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Early diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders

Chronic sleep disorders, which often go untreated, are a clear risk factor for long-term damage and dangerous secondary illnesses such as heart disease and stroke. German sleep experts therefore urge you to always have sleep problems investigated and treated in good time.

Untreated sleep disorders can have dangerous long-term consequences. Sleep physicians recommend that long-term sleep disorders always be examined and treated. (Image: Wordley Calvo Stock / stock.adobe.com)

On the occasion of the annual DGSM conference, researchers from the German Society for Sleep Research and Medicine (DGSM) emphasize the importance of rapid diagnosis and line-based treatment guidelines for sleep disorders to prevent life-threatening consequences.

Sleep disorders are often underestimated

Sleep disorders are common, but many people do not pay the necessary attention or go undetected. For example, if you suffer from sleep apnea (breathing pause while sleeping), there is also an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep (insomnia) is considered a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes as well as mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Increased risk of dementia

In addition, the DGSM team relies on long-term studies and meta-analyzes which have shown that 15% of patients with long-term sleep disorders develop dementia. With untreated sleep apnea, the risk is even twice as high.

Parkinson’s disease is often heralded by sleep disturbances

REM sleep behavior disorder, which manifests as vivid dreams with pronounced movements during sleep, is an early warning sign of neurodegenerative diseases. About 80% of people who suffer from such a sleep disorder will develop Parkinson’s disease within the next 15 years, sleep specialists warn.

Bad memory function

In addition, cognitive abilities decrease with existing sleep disorders. According to the DGSM, it is well established that poor respiratory function worsens memory performance. Conversely, cognitive performance improves as soon as the person concerned has mastered their nocturnal respiratory pauses.

It all comes down to the right treatment

For the reasons mentioned above, the DGSM advises all people with sleep disorders to have them examined and treated. There are many evidence-based guidelines for the treatment of these sleep disorders. The DGSM advises against self-treatment with medication. “We know that treatment with sleeping pills or pain relievers, for example, worsens sleep apnea,” emphasizes Professor Dr. Dr. med. Helmut Frohnhofen. It is also often wrong to use sedatives for REM sleep behavior disorders.

Long-term treatment often makes sense

“Especially in the case of obstructive sleep apnea, the SMB requires long-term monitoring and adaptation of devices to changes in the patient, for example due to age, weight gain or living conditions », Adds the president of the DGSM, professor Dr. med. Peter Young. In general, regular long-term follow-up checks play an important role in the treatment of sleep medicine. (v)

Author and source information

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This text conforms to the requirements of specialized medical literature, medical directives and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.


Graduate Editor (FH) Volker Blasek


DGSM: Timely Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Disorders Prevents Long-Term Damage (published: 30.09.2020), idw-online.de

Important note:
This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It cannot replace a visit to the doctor.