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What Is Narcolepsy?
last updated:
Wed, 1/02/2013 1:13 PM

Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that causes a potentially disabling level of daytime sleepiness. This sleepiness may occur in the form of repeated and irresistible “sleep attacks.” In these episodes a person suddenly falls asleep in unusual situations, such as while eating, walking or driving. Narcolepsy affects less than one percent of men and women, typically appearing in teens and young adults and then persisting for a lifetime. 

Sleepiness in narcolepsy is not the result of inadequate sleep; people with narcolepsy still experience daytime sleepiness even when they sleep well at night. Sleepiness is more likely to occur in boring, monotonous situations that require no active participation (such as watching television). If not recognized and appropriately managed, narcolepsy can drastically and negatively affect the quality of a person’s life.

Symptoms of Narcolepsy

The main symptoms associated with narcolepsy are:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness - usually the first symptom to appear in people who have narcolepsy.
  • Cataplexy - a sudden loss of muscle tone, usually triggered by emotional stimuli such as laughter, surprise, or anger.
  • Hypnogogic hallucinations - during transition from wakefulness to sleep, the patient has bizarre, often frightening dream-like experiences that incorporate his or her real environment.
  • Sleep paralysis - a temporary inability to move during sleep-wake transitions. Sleep paralysis may last for a few seconds to several minutes and may accompany hypnagogic hallucinations.
  • Disturbed nocturnal sleep – waking up repeatedly throughout the night.
  • Leg jerks, nightmares, and restlessness.


Narcolepsy cannot be cured. Symptoms can usually be controlled or improved so that sufferers experience symptoms less frequently and lead fairly normal lives. Treatment plans have several aspects: medication, behavior treatment, and management of your environment.

If you believe you may have narcolepsy, inform your primary care physician or make an appointment for an evaluation with a Sleep Specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center. To find a physician in Memphis or Olive Branch that specializes in sleep disorders, please call 901.683.0044. 

Is It Time for a New Mattress?
last updated:
Tue, 9/18/2012 4:05 PM

Experts from WebMD share insight as to when it’s time to reinvest in your sleep.

To get a good night's sleep you've got to start with the basics and your mattress is the first building block to a restful slumber.

When to Part With Your Old Mattress

"Today's mattresses are made to last a lifetime. But you probably shouldn't plan on keeping yours for that long. Our bodies change over time, so the mattress that was once a joy to sleep on may no longer feel comfortable a few years down the road," says Michael Breus, PhD, a WebMD sleep expert and author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep.

In addition, mattresses collect dust mites, fungus, and other germs that can exacerbate allergies and impact your sleep patterns. After 10 to 15 years, it's time to think about buying a new bed.

Ultimately, the experts say that the best bed for you is the one that feels most comfortable. "There's no mattress that's going to save your body when you get only five hours of sleep," says Arya Nick Shamie, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center. In order to feel your best, you need to get enough rest… no matter what type of mattress you're sleeping on.

How do you know if the bed you're sleeping on is the right one?

"If you wake up in the morning and have some low back pain and can stretch and get rid of it in 15 or 30 minutes, that means you're on an inappropriate mattress for you," said Breus. “The right mattress, on the other hand, is one on which you feel no pressure, almost like you're floating in air.”

If you're looking for a new mattress, experts suggest testing it in the store and lying down on each mattress in the position in which you normally sleep. Breus suggests spending at least 10 to 15 minutes on the bed. And, bring your own pillow! The more you can replicate the way you'll be sleeping on the mattress once you get it home, the better your chances of picking the right one.

Tips & Warnings on purchasing a new mattress:

  • Beds come in six different sizes:
    King (sometimes called eastern king), 76 inches wide by 80 inches long;
    California king, 72 inches wide by 84 inches long;
    Queen, 60 inches wide by 80 inches long;
    Full (or double), 54 inches wide by 75 inches long;
    Twin (or single), 39 inches wide by 75 inches long; and
    Twin Extra-Long, 39 inches wide by 80 inches long
  • Try to bargain for the best price. Shopping for a mattress is similar to buying a car in that there is often room for negotiation.
  • Pillow tops add an extra layer of padding to the top of the mattress but tend to sag more quickly than thinner padding on mattresses.
  • Hard mattresses don't necessarily offer the best support. If a mattress is too hard, it may add uncomfortable pressure to your hips and shoulders.

To ease the confusion of buying a mattress, the Better Sleep Council has developed guidelines that walk you through the process and help you make the purchase of your dreams. Click here to access the guide.

