Disturbing the Peace

Sleep Disorders Steal the Winks

For seven years, Warren Deck observed a nightly ritual he wished he could have avoided. Nearly every night, Deck would awake in the wee hours, stagger to his recliner in the family room of his Glenwood home, and spend the rest of the night in an upright position. He took Ambien, a sleep aid that did some good, but wore off by the middle of the night. His struggle persisted. Weeks rolled into months, then years.

Uncomfortable and weary, Deck endured the nightly spells, attributing the episodes to an ailing back. But it was more than back trouble. Both Deck’s general doctor as well as a neurologist suggested he visit a sleep specialist. Reluctant at first, Deck’s reservations evaporated after the urging of family. His visit to Ingalls Memorial Hospital neurophysiologist Dr. Kevin Fagan revealed the central issue.

“I didn’t know, but I had this restless leg problem,” says Deck, an 87-year-old retired businessman. “My legs were moving constantly as I slept.”

Fagan discovered Deck’s legs moved upward of 80 times each hour while he also moved from light to dark stages of sleep nearly 20 times each hour.

“It’s an annoying discomfort at night paired with tiredness through the day,” Fagan says. “(Deck’s) problems were so severe that they would come at him during different times of the day.”

Fagan also explained to Deck that sleep disorders become more prevalent as people age, frequently caused by a general decrease in fitness and an increase in weight. Combating sleep disorders often involves including neurologists; psychologists; pulmonary doctors; ear, nose, and throat doctors, and even dentists.

Because they remain unaware of their problem, or unable to admit it, many people suffer too long with slumber issues, Fagan says.

Deck’s case survives as a textbook profile of restless leg syndrome. Increasingly, medicines for Parkinson’s have been shown to be effective in treating the ailment, a contrast from the opiates that dominated treatment years ago.

Until the last 15 years, sleep disorders were often mistreated or even over-treated with medications. An increased attention by the medical community to sleep disorders, however, has generated various positive outcomes, including Deck’s story. Pessimistic at first, he now gets five to six hours of solid sleep each night, a welcome addition to his daily routine.

“I’m grateful the doctors were able to identify my problem and work with me to find solutions,” Deck says. “I’m the beneficiary of their efforts and have an improved quality of life to show for it.”

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