Ask the Sleep Doctor – Topics: Night Eating, PTSD, Sleep Apnea and Dementia

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

I am a night eater. I probably consume over 40% of my calories after dinner. When I cannot sleep, I get on my computer and eat while I am looking at my emails. I have gained over 50 pounds in the last year. Any ideas?

ANSWER:

Yes. What you are describing sounds like a sleep disorder called Nocturnal Eating Syndrome. It is characterized by the consumption of over 1/3 of caloric intake after dinner. We are not sure as to what causes it, but we do know that bright light exposure during the night can increase appetite. The hormone leptin is produced in increasing amounts at night and is an appetite suppressant. Exposure to bright light inhibits its production and may be contributing to your eating in the middle of the night. My advice would be to start by staying off computers at night.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

My wife was in a severe car accident a few years ago and developed PTSD following the accident. She has undergone therapy and even taken medications but is no better. She still cannot drive a car and she re-experiences the accident in her head all the time. Since the accident, she has had insomnia. No one has addressed that one thing. Do you think that could be a problem?

ANSWER:

Yes, we know that 70% of PTSD victims have nightmares and insomnia. It is during sleep, especially REM sleep, that we are able to uncouple the trauma from our day-to-day activities. That is why it is so important to address sleep disorders when treating PTSD. When they are not, it makes it much harder to alleviate the daytime symptoms. I would recommend you discuss her sleep issues with your health care provider, and if necessary get a referral to someone who specializes in sleep disorders.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

My wife is a night owl and watches television and is using her cell phone until 12 AM. She says that she has always been a night owl and is full of energy at the hours that I want to go to sleep. I have to be up by 6 AM, and although I go to bed at 10 PM, most nights I can’t fall or stay asleep until she turns off the television. I have become increasingly fatigued and irritable, and on the weekends I sleep until noon. I have tried eyeshades and earplugs but I still can’t fall asleep. Any ideas?

ANSWER:

Yes, you are describing a common problem. You two have very different circadian clocks. Her sleep-wake cycle is, and will probably always be different from yours. Much of this is genetics. First, I would try to convince your wife to watch TV in another room and make her calls elsewhere. I would point out that your lack of sleep is taking a toll on you emotionally and physically. If you cannot resolve this then you might have to consider a bedroom divorce. Recent studies have shown that close to 15% of the population sleeps in separate bedrooms because of problems such as yours. That does not mean that you can’t still set aside nights to be intimate. You need to reassure your wife that your feelings for her have not changed, but your sleep is a priority. Good luck.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

Is it true that sleep apnea can contribute to dementia? My dad has been diagnosed with early dementia. My mom says he snores and stops breathing. However, she has not told his neurologist about this. Could this be important?

ANSWER:

Yes, definitely. In fact, in a study published in an issue of the journal Neurology, that very issue was studied. The findings were that in those with untreated sleep apnea, mild dementia and Alzheimer’s occurred on average ten years earlier than in those without sleep apnea. This is yet another study that shows that sleep apnea causes damage to the brain. I would urge your mother to relate her observations to your dad’s neurologist.

Dr. Robert Rosenberg, D.O., FCCP, DABSM

Robert S. Rosenberg, DO, FCCP, is the medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Arizona and sleep medicine consultant for Mountain Heart Health Services in Flagstaff, Arizona. Dr. Rosenberg is board certified in sleep medicine, pulmonary medicine, and internal medicine. His book Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day  is a best seller. Dr Rosenberg’s latest book is The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety. Visit Dr Rosenberg’s website WWW.AnswersForSleep.com which is a wealth of information on sleep topics.

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