If you have a proper mattress and still struggle with sleep, you may have a sleep disorder that should be discussed with your physician. To find out more about disorders that may be impacting your sleep, visit our website at

This information is provided by Methodist Healthcare and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

References: By Lisa Zamosky/ Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Better Sleep Council

May is Better Sleep Month
last updated:
Tue, 5/01/2012 11:22 AM

Refreshing sleep is of huge importance when staying healthy. Better Sleep Month, supported by the Better Sleep Council (BSC), aims to raise awareness about the benefits of better sleep and how poor sleep can disrupt our lives. As with diet and exercise, sleep is crucial to our physical, emotional and mental health.

Here are some tips to get a better night's sleep:

  • Try going to bed and getting up at the same time every day – even on the weekends. This will help keep your biological clock in sync.
  • Exercise at the right time for you. Regular exercise can help you get a good night's sleep. The timing and intensity of exercise seems to play a key role in its effects on sleep. If you are the type of person who gets energized or becomes more alert after exercise, it may be best not to exercise in the evening. Regular exercise in the morning even can help relieve insomnia, according to a study.
  • Develop a sleep ritual by doing the same things each night just before bed. Parents often establish a routine for their kids, but it can help adults, too. A routine cues the body to settle down for the night.
  • Unwind early in the evening so that worries and distractions don't keep you from getting a good night's sleep.
  • Cut caffeine. Simply put, caffeine can keep you awake. It can stay in your body longer than you might think – the effects of caffeine can take as long as eight hours to wear off. Cutting out caffeine at least four to six hours before bedtime can help you fall asleep easier.
  • Eat right, sleep tight. Try not to go to bed hungry, but avoid heavy meals before bedtime. An over-full belly can keep you up. Also, try not to drink fluids after 8 p.m. This can keep you from having to get up to use the bathroom during the night.
  • Create a restful sleep environment – sleep in a cool, quiet, dark room on a comfortable, supportive mattress and foundation – to get your best night's rest.

If you're sleeping as much as you need, but still find that you're sleepy during the day, you should discuss this with your physician or contact the Methodist Sleep Disorders Center directly by calling 901-683-0044 or visit us on our website at

This information is provided by Methodist Healthcare and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

National Sleep Awareness Week
last updated:
Tue, 3/06/2012 10:02 AM

National Sleep Awareness Week™, which takes place March 5-11, 2012, is an annual public education and awareness campaign to promote the importance of sleep. The week begins with the announcement of the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America poll results and ends with the clock change to Daylight Saving Time, where Americans lose one hour of sleep.

How much do you know about sleep disorders? Review these statements from WebMD and learn which are true and which are not.

Snoring can be harmful.

True: Aside from bothering other people, snoring is not harmful. However, it can be a sign of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that is associated with significant medical problems such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Sleep apnea is characterized by episodes of reduced or no airflow throughout the night. People with sleep apnea may remember waking up frequently during the night gasping for breath.

You can "cheat" on the amount of sleep you get.

False: Sleep experts say that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Getting fewer hours of sleep will eventually need to be replenished with additional sleep in the next few nights. Our body does not seem to get used to less sleep than it needs.

Teens need more sleep than adults.

True: Teens need at least 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep each night, compared to an average of seven to nine hours each night for most adults. The internal biological clocks of teenagers can keep them awake later in the evening and can interfere with waking up in the morning.

Insomnia is characterized only by difficulty falling asleep.

False: One or more of the following four symptoms are usually associated with insomnia:

  • Difficulty falling asleep.
  • Waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep.
  • Frequent awakenings.
  • Waking up feeling unrefreshed.

Daytime sleepiness means a person is not getting enough sleep.

False: While excessive daytime sleepiness often occurs if you don't get enough sleep, it can also occur even after a good night's sleep. Such sleepiness can be a sign of an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea.

Your brain rests during sleep.

False: The body rests during sleep, not the brain. The brain remains active, gets recharged, and still controls many body functions including breathing during sleep.

The experts at Methodist’s Sleep Disorders Center recommend the tips below for maximizing your sleep cycle.

