients about the occurrence of sleep episodes during normal waking hours, both intentional and unintentional. Specific areas to be addressed include the occurrence of inadvertent sleep episodes while driving or in other safety-related settings, sleepiness while at work or school (and the relationship of sleepiness to work and school performance), and the effect of sleepiness on social and family life. Standardized questionnaires such as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale are often used clinically to measure sleepiness.
Eliciting a history of daytime sleepiness is usually adequate, but objective quantification is sometimes necessary. The MSLT measures a patient’s propensity to sleep under quiet conditions. The test is performed after an overnight polysomnogram to establish that the patient has had an adequate amount of good-quality nighttime sleep. The MSLT consists of five 20-min nap opportunities every 2 h across the day. The patient is instructed to try to fall asleep, and the major endpoints are the average latency to sleep and the occurrence of REM sleep during the naps. An average sleep latency across the naps of less than 8 min is considered objective evidence of excessive daytime sleepiness. REM sleep normally occurs only during the nighttime sleep episode, and the occurrence of REM sleep in two or more of the MSLT naps provides support for the diagnosis of narcolepsy.
For the safety of the individual and the general public, physicians have a responsibility to help manage issues around driving in patients with sleepiness. Legal reporting requirements vary from state to state, but at a minimum, physicians should inform sleepy patients about their increased risk of having an accident and advise such patients not to drive a motor vehicle until the sleepiness has been treated effectively. This discussion is especially important for professional drivers, and it should be documented in the patient’s medical record.
Insufficient sleep is probably the most common cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. The average adult needs 7.5–8 h of sleep, but on weeknights, the average U.S. adult gets only 6.75 h of sleep. Only 30% of the U.S. adult population reports consistently obtaining sufficient sleep. Insufficient sleep is especially common among shift workers, individuals working multiple jobs, and people in lower socioeconomic groups. Most teenagers need ≥9 h of sleep, but many fail to get enough sleep because of circadian phase delay, or social pressures to stay up late coupled with early school start times. Late evening light exposure, television viewing, video-gaming, social media, texting, and smartphone use often delay bedtimes despite the fixed, early wake times required for work or school. As is typical with any disorder that causes sleepiness, individuals with chronically insufficient sleep may feel inattentive, irritable, unmotivated, and depressed, and have difficulty with school, work, and driving. Individuals differ in their optimal amount of sleep, and it can be helpful to ask how much sleep the patient obtains on a quiet vacation when he or she can sleep without restrictions. Some patients may think that a short amount of sleep is normal or advantageous, and they may not appreciate their biological need for more sleep, especially if coffee and other stimulants mask the sleepiness. A 2-week sleep log documenting the timing of sleep and daily level of alertness is diagnostically useful and provides helpful feedback for the patient. Extending sleep to the optimal amount on a regular basis can resolve the sleepiness and other symptoms. As with any lifestyle change, extending sleep requires commitment and adjustments, but the improvements in daytime alertness make this change worthwhile.
Respiratory dysfunction during sleep is a common, serious cause of excessive daytime sleepiness as well as of disturbed nocturnal sleep. At least 24% of middle-aged men and 9% of middle-aged women in the United States have a reduction or cessation of breathing dozens or more times each night during sleep, with 9% of men and 4% of women doing so more than a hundred times per night. These episodes may be due to an occlusion of the airway (obstructive sleep apnea), absence of respiratory effort (central sleep apnea), or a combination of these factors (mixed sleep apnea). Failure to recognize and treat these conditions appropriately may lead to impairment of daytime alertness, increased risk of sleep-related motor vehicle crashes, depression, hypertension, myocardial infarction, diabetes, stroke, and increased mortality. Sleep apnea is particularly prevalent in overweight men and in the elderly, yet it is estimated to go undiagnosed in most affected individuals. This is unfortunate because several effective treatments are available. Readers are referred to Chap. 319 for a comprehensive review of the diagnosis and treatment of patients with sleep apnea.
Narcolepsy is characterized by difficulty sustaining wakefulness, poor regulation of REM sleep, and disturbed nocturnal sleep. All patients with narcolepsy have excessive daytime sleepiness. This sleepiness is often severe, but in some, it is mild. In contrast to patients with disrupted sleep (e.g., sleep apnea), people with narcolepsy usually feel well rested upon awakening and then feel tired throughout much of the day. In addition, they often experience symptoms related to an intrusion of REM sleep characteristics. REM sleep is characterized by dreaming and muscle paralysis, and people with narcolepsy can have: (1) sudden muscle weakness without a loss of consciousness, which is usually triggered by strong emotions (cataplexy; Video 38-1); (2) dream-like hallucinations at sleep onset (hypnagogic hallucinations) or upon awakening (hypnopompic hallucinations); and (3) muscle paralysis upon awakening (sleep paralysis). With severe cataplexy, an individual may be laughing at a joke and then suddenly collapse to the ground, immobile but awake for 1–2 min. With milder episodes, patients may have mild weakness of the face or neck. Narcolepsy is one of the more common causes of chronic sleepiness and affects about 1 in 2000 people in the United States. Narcolepsy typically begins between age 10 and 20; once established, the disease persists for life.
Video 38-1 A typical episode of severe cataplexy.
