New Test Spots Sleep Disorders

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April 3, 2002 -- Spotting a sleep disorder can be a tricky matter for most doctors, not to mention their patients. But a new study shows a quick and easy questionnaire can help doctors check for some of the most common sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that at least 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, but only a fraction ever receive treatment. Although sleeplessness has been linked to many health risks, ranging from depression and heart disease to an increased risk of highway and work-related accidents, most adults have never been asked about their sleep by a doctor.

"Many patients with sleep problems fail to receive treatment because the sleep screening process is far too time-consuming for the average physician to administer during a brief office visit," says study author Thomas Roth, PhD, chief of the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at Henry Ford Sleep Center in Detroit, in a news release.

A sleep disorder is any disruptive pattern of sleep that may include difficulty falling or staying asleep, falling asleep at inappropriate times, sleeping too much, or unusual behaviors during sleep. Researchers say many doctors are not trained to recognize sleep disorders and are uncertain how to treat or refer patients who have these problems.

The study, published in the March issue of Sleep Medicine, shows that the self-administered test known as the Global Sleep Assessment Questionnaire (GSAQ) can serve as a screening tool to help doctors pinpoint several sleep disorders. Researchers found the test correctly diagnosed insomnia about 80% of the time and was over 90% accurate in spotting sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

Sleep apnea occurs when tissues in the throat block the breathing airway. When this happens frequently, sleep is repeatedly disrupted. The person often experiences excessive daytime sleepiness. In restless leg syndrome, the person experiences an uncontrollable need to move their legs that usually worsens shortly after going to bed.

The questionnaire consists of the following 11 questions. Each question should be answered with one of four possible responses -- never, sometimes, usually, or always -- based on how many times you've experienced each situation in the past four weeks. How you answer the questions will help your doctor determine which, if any, of the sleep problems you have.

  1. Did you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling poorly rested in the morning?
  2. Did you fall asleep unintentionally or have to fight to stay awake during the day?
  3. Did sleep difficulties or daytime sleepiness interfere with your daily activities?
  4. Did work or other activities prevent you from getting enough sleep?
  5. Did you snore loudly?
  6. Did you hold your breath, have breathing pauses, or stop breathing in your sleep?
  7. Did you have restless or "crawling" feelings in your legs at night that went away if you moved your legs?
  8. Did you have repeated rhythmic leg jerks or leg twitches during your sleep?
  9. Did you have nightmares, or did you scream, walk, punch, or kick in your sleep?
  10. Did the following things disturb you in your sleep: pain, other physical symptoms, worries, medications, or other (specify)?
  11. Did you feel sad or anxious?

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