Sleep Medicine | Sleep Disorders

What is a sleep disorder?

Sleep disorders are medical conditions that affect sleep patterns and can lead to sleep loss. Sleep loss can lead to higher blood pressure, depression, poor concentration and accidents. Common sleep disorders include sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and insomnia. Sleep disorder symptoms may include:

  • Feeling tired all the time

  • Not being refreshed upon waking in the morning

  • Snoring

  • Tossing and turning

  • Stopping breathing while asleep

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Often taking sleeping pills

  • Feeling crawling in your legs or the urge to move the legs frequently while at rest

If you’re having symptoms of a sleep disorder, talk to your primary care doctor or family health care provider. Your doctor may refer you for a sleep study. Depending on the diagnosis, sleep disorder treatment may include education on better sleeping habits, medicine or medical devices, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.

Sleep Apnea: More Than a Snore

Sleep apnea is a serious, but treatable, condition where you stop breathing during sleep. It’s caused by a collapse in the airway. Common symptoms include snoring and gasping for air during sleep. People with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or who are overweight are more likely to have sleep apnea. Click to learn more about sleep apnea from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.


An overnight sleep study looks at breathing disorders and body functions as people sleep. Sleep studies help to diagnose sleep disorders. A sleep study also is called a polysomnogram. A sleep study usually is done at a sleep center or with an overnight home sleep testing monitor. A sleep technologist monitors brain waves, heartbeat, leg movements and breathing as you sleep.

Sleep studies can help diagnose

  • Insomnia

  • Sleep related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea

  • Narcolepsy

  • Restless legs syndrome

  • Circadian rhythm disturbances

  • Daytime sleepiness

If you think you may need a sleep study to diagnose and treat a sleep disorder, talk to your family healthcare provider. You will need a referral.

Preparing for a sleep study

People who go overnight to a sleep center should bring comfortable clothing to sleep in. Sleep centers are designed to feel like a comfortable home. You should bring a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a change of clothing to wear home the following day. The results of your sleep study will be reviewed and sent to your primary care provider.

Snoring is a sound that is made when you’re asleep. This could mean that your breathing is blocked in some way. Snoring is very common but more so in older adults and people who are overweight. Sometimes children snore, too. Snoring can caused by sleep apnea, which also can cause pauses in breathing. MaineHealth doctors and specialists can help you understand snoring and the effects of snoring on your health and well-being.

What are the causes of snoring?

Snoring is caused by the tissues at the top of your airway striking each other and vibrating. This can be caused by a few different things, such as:

  • Being overweight

  • Drinking too much alcohol

  • Sleeping on your back

  • Sleep apnea

  • Having a cold or allergies

  • GERD or acid reflux

  • Large tonsils or adenoids (usually in children)

Sleep apnea affects breathing when a person is sleeping. Breathing can stop for a few seconds to minutes, or breathing can be shallow. This can happen 30 times or more in an hour. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A person’s airway closes or becomes blocked during sleep. Breathing starts again with a snort through the nose or a choking sound. Sleep apnea risk factors include:

  • Age

  • Obesity, or being overweight

  • Having a large neck

  • Taking sleeping pills or other medicines that relax you

  • Smoking or drinking alcohol, especially before bedtime

  • Men have sleep apnea more often than women.

Sleep apnea symptoms

Snoring loudly followed by periods of silence can be symptoms of sleep apnea. But not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Other sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Breathing through the mouth or loud breathing while sleeping

  • Nightmares

  • Insomnia (not being able to sleep)

  • Dry mouth and dry throat

  • Headaches

  • Being sleepy during the day

Sometimes a person with sleep apnea is not aware of symptoms or sleeping problems until a loved one points it out. If you or a loved one have signs of sleep apnea, it is important to see a doctor. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack or an irregular heartbeat. Being overly tired during the day from sleep apnea can lead to accidents and injury.

Diagnosing sleep apnea

Your primary care provider may refer you to a sleep center for a sleep test. The test will tell if you have sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea. The patient may wear a Home Sleep Testing device at home or be observed overnight at a sleep center. A sleep center uses a number of different test modalities while you sleep.

Sleep apnea treatment

If obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed, you may be given a CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure treatment. It is a medical device that includes a specially fitted mask and keeps people breathing at night.

Other treatments for sleep apnea include:

  • Tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils)

  • Adenoidectomy (surgical removal of the adenoids)

  • Palatoplasty (surgery to correct the palate).

Become a patient

Talk to your primary care physician about a referral to our practice for yourself or a loved one.

Refer a patient

Providers, please view our referral guidelines to make a patient referral.