The patient is joking and then falls to the ground with an abrupt loss of muscle tone. The electromyogram recordings (four lower traces on the right) show reductions in muscle activity during the period of paralysis. The electroencephalogram (top two traces) shows wakefulness throughout the episode. (Video courtesy of Giuseppe Plazzi, University of Bologna.)
Relationship of drugs for insomnia with wake-sleep systems. The arousal system in the brain (green) includes monoaminergic, glutamatergic, and cholinergic neurons in the brainstem that activate neurons in the hypothalamus, thalamus, basal forebrain, and cerebral cortex. Orexin neurons (blue) in the hypothalamus, which are lost in narcolepsy, reinforce and stabilize arousal by activating other components of the arousal system. The sleep-promoting system (red) consists of GABAergic neurons in the preoptic area, lateral hypothalamus, and brainstem that inhibit the components of the arousal system, thus allowing sleep to occur. Drugs used to treat insomnia include those that block the effects of arousal system neurotransmitters (green and blue) and those that enhance the effects of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) produced by the sleep system (red).
Narcolepsy is caused by loss of the hypothalamic neurons that produce the orexin neuropeptides (also known as hypocretins). Research in mice and dogs first demonstrated that a loss of orexin signaling due to null mutations of either the orexin neuropeptides or one of the orexin receptors causes sleepiness and cataplexy nearly identical to that seen in people with narcolepsy. Although genetic mutations rarely cause human narcolepsy, researchers soon discovered that patients with narcolepsy had very low or undetectable levels of orexins in their cerebrospinal fluid, and autopsy studies showed a nearly complete loss of the orexin-producing neurons in the hypothalamus. The orexins normally promote long episodes of wakefulness and suppress REM sleep, and thus, loss of orexin signaling results in frequent intrusions of sleep during the usual waking episode, with REM sleep and fragments of REM sleep at any time of day (Fig. 38-3).
Extensive evidence suggests that an autoimmune process likely causes this selective loss of the orexin-producing neurons. Certain human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) can increase the risk of autoimmune disorders (Chap. 373e), and narcolepsy has the strongest known HLA association. HLA DQB1*06:02 is found in about 90% of people with narcolepsy, whereas it occurs in only 12–25% of the general population. Researchers now hypothesize that in people with DQB1*06:02, an immune response against influenza, Streptococcus, or other infections may also damage the orexin-producing neurons through a process of molecular mimicry. This mechanism may account for the 8- to 12-fold increase in new cases of narcolepsy among children in Europe who received a particular brand of H1N1 influenza A vaccine (Pandemrix).
On rare occasions, narcolepsy can occur with neurologic disorders such as tumors or strokes that directly damage the orexin-producing neurons in the hypothalamus or their projections.
Narcolepsy is most commonly diagnosed by the history of chronic sleepiness plus cataplexy or other symptoms. Many disorders can cause feelings of weakness, but with true cataplexy, patients will describe definite functional weakness (e.g., slurred speech, dropping a cup, slumping into a chair) that has consistent emotional triggers such as heartfelt mirth when laughing at a great joke, happy surprise at unexpectedly seeing a friend, or intense anger. Cataplexy occurs in about half of all narcolepsy patients and is diagnostically very helpful because it occurs in almost no other disorder. In contrast, occasional hypnagogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis occur in about 20% of the general population, and these symptoms are not as diagnostically specific.
When narcolepsy is suspected, the diagnosis should be firmly established with a polysomnogram followed by an MSLT. The polysomnogram helps rule out other possible causes of sleepiness such as sleep apnea, and the MSLT provides essential, objective evidence of sleepiness plus REM sleep dysregulation. Across the five naps of the MSLT, most patients with narcolepsy will fall asleep in less than 8 min on average, and they will have episodes of REM sleep in at least two of the naps. Abnormal regulation of REM sleep is also manifested by the appearance of REM sleep within 15 min of sleep onset at night, which is rare in healthy individuals sleeping at their habitual bedtime. Stimulants should be stopped 1 week before the MSLT and antidepressants should be stopped 3 weeks prior, because these medications can affect the MSLT. In addition, patients should be encouraged to obtain a fully adequate amount of sleep each night for the week prior to the test to eliminate any effects of insufficient sleep.
Polysomnographic recordings of a healthy individual and a patient with narcolepsy. The individual with narcolepsy enters rapid eye movement (REM) sleep quickly at night and has moderately fragmented sleep. During the day, the healthy subject stays awake from 8:00 am until midnight, but the patient with narcolepsy dozes off frequently, with many daytime naps that include REM sleep.
The treatment of narcolepsy is symptomatic. Most patients with narcolepsy feel more alert after sleep, and they should be encouraged to get adequate sleep each night and to take a 15- to 20-min nap in the afternoon. This nap may be sufficient for some patients with mild narcolepsy, but most also require treatment with wake-promoting medications. Modafinil is used quite often because it has fewer side effects than amphetamines and a relatively long half-life; for most patients, 200–400 mg each morning is very effective. Methylphenidate (10–20 mg bid) or dextroamphetamine (10 mg bid) are often effective, but sympathomimetic side effects, anxiety, and the potential for abuse can be concerns. These medications are available in slow-release formulations, extending their duration of action and allowing easier dosing. Sodium oxybate (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is given twice each night and is often very valuable in improving alertness, but it can produce excessive sedation, nausea, and confusion.