Tips for Sleeping Smart

  • Establish a regular bed and wake time
  • Avoid nicotine altogether and avoid caffeine close to bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Exercise regularly (but complete the workout at least 3 hours before bedtime)
  • Establish a consistent relaxing “wind-down” bedtime routine
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet and comfortable
  • Discuss the appropriate way to take any sleep aid with a healthcare professional

For more information on Sleep Disorders, visit us online at

This information is provided by Methodist Healthcare and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

Poor Sleep Can Result in Heart Disease
last updated:
Fri, 2/03/2012 10:41 AM

More than 18 million Americans have Sleep Apnea Syndrome*

What is sleep apnea? Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder in which a person quits breathing for a minimum of 10 seconds while sleeping. Sleep apnea occurs frequently throughout the sleep cycle.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea? Some of the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • Snoring
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
  • Morning Headaches
  • Bedwetting

So what is the connection between heart disease and poor sleep? People with cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, irregular heartbeat, and diabetes have a high prevalence of sleep apnea. Whether sleep apnea actually causes heart disease is still unclear; however, if you have sleep apnea, the chance that you will develop hypertension in the future increases significantly.

Also, because events that occur while you are sleeping tend to carry over into your daytime or normal “awake” hours, people with moderate to severe sleep apnea often develop high blood pressure.

How does my body react if I have sleep apnea? Your blood pressure rises when you have sleep apnea. Because you stop breathing with sleep apnea, the oxygen levels in your blood often fall below normal levels¬. As a result, your brain sends signals through the nervous system that essentially tell the blood vessels to constrict or "tighten up" in order to increase the flow of oxygen to the vital organs like the heart and the brain. This “tightening” of the blood vessels increases the pressure of the blood flowing through them.

The good news. The good news for patients with heart disease is that with treatment of your sleep apnea, your chances of improving your condition are considerably better. Those who are treated for sleep apnea who also have a heart condition often see significant improvement in the measures of blood pressure, heart failure, and irregular heartbeats.

If you or anyone you know has heart disease, they should discuss the possibility of sleep apnea with their treating physician.

To find out more about disorders that may be impacting your sleep, visit our website at

*According to the National Sleep Foundation.

Sleep Disorders Can Impact Resolutions
last updated:
Thu, 1/05/2012 11:21 AM

The start of the new year often motivates us to set goals or resolutions for improving our lives in the upcoming year. Did you know that the most popular “New Year’s Resolutions” have a positive impact on the quality of sleep that a person gets? Furthermore, did you know that some sleep disorders can make it almost impossible for a person to meet their goals for the new year without seeking help from a sleep specialist first?
Weight loss is the most common new year resolution among friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and perhaps, even yourself. Did you know that sleep effects your ability to reach your resolution goals? A lifestyle of healthy eating, exercising, and appropriate weight control leads to a better quality of sleep for people of all ages. Quality sleep in turn helps control weight and mood. When we are getting enough quality sleep, our hormone levels and metabolism remain more stable and constant. Therefore, it is easier for our bodies to utilize the fats and sugars in our blood in a healthy way, keeping us from gaining weight.
For some, an undiagnosed sleep disorder makes it impossible to stick to their new year’s resolution of losing weight. An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, which is often associated with people who are overweight. Sleep Apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder in which a person quits breathing for at least 10 seconds or longer while they are sleeping. If a person is overweight and suffering from undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea, he/she may not be as motivated to exercise or to diet. Sleep apnea leads to daytime sleepiness. Excessive daytime sleepiness makes it that much harder to begin and stay with an exercise program. Sleep apnea also contributes to obesity by making it more difficult for a person to process glucose (sugar) in the blood, much like a person with diabetes.
Sometimes the best way to treat obesity and stick to your goal can be to treat an underlying sleep problem. Successful treatment of sleep apnea will often motivate patients to effectively lose weight, which will in turn help their challenge of obesity and the sleep apnea.

If you are overweight or obese and sleep poorly or feel tired during the day, you should talk to your primary care clinician about a referral to a sleep center or contact the Sleep Disorders Center directly by calling 901-683-0044. For more information, visit us online at

Sleep Disorders During Pregnancy
last updated:
Mon, 7/18/2011 1:25 PM

Several sleep disorders can be caused or made worse by pregnancy.  Some disorders, such as sleep apnea, may also be associated with complications during pregnancy such as gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, or low birth weight.  Women with sleep apnea may also experience more daytime sleepiness compared to women who do not have sleep apnea during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and feel you may suffer from sleep apnea, it is very important that you talk to your doctor.

