Sleep Disorders

Sleep Disorders Specialist
Often, sleep disorders involve more than just poor bedtime habits or lifestyle issues. As a board certified specialist in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, Jerome List, MD, DDS, with Alaska Ear Nose & Throat in Anchorage, Alaska, looks at the medical issues that might disrupt your sleep such as bruxism or apnea to find permanent solutions.

Sleep Disorders Q&A

What is a sleep disorder?

A sleep disorder is any medical problem that interferes with normal sleep patterns. There are many possible issues, so the term is very broad. Often, when someone refers to a sleep disorder, though, they are talking about sleep apnea or insomnia. Sleep apnea is of particular concern because it can be potentially severe and even life-threatening.

What is sleep apnea?

A person with sleep apnea stops breathing repeatedly while sleeping. There are three types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive
  • Central
  • Complex

Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, results from your throat muscles relaxing. Central sleep apnea is a neurological problem that involves the brain sending improper messages of the muscles that control breathing. Complex sleep apnea syndrome is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

What is the treatment for sleep disorders?

Treatments vary based on the underlying cause. For some people, the most effective option for obstructive sleep apnea is surgery. This type of sleep disorder occurs because the muscles of your throat relax, allowing your soft palate -- the triangular area of soft tissue that makes up the back of the throat -- to close off your airway. When your brain senses a lack of oxygen, it sends a signal that wakes you up enough to trigger a contraction of the muscles, opening your airway.

The whole process is repeated numerous times as you sleep. It can occur as many as 30 times an hour but usually has little effect because you don’t wake up enough to notice. For some patients, though, the constant disruption in sleep impairs their waking hours, leaving them feeling poorly rested and cranky.

These patients may benefit from a surgical correction designed to increase the size of the airway. By removing and repositioning tissue, Dr. List is able to open up the airway, so the muscle relaxation has less effect.

What type of surgical correction is available?

It will be up to Dr. List to decide what procedure best suits each patient. For some, it will mean the removal of their tonsils as well as reconstruction surgeries on the soft palate, such as:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty
  • Expansion sphincter pharyngoplasty
  • Lateral pharyngoplasty
  • Uvulopalatal flap
  • Palatal advancement pharyngoplasty
  • Z-palatoplasty
  • Relocation pharyngoplasty

Dr. List may opt for a combination of procedures to cure your sleep disorder.

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