Cataplexy is usually much improved with antidepressants that increase noradrenergic or serotonergic tone because these medications strongly suppress REM sleep and cataplexy. Venlafaxine (37.5–150 mg each morning) and fluoxetine (10–40 mg each morning) are often quite effective. The tricyclic antidepressants, such as protriptyline (10–40 mg/d) or clomipramine (25–50 mg/d) are potent suppressors of cataplexy, but their anticholinergic effects, including sedation and dry mouth, make them less attractive.1 Sodium oxybate, given at bedtime and 3–4 h later, is also very helpful in reducing cataplexy.
Insomnia is the complaint of poor sleep and usually presents as difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep. People with insomnia are dissatisfied with their sleep and feel that it impairs their ability to function well in work, school, and social situations. Affected individuals often experience fatigue, decreased mood, irritability, malaise, and cognitive impairment.
Chronic insomnia, lasting more than 3 months, occurs in about 10% of adults and is more common in women, older adults, people of lower socioeconomic status, and individuals with medical, psychiatric, and substance abuse disorders. Acute or short-term insomnia affects over 30% of adults and is often precipitated by stressful life events such as a major illness or loss, change of occupation, medications, and substance abuse. If the acute insomnia triggers maladaptive behaviors such as increased nocturnal light exposure, frequently checking the clock, or attempting to sleep more by napping, it can lead to chronic insomnia.
Most insomnia begins in adulthood, but many patients may be predisposed and report easily disturbed sleep predating the insomnia, suggesting that their sleep is lighter than usual. Clinical studies and animal models indicate that insomnia is associated with activation during sleep of brain areas normally active only during wakefulness. The polysomnogram is rarely used in the evaluation of insomnia, as it typically confirms the patient’s subjective report of long latency to sleep and numerous awakenings but usually adds little new information. Many patients with insomnia have increased fast (beta) activity in the EEG during sleep; this fast activity is normally present only during wakefulness, which may explain why some patients report feeling awake for much of the night. The MSLT is rarely used in the evaluation of insomnia because, despite their feelings of low energy, most people with insomnia do not easily fall asleep during the day, and on the MSLT, their average sleep latencies are usually longer than normal.
Many factors can contribute to insomnia, and obtaining a careful history is essential so one can select therapies targeting the underlying factors. The assessment should focus on identifying predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors.
Many patients with insomnia have negative expectations and conditioned arousal that interfere with sleep. These individuals may worry about their insomnia during the day and have increasing anxiety as bedtime approaches if they anticipate a poor night of sleep. While attempting to sleep, they may frequently check the clock, which only heightens anxiety and frustration. They may find it easier to sleep in a new environment rather than their bedroom, as it lacks the negative associations.
Patients with insomnia sometimes develop counterproductive behaviors that contribute to their insomnia. These can include daytime napping that reduces sleep drive at night; an irregular sleep-wake schedule that disrupts their circadian rhythms; use of wake-promoting substances (e.g., caffeine, tobacco) too close to bedtime; engaging in alerting or stressful activities close to bedtime (e.g., arguing with a partner, work-related emailing and texting while in bed, sleeping with a smartphone or tablet at the bedside); and routinely using the bedroom for activities other than sleep or sex (e.g., TV, work), so the bedroom becomes associated with arousing or stressful feelings.
About 80% of patients with psychiatric disorders have sleep complaints, and about half of all chronic insomnia occurs in association with a psychiatric disorder. Depression is classically associated with early morning awakening, but it can also interfere with the onset and maintenance of sleep. Mania and hypomania can disrupt sleep and often are associated with substantial reductions in the total amount of sleep. Anxiety disorders can lead to racing thoughts and rumination that interfere with sleep and can be very problematic if the patient’s mind becomes active midway through the night. Panic attacks can occur during sleep and need to be distinguished from other parasomnias. Insomnia is common in schizophrenia and other psychoses, often resulting in fragmented sleep, less deep NREM sleep, and sometimes reversal of the day-night sleep pattern.
Medications and Drugs of Abuse
A wide variety of psychoactive drugs can interfere with sleep. Caffeine, which has a half-life of 6–9 h, can disrupt sleep for up to 8–14 h, depending on the dose, variations in metabolism, and an individual’s caffeine sensitivity. Insomnia can also result from use of prescription medications too close to bedtime (e.g., theophylline, stimulants, antidepressants, glucocorticoids). Conversely, withdrawal of sedating medications such as alcohol, narcotics, or benzodiazepines can cause insomnia. Alcohol taken just before bed can shorten sleep latency, but it often produces rebound insomnia 2–3 h later as it wears off. This same problem with sleep maintenance can occur with short-acting benzodiazepines such as alprazolam.
A large number of medical conditions disrupt sleep. Pain from rheumatologic disorders or a painful neuropathy commonly disrupts sleep. Some patients may sleep poorly because of respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, congestive heart failure, or restrictive lung disease, and some of these disorders are worse at night in bed due to circadian variations in airway resistance and postural changes that can result in paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea. Many women experience poor sleep with the hormonal changes of menopause. Gastroesophageal reflux is also a common cause of difficulty sleeping.