Here are the common sleep problems and their symptoms that may occur during pregnancy:

  • Sleep apnea – Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person quits breathing in his or her sleep repeatedly.  Sleep apnea is often described as heavy snoring followed by long, quiet pauses with no breathing, and then an abrupt arousal with gasping and/or choking sounds during sleep.  Excessive daytime sleepiness is a result of sleep apnea.  If you are experiencing snoring and sleepiness, you should talk with your physician and ask about having your blood pressure and urine protein checked, especially if you have swollen ankles or headaches.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS) - Symptoms of RLS include unpleasant feelings in the legs, sometimes described as creepy, tingly or achy. These feelings are worse at night or in the hours before bed and they are temporarily relieved by movement or stretching.   Most often patients with RLS also have nocturnal myoclonus, which is a sleep disorder where patients kick, jerk, or move their legs and/or arms all through the night.  Ask about your iron and folate levels at your next doctor’s appointment if you have symptoms of RLS or myoclonus.  
  • Insomnia – Symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early or feeling unrefreshed. Insomnia related to stress or anxiety about labor, delivery and/or balancing work and motherhood may result in significant sleep loss. The discomforts of pregnancy such as nausea, back pain and fetal movements may also disturb sleep.
  • Nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux (nighttime GERD) – GERD, also known as heartburn, is considered a normal part of pregnancy. However, nighttime symptoms of GERD can damage the esophagus and disrupt sleep during pregnancy.  If you are experiencing GERD, you should sleep with your upper body at an incline or elevated by at least 30 degrees and/or sleep on your left side.  Try to avoid eating at least within 4 hours of your sleep time. 

For more information about sleep disorders, please visit our website at or contact us at 901.683.0044, option #3.   


Kristi Lester is the Manager of the Methodist Healthcare Sleep Disorders Center. All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice. Please call the Sleep Disorders Center for more information at 901.683.0044.

The truth about common sleep myths
last updated:
Mon, 5/16/2011 3:37 PM

Quality sleep is one of the most important--and often misunderstood--keys to a healthy lifestyle. Kristi Lester, Manager of the Methodist Healthcare Sleep Disorders Center, shares why some of the things you've heard about sleep may not be the real story.

Myth #1: When a person is snoring, they are getting really good, restful sleep.

Reality: Although snoring appears harmless and more humorous when Larry, Curly, and Moe are doing it, snoring is a sign that not enough air is going into a person's windpipe. Snoring or pauses in breathing often indicate a serious, life-threatening sleep disorder known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Myth #2: I can function just fine with 5 or 6 hours of sleep.

Reality: The vast majority of adults function best with 7.5 - 8.5 hours of sleep every night. Many individuals who get less than that amount struggle with memory, problem-solving, and emotional problems.

Myth #3: I never discuss my sleep problems or concerns about sleepiness with my primary care physician because it really isn't important to my health.

Reality: Sleep isn't just "a break" from our daily lives. It is an active state important for renewing our minds and bodies each day. We spend one-third of our lives sleeping. There are more than 80 sleep disorders that lead to a lowered quality of life and poor health. Many disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea are life-threatening, as they may lead to heart attacks, strokes, depression, and other debilitating diseases and conditions. Sleepiness is often a complication of untreated sleep disorders and endangers lives every day by contributing to traffic accidents. You should always discuss any concerns that you have regarding sleepiness or your sleep in general with your primary care physician.

Myth #4: People who are sleepy during the day are "lazy."

Reality: Excessive sleepiness often indicates that the person is not getting enough sleep or that he or she has a sleep disorder that requires treatment. People with daytime sleepiness often fall asleep at traffic lights and stop signs, while watching television, during meetings, or while sitting in front of a computer. This is not normal behavior and a person should talk with their primary care physician about these issues.

Please tune in to Comcast Cable Channel 18, WYPL's The Power of Sleep in May 2011 where Dr. Merrill Wise will discuss these and many more common myths about sleep and sleep disorders. The Power of Sleep airs every month on the following days and times:

Mondays - 3:00 a.m.; 9:00 p.m.
Tuesdays - 12:30 a.m.; 6:30 a.m.; 6:30 p.m.
Wednesdays - 4:30 a.m.; 11:00 p.m.
Thursdays - 12:30 p.m.
Fridays - 3:00 p.m.; 9:00 p.m.
Saturdays - 2:00 a.m.; 10:00 a.m.
Sundays - 6:00 p.m.


Kristi Lester is the Manager of the Methodist Healthcare Sleep Disorders Center. All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice. Please call the Sleep Disorders Center for more information at 901.683.0044.


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Methodist Healthcare is an integrated health care delivery system, dedicated to the art of healing through our faith-based commitment to minister to the whole person. 1211 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104 • (901) 516-7000