Ask the Sleep Doctor – Topics: Night Shift, Sleep Apnea, Sleep Terrors vs. Nightmares

Sleep doctor ready to answer questions

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

My husband started working night shifts last year. He is more irritable and we argue much more since he started the job. He has had a real problem as far as sleep adjusting to his new job. Could there be a relationship to his short temper?


Yes, in fact a study just published in the journal of behavioral sleep demonstrated this. In the study, it found that relationships where one or both partners did not get sufficient sleep, tended to be combative and resulted in a higher divorce rate. We have known for quite a while that people who do not get enough sleep tend to be more negative and have problems with impulse control. I would recommend your husband discuss his shift work related sleep problems with his health care provider. There are remedies available

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

Is it true that sleep apnea is more common in older adults?


Yes, in people under 65 we estimate that 15% of men and 5% of women have sleep apnea. A recent study was quite remarkable, showing that 70% of men and 45% of women over 65 have sleep apnea. This is due to multiple factors, including weakness of throats muscles, increased deposition of fat in the throat, and an elongated soft palate with aging.

This study was truly eye opening and certainly raised my suspicion of sleep apnea in the aging population.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

My 30-year-old daughter snores and is having trouble staying awake while driving. She is thin and her primary care provider told her that there is no way that she could have sleep apnea. What do you think?


I think your daughter should be seriously evaluated for sleep apnea. A study published in this month’s journal Sleep Medicine pointed out that women are routinely underdiagnosed when it comes to sleep apnea. This is because many health care providers are under the misconception that women cannot have sleep apnea. In fact, 2% of premenopausal women have sleep apnea.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

What is the difference between sleep terrors and nightmares? My 5-year-old granddaughter sits up in bed screaming. Her eyes are open, and she is unresponsive to anything we say. This lasts for a few minutes. Then she goes back to sleep and has no recollection in the morning.


This sounds like a classic night terror. Nightmares awaken the child from dream sleep, are frightening, and the child can recount what caused the reaction immediately,

Night terrors are similar to sleepwalking. They are a partial arousal, usually from deep sleep, and trigger the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system. The subject is still partially in deep sleep. There is rarely any awareness or recollection on the part of the child as to what happened. They are inconsolable and totally unaware at the time. Night terrors are relatively common in young children and usually go away within a few years. They are of much more concern to the frightened parent than to the child.

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 which is a wealth of information on sleep topics.

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