Dementia (Chap. 35) is often associated with poor sleep, probably due to a variety of factors, including napping during the day, altered circadian rhythms, and perhaps a weakened output of the brain’s sleep-promoting mechanisms. In fact, insomnia and nighttime wandering are some of the most common causes for institutionalization of patients with dementia, because they place a larger burden on caregivers. Conversely, in cognitively intact elderly men, fragmented sleep and poor sleep quality are associated with subsequent cognitive decline. Patients with Parkinson’s disease may sleep poorly due to rigidity, dementia, and other factors. Fatal familial insomnia is a very rare neurodegenerative condition caused by mutations in the prion protein gene, and although insomnia is a common early symptom, most patients present with other obvious neurologic signs such dementia, myoclonus, dysarthria, or autonomic dysfunction.
Treatment of insomnia improves quality of life and can promote long-term health. With improved sleep, patients often report less daytime fatigue, improved cognition, and more energy. Treating the insomnia can also improve the comorbid disease. For example, management of insomnia at the time of diagnosis of major depression often improves the response to antidepressants and reduces the risk of relapse. Sleep loss can heighten the perception of pain, so a similar approach is warranted in acute and chronic pain management.
The treatment plan should target all putative contributing factors: establish good sleep hygiene, treat medical disorders, use behavioral therapies for anxiety and negative conditioning, and use pharmacotherapy and/or psychotherapy for psychiatric disorders. Behavioral therapies should be the first-line treatment, followed by judicious use of sleep-promoting medications if needed. TREATMENT OF MEDICAL AND PSYCHIATRIC DISEASE
If the history suggests that a medical or psychiatric disease contributes to the insomnia, then it should be addressed by, for example, treating the pain, improving breathing, and switching or adjusting the timing of medications. IMPROVE SLEEP HYGIENE
Attention should be paid to improving sleep hygiene and avoiding counterproductive, arousing behaviors before bedtime. Patients should establish a regular bedtime and wake time, even on weekends, to help synchronize their circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. The amount of time allocated for sleep should not be more than their actual total amount of sleep. In the 30 min before bedtime, patients should establish a relaxing “wind-down” routine that can include a warm bath, listening to music, meditation, or other relaxation techniques. The bedroom should be off-limits to computers, televisions, radios, smartphones, videogames, and tablets. Once in bed, patients should try to avoid thinking about anything stressful or arousing such as problems with relationships or work. If they cannot fall asleep within 20 min, it often helps to get out of bed and read or listen to relaxing music in dim light as a form of distraction from any anxiety, but artificial light, including light from a television, cell phone, or computer, should be avoided, because light itself suppresses melatonin secretion and is arousing.
Table 38-2 outlines some of the key aspects of good sleep hygiene to improve insomnia. COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT)
CBT uses a combination of the techniques above plus additional methods to improve insomnia. A trained therapist may use cognitive psychology techniques to reduce excessive worrying about sleep and to reframe faulty beliefs about the insomnia and its daytime consequences. The therapist may also teach the patient relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation or meditation, to reduce autonomic arousal, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety. MEDICATIONS FOR INSOMNIA
If insomnia persists after treatment of these contributing factors, pharmacotherapy is often used on a nightly or intermittent basis. A variety of sedatives can improve sleep.
Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, are the primary active ingredient in most over-the-counter sleep aids. These may be of benefit when used intermittently, but often produce rapid tolerance and can produce anticholinergic side effects such as dry mouth and constipation, which limit their use, particularly in the elderly.
Benzodiazepine receptor agonists (BzRAs) are an effective and well-tolerated class of medications for insomnia. BzRAs bind to the GABAA receptor and potentiate the postsynaptic response to GABA. GABAA receptors are found throughout the brain, and BzRAs may globally reduce neural activity and may enhance the activity of specific sleep-promoting GABAergic pathways. Classic BzRAs include lorazepam, triazolam, and clonazepam, whereas newer agents such as zolpidem and zaleplon have more selective affinity for the α1 subunit of the GABAA receptor.
Specific BzRAs are often chosen based on the desired duration of action. The most commonly prescribed agents in this family are zaleplon (5–20 mg), with a half-life of 1–2 h; zolpidem (5–10 mg) and triazolam (0.125–0.25 mg), with half-lives of 2–4 h; eszopiclone (1–3 mg), with a half-life of 5–8 h; and temazepam (15–30 mg), with a half-life of 8–20 h. Generally, side effects are minimal when the dose is kept low and the serum concentration is minimized during the waking hours (by using the shortest-acting effective agent). For chronic insomnia, intermittent use is recommended, unless the consequences of untreated insomnia outweigh concerns regarding chronic use.
The heterocyclic antidepressants (trazodone, amitriptyline,2 and doxepin) are the most commonly prescribed alternatives to BzRAs due to their lack of abuse potential and lower cost. Trazodone (25–100 mg) is used more commonly than the tricyclic antidepressants, because it has a much shorter half-life (5–9 h) and less anticholinergic activity.
Medications for insomnia are now among the most commonly prescribed medications, but they should be used cautiously. All sedatives increase the risk of injurious falls and confusion in the elderly, and therefore if needed, these medications should be used at the lowest effective dose. Morning sedation can interfere with driving and judgment, and when selecting a medication, one should consider the duration of action. Benzodiazepines carry a risk of addiction and abuse, especially in patients with a history of alcohol or sedative abuse. Like alcohol, some sleep-promoting medications can worsen sleep apnea. Sedatives can also produce complex behaviors during sleep, such as sleep walking and sleep eating, although this seems more likely at higher doses.
TABLE 38-2Methods to Improve Sleep Hygiene in Insomnia Patients ||Download (.pdf) TABLE 38-2Methods to Improve Sleep Hygiene in Insomnia Patients
|Helpful Behaviors ||Behaviors to Avoid |
Use the bed only for sleep and sex
Avoid behaviors that interfere with sleep physiology, including:
Make quality sleep a priority
Go to bed and get up at the same time each day
Ensure a restful environment (comfortable bed, bedroom quiet and dark)
In the 2–3 h before bedtime, avoid:
Smoking or alcohol
Develop a consistent bedtime routine. For example:
Prepare for sleep with 20–30 min of relaxation (e.g., soft music, meditation, yoga, pleasant reading)
Take a warm bath
When trying to fall asleep, avoid:
Patients with restless legs syndrome (RLS) report an irresistible urge to move the legs. Many patients report a creepy-crawly or unpleasant deep ache within the thighs or calves, and those with more severe RLS may have discomfort in the arms as well. For most patients with RLS, these dysesthesias and restlessness are much worse in the evening and first half of the night. The symptoms appear with inactivity and can make sitting still in an airplane or when watching a movie a miserable experience. The sensations are temporarily relieved by movement, stretching, or massage. This nocturnal discomfort usually interferes with sleep, and patients may report daytime sleepiness as a consequence. RLS is very common, affecting 5–10% of adults and is more common in women and older adults.
A variety of factors can cause RLS. Iron deficiency is the most common treatable cause, and iron replacement should be considered if the ferritin level is less than 50 ng/mL. RLS can also occur with peripheral neuropathies and uremia and can be worsened by pregnancy, caffeine, alcohol, antidepressants, lithium, neuroleptics, and antihistamines. Genetic factors contribute to RLS, and polymorphisms in a variety of genes (BTBD9, MEIS1, MAP2K5/LBXCOR, and PTPRD) have been linked to RLS, although as yet, the mechanism through which they cause RLS remains unknown. Roughly one-third of patients (particularly those with an early age of onset) have multiple affected family members.
RLS is treated by addressing the underlying cause such as iron deficiency if present. Otherwise, treatment is symptomatic, and dopamine agonists are used most frequently. Agonists of dopamine D2/3 receptors such as pramipexole (0.25–0.5 mg q7PM) or ropinirole (0.5–4 mg q7PM) are considered first-line agents. Augmentation is a worsening of RLS such that symptoms begin earlier in the day and can spread to other body regions, and it can occur in about 25% of patients taking dopamine agonists. Other possible side effects of dopamine agonists include nausea, morning sedation, and increases in rewarding behavior such as gambling and sex. Opioids, benzodiazepines, pregabalin, and gabapentin may also be of therapeutic value. Most patients with restless legs also experience periodic limb movement disorder, although the reverse is not the case.
PERIODIC LIMB MOVEMENT DISORDER
Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) involves rhythmic twitches of the legs that disrupt sleep. The movements resemble a triple flexion reflex with extensions of the great toe and dorsiflexion of the foot for 0.5 to 5.0 s, which recur every 20–40 s during NREM sleep, in episodes lasting from minutes to hours. PLMD is diagnosed by a polysomnogram that includes recordings of the anterior tibialis and sometimes other muscles. The EEG shows that the movements of PLMD frequently cause brief arousals that disrupt sleep and can cause insomnia and daytime sleepiness. PLMD can be caused by the same factors that cause RLS (see above), and the frequency of leg movements improves with the same medications as used for RLS, including dopamine agonists. Recent genetic studies identified polymorphisms associated with RLS/PLMD, suggesting that they may have a common pathophysiology.
Parasomnias are abnormal behaviors or experiences that arise from or occur during sleep. A variety of parasomnias can occur during NREM sleep, from brief confusional arousals to sleepwalking and night terrors. The presenting complaint is usually related to the behavior itself, but the parasomnias can disturb sleep continuity or lead to mild impairments in daytime alertness. Two main parasomnias occur in REM sleep: REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) and nightmares.
Patients affected by this disorder carry out automatic motor activities that range from simple to complex. Individuals may walk, urinate inappropriately, eat, exit the house, or drive a car with minimal awareness. Full arousal may be difficult, and occasional individuals may respond to attempted awakening with agitation or violence. Sleepwalking arises from NREM stage N3 sleep, usually in the first few hours of the night, and the EEG usually shows the slow cortical activity of deep NREM sleep even when the patient is moving about. Sleepwalking is most common in children and adolescents, when these sleep stages are most robust. About 15% of children have occasional sleepwalking, and it persists in about 1% of adults. Episodes are usually isolated but may be recurrent in 1–6% of patients. The cause is unknown, although it has a familial basis in roughly one-third of cases. Sleepwalking can be worsened by insufficient sleep, which subsequently causes an increase in deep NREM sleep; alcohol; and stress. These should be addressed if present. Small studies have shown some efficacy of antidepressants and benzodiazepines; relaxation techniques and hypnosis can also be helpful. Patients and their families should improve home safety (e.g., replace glass doors, remove low tables to avoid tripping) to minimize the chance of injury if sleepwalking occurs.
This disorder occurs primarily in young children during the first few hours of sleep during NREM stage N3 sleep. The child often sits up during sleep and screams, exhibiting autonomic arousal with sweating, tachycardia, large pupils, and hyperventilation. The individual may be difficult to arouse and rarely recalls the episode on awakening in the morning. Treatment usually consists of reassuring the parents that the condition is self-limited and benign, and like sleepwalking, it may improve by avoiding insufficient sleep.
Bruxism is an involuntary, forceful grinding of teeth during sleep that affects 10–20% of the population. The patient is usually unaware of the problem. The typical age of onset is 17–20 years, and spontaneous remission usually occurs by age 40. Sex distribution appears to be equal. In many cases, the diagnosis is made during dental examination, damage is minor, and no treatment is indicated. In more severe cases, treatment with a tooth guard is necessary to prevent tooth injury. Stress management or, in some cases, biofeedback can be useful when bruxism is a manifestation of psychological stress. There are anecdotal reports of benefit with benzodiazepines.
Bedwetting, like sleepwalking and night terrors, is another parasomnia that occurs during sleep in the young. Before age 5 or 6 years, nocturnal enuresis should be considered a normal feature of development. The condition usually improves spontaneously by puberty, has a prevalence in late adolescence of 1–3%, and is rare in adulthood. Treatment consists of bladder training exercises and behavioral therapy. Symptomatic pharmacotherapy is usually accomplished in adults with desmopressin (0.2 mg qhs), oxybutynin chloride (5 mg qhs), or imipramine (10–25 mg qhs). Important causes of nocturnal enuresis in patients who were previously continent for 6–12 months include urinary tract infections or malformations, cauda equina lesions, emotional disturbances, epilepsy, sleep apnea, and certain medications.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
RBD (Video 38-2) is distinct from other parasomnias in that it occurs during REM sleep. The patient or the bed partner usually reports agitated or violent behavior during sleep, and upon awakening, the patient can often report a dream that accompanied the movements. During normal REM sleep, nearly all skeletal muscles are paralyzed, but in patients with RBD, the polysomnogram often shows limb movements during REM sleep, lasting for seconds to minutes. The movements can be dramatic, and it is not uncommon for the patient or the bed partner to be injured.
Video 38-2 Typical aggressive movements in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder.
(Video courtesy of Dr. Carlos Schenck, University of Minnesota Medical School.)
RBD primarily afflicts older men, and most either have or will develop a neurodegenerative disorder. In longitudinal studies of RBD, half of the patients developed a synucleinopathy such as Parkinson’s disease (Chap. 449) or dementia with Lewy bodies (Chap. 448), or occasionally multiple system atrophy (Chap. 454), within 12 years, and over 80% developed a synucleinopathy by 20 years. RBD can occur in patients taking antidepressants, and in some, these medications may unmask this early indicator of neurodegeneration. Synucleinopathies probably cause neuronal loss in brainstem regions that regulate muscle atonia during REM sleep, and loss of these neurons permits movements to break through during REM sleep. RBD also occurs in about 30% of patients with narcolepsy, but the underlying cause is probably different, as they seem to be at no increased risk of a neurodegenerative disorder.
Many patients with RBD have sustained improvement with clonazepam (0.5–2.0 mg qhs).3 Melatonin at doses up to 9 mg nightly may also prevent attacks.
CIRCADIAN RHYTHM SLEEP DISORDERS
A subset of patients presenting with either insomnia or hypersomnia may have a disorder of sleep timing rather than sleep generation. Disorders of sleep timing can be either organic (i.e., due to an abnormality of circadian pacemaker[s]) or environmental/behavioral (i.e., due to a disruption of environmental synchronizers). Effective therapies aim to entrain the circadian rhythm of sleep propensity to an appropriate phase.
Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder
Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD) is characterized by: (1) reported sleep onset and wake times intractably later than desired; (2) actual sleep times at nearly the same clock hours daily; and (3) if conducted at the habitual delayed sleep time, essentially normal sleep on polysomnography (except for delayed sleep onset). Patients with DSWPD exhibit an abnormally delayed endogenous circadian phase, which can be assessed by measuring, in a dimly lit environment, the onset of secretion of the endogenous circadian rhythm of pineal melatonin in either the blood or saliva, as light suppresses melatonin secretion. Dim-light melatonin onset (DLMO) in DSWPD patients typically occurs later in the evening than normal, which is about 8:00–9:00 pm (i.e., about 1–2 h before habitual bedtime). Patients tend to be young adults. The delayed circadian phase could be due to: (1) an abnormally long, genetically determined intrinsic period of the endogenous circadian pacemaker; (2) reduced phase-advancing capacity of the pacemaker; (3) slower rate of buildup of homeostatic sleep drive during wakefulness; or (4) an irregular prior sleep-wake schedule, characterized by frequent nights when the patient chooses to remain awake while exposed to artificial light well past midnight (for personal, social, school, or work reasons). In most cases, it is difficult to distinguish among these factors, as patients with either a behaviorally induced or biologically driven circadian phase delay may both exhibit a similar circadian phase delay in DLMO, making it difficult for both to fall asleep at the desired hour. DSWPD is a self-perpetuating condition that can persist for years and may not respond to attempts to reestablish normal bedtime hours. Treatment methods involving phototherapy with blue-enriched light during the morning hours and/or melatonin administration in the evening hours show promise in these patients, although the relapse rate is high. Patients with this circadian rhythm sleep disorder can be distinguished from those who have sleep-onset insomnia because DSWPD patients show late onset of dim-light melatonin secretion.
Advanced Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder
Advanced sleep-wake phase disorder (ASWPD) is the converse of DSWPD. Most commonly, this syndrome occurs in older people, 15% of whom report that they cannot sleep past 5:00 am, with twice that number complaining that they wake up too early at least several times per week. Patients with ASWPD are sleepy during the evening hours, even in social settings. Sleep-wake timing in ASWPD patients can interfere with a normal social life. Patients with this circadian rhythm sleep disorder can be distinguished from those who have early wakening due to insomnia because ASWPD patients show early onset of dim-light melatonin secretion.
In addition to age-related ASWPD, an early-onset familial variant of this condition has also been reported. In two families in which ASWPD was inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, the syndrome was due to missense mutations in a circadian clock component (in the casein kinase binding domain of PER2 in one family, and in casein kinase I delta in the other) that altered the circadian period. Patients with ASWPD may benefit from bright-light and/or blue enriched phototherapy during the evening hours to reset the circadian pacemaker to a later hour.
Non-24-h Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder
Non-24-h sleep-wake rhythm disorder (N24SWRD) can occur when the primary synchronizing input (i.e., the light-dark cycle) from the environment to the circadian pacemaker is compromised (as occurs in many blind people with no light perception) or when the maximal phase-advancing capacity of the circadian pacemaker cannot accommodate the difference between the 24-h geophysical day and the intrinsic period of the patient’s circadian pacemaker, resulting in loss of entrainment to the 24-h day. Rarely, self-selected exposure to artificial light may, in some sighted patients, inadvertently entrain the circadian pacemaker to a >24-h schedule. Affected patients with N24SWRD have difficulty maintaining a stable phase relationship between the output of the pacemaker and the 24-h day. Such patients typically present with an incremental pattern of successive delays in sleep propensity, progressing in and out of phase with local time. When the N24SWRD patient’s endogenous circadian rhythms are out of phase with the local environment, nighttime insomnia coexists with excessive daytime sleepiness. Conversely, when the endogenous circadian rhythms are in phase with the local environment, symptoms remit. The interval between symptomatic phases may last several weeks to several months in N24SWRD, depending on the period of the underlying nonentrained rhythm and the 24-h day. Nightly low-dose (0.5 mg) melatonin administration may improve sleep and, in some cases, induce synchronization of the circadian pacemaker.
More than 7 million workers in the United States regularly work at night, either on a permanent or rotating schedule. Many more begin the commute to work or school between 4:00 am and 7:00 am, requiring them to commute and then work during the time of day that they would otherwise be asleep. In addition, each week, millions of “day” workers and students elect to remain awake at night or awaken very early in the morning to work or study to meet work or school deadlines, drive long distances, compete in sporting events, or participate in recreational activities. Such schedules can result in both sleep loss and misalignment of circadian rhythms with respect to the sleep-wake cycle.
The circadian timing system usually fails to adapt successfully to the inverted schedules required by overnight work or the phase advance required by early morning (4:00 am to 7:00 am) start times. This leads to a misalignment between the desired work-rest schedule and the output of the pacemaker and to disturbed daytime sleep in most individuals. Excessive work hours (per day or per week), insufficient time off between consecutive days of work or school, and transmeridian travel may be contributing factors. Sleep deficiency, increased length of time awake prior to work, and misalignment of circadian phase produce decreased alertness and performance, increased reaction time, and increased risk of performance lapses, thereby resulting in greater safety hazards among night workers and other sleep-deprived individuals. Sleep disturbance nearly doubles the risk of a fatal work accident. Long-term night shift workers have higher rates of breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer and of cardiac, gastrointestinal, and reproductive disorders. The World Health Organization has added night-shift work to its list of probable carcinogens.
Sleep onset begins in local brain regions before gradually sweeping over the entire brain as sensory thresholds rise and consciousness is lost. A sleepy individual struggling to remain awake may attempt to continue performing routine and familiar motor tasks during the transition state between wakefulness and stage N1 sleep, while unable to adequately process sensory input from the environment. Motor vehicle operators who fail to heed the warning signs of sleepiness are especially vulnerable to sleep-related accidents, as sleep processes can intrude involuntarily upon the waking brain, causing catastrophic consequences. Such sleep-related attentional failures typically last only seconds but are known on occasion to persist for longer durations. There is a significant increase in the risk of sleep-related, fatal-to-the-driver highway crashes in the early morning and late afternoon hours, coincident with bimodal peaks in the daily rhythm of sleep tendency.
Resident physicians constitute another group of workers at greater risk for accidents and other adverse consequences of lack of sleep and misalignment of the circadian rhythm. Recurrent scheduling of resident physicians to work shifts of ≥24 consecutive hours impairs psychomotor performance to a degree that is comparable to alcohol intoxication, doubles the risk of attentional failures among intensive care unit resident physicians working at night, and significantly increases the risk of serious medical errors in intensive care units, including a fivefold increase in the risk of serious diagnostic mistakes. Some 20% of hospital resident physicians report making a fatigue-related mistake that injured a patient, and 5% admit making a fatigue-related mistake that resulted in the death of a patient. Moreover, working for >24 consecutive hours increases the risk of percutaneous injuries and more than doubles the risk of motor vehicle crashes on the commute home. For these reasons, in 2008, the Institute of Medicine concluded that the practice of scheduling resident physicians to work for more than 16 consecutive hours without sleep is hazardous for both resident physicians and their patients.
From 5 to 15% of individuals scheduled to work at night or in the early morning hours have much greater-than-average difficulties remaining awake during night work and sleeping during the day; these individuals are diagnosed with chronic and severe shift-work disorder (SWD). Patients with this disorder have a level of excessive sleepiness during work at night or in the early morning and insomnia during day sleep that the physician judges to be clinically significant; the condition is associated with an increased risk of sleep-related accidents and with some of the illnesses associated with night-shift work. Patients with chronic and severe SWD are profoundly sleepy at work. In fact, their sleep latencies during night work average just 2 min, comparable to mean daytime sleep latency durations of patients with narcolepsy or severe sleep apnea.
TREATMENT Shift-Work Disorder
Caffeine is frequently used by night workers to promote wakefulness. However, it cannot forestall sleep indefinitely, and it does not shield users from sleep-related performance lapses. Postural changes, exercise, and strategic placement of nap opportunities can sometimes temporarily reduce the risk of fatigue-related performance lapses. Properly timed exposure to blue-enriched light or bright white light can directly enhance alertness and facilitate more rapid adaptation to night-shift work.
Modafinil (200 mg) or armodafinil (150 mg) 30–60 min before the start of each night shift is an effective treatment for the excessive sleepiness during night work in patients with SWD. Although treatment with modafinil or armodafinil significantly improves performance and reduces sleep propensity and the risk of lapses of attention during night work, affected patients remain excessively sleepy.
Fatigue risk management programs for night shift workers should promote education about sleep, increase awareness of the hazards associated with sleep deficiency and night work, and screen for common sleep disorders. Work schedules should be designed to minimize: (1) exposure to night work; (2) the frequency of shift rotations; (3) the number of consecutive night shifts; and (4) the duration of night shifts.
Each year, more than 60 million people fly from one time zone to another, often resulting in excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep-onset insomnia, and frequent arousals from sleep, particularly in the latter half of the night. The syndrome is transient, typically lasting 2–14 d depending on the number of time zones crossed, the direction of travel, and the traveler’s age and phase-shifting capacity. Travelers who spend more time outdoors at their destination reportedly adapt more quickly than those who remain in hotel rooms, presumably due to brighter (outdoor) light exposure. Avoidance of antecedent sleep loss and obtaining naps on the afternoon prior to overnight travel can reduce the difficulties associated with extended wakefulness. Laboratory studies suggest that low doses of melatonin can enhance sleep efficiency, but only if taken when endogenous melatonin concentrations are low (i.e., during the biologic daytime).
In addition to jet lag associated with travel across time zones, many patients report a behavioral pattern that has been termed social jet lag, in which bedtimes and wake times on weekends or days off occur 4–8 h later than during the week. Such recurrent displacement of the timing of the sleep-wake cycle is common in adolescents and young adults and is associated with sleep-onset insomnia, poorer academic performance, increased risk of depressive symptoms, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
MEDICAL IMPLICATIONS OF CIRCADIAN RHYTHMICITY
Prominent circadian variations have been reported in the incidence of acute myocardial infarction, sudden cardiac death, and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States. Platelet aggregability is increased in the early morning hours, coincident with the peak incidence of these cardiovascular events. Recurrent circadian disruption combined with chronic sleep deficiency, such as occurs during night-shift work, is associated with increased plasma glucose concentrations after a meal due to inadequate pancreatic insulin secretion. Night shift workers with elevated fasting glucose have an increased risk of progressing to diabetes. Blood pressure of night workers with sleep apnea is higher than that of day workers. A better understanding of the possible role of circadian rhythmicity in the acute destabilization of a chronic condition such as atherosclerotic disease could improve the understanding of its pathophysiology.
Diagnostic and therapeutic procedures may also be affected by the time of day at which data are collected. Examples include blood pressure, body temperature, the dexamethasone suppression test, and plasma cortisol levels. The timing of chemotherapy administration has been reported to have an effect on the outcome of treatment. In addition, both the toxicity and effectiveness of drugs can vary with time of day. For example, more than a fivefold difference has been observed in mortality rates following administration of toxic agents to experimental animals at different times of day. Anesthetic agents are particularly sensitive to time-of-day effects. Finally, the physician must be aware of the public health risks associated with the ever-increasing demands made by the 24/7 schedules in our round-the-clock society.
John W. Winkelman, MD, PhD and Gary S. Richardson, MD contributed to this chapter in the prior edition and some material from that chapter has been retained here.