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While increased demands at work and home certainly play a factor in our sleeplessness, many people experience sleep deprivation because of a chronic, and often undiagnosed, sleep disorder.

In fact, at least 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, and another 20 million struggle with occasional sleep difficulties.

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Although doctors have identified more than 70 different sleep disorders, the most common are:

  • Insomnia — The inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Insomnia can result from stress, jet lag, diet or many other factors. Forty percent of all women and 30 percent of all men experience some form of insomnia.
  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) — Involves periodic involuntary movements or jerks during sleep, usually occurring at 30-second intervals. About 20 percent of the people with insomnia attribute their inability to sleep to PLMD
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea — A disorder of interrupted breathing during sleep, frequently due to obstructive tissue in the upper respiratory system. Loud, habitual snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) — Is caused by a prickling or tingling sensation in the legs and feet, which patients try to relieve by moving their legs (during sleep). RLS often is found in middle-aged or older adults. And, 30 percent of all cases can be traced to heredity.
  • Narcolepsy — Affects an estimated 250,000 Americans. People with narcolepsy suffer frequent "sleep attacks" throughout the day, even if they had a normal amount of nighttime sleep.

The George Washington Center for Sleep Disorders

The Center is dedicated to providing patients with an accurate diagnosis of their sleep disorders, as well as appropriate and effective treatments. Services are provided through a team-based environment, with a multidisciplinary team of sleep disorder specialists including neurologists, pulmonary physicians, otolaryngologists, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and sleep technicians.

Diagnosing Your Sleep Disorder

The staff at the GW Center for Sleep Disorders offer a broad range of testing and treatment services, each delivered in a personalized and cost-efficient manner.

First, patients are interviewed and evaluated by a sleep specialist, who proceeds to create an elaborate profile of the patient's sleeping problem. Depending on the symptoms identified in the profile, and the patient's sleep history, the sleep specialists may prescribe one of the following tests:

  • "At Home Sleep Monitoring" Test—With portable sleep equipment, patients can be diagnosed without any disruptions.
  • Polysomnography—The polysomnography is a detailed study of sleep cycles and stages through the use of continuous recording of brain waves (EEG). This study is performed during a night's sleep to get a comprehensive understanding of sleep patterns. Patients spend the night at The Sleep Center, where a technician places small censors on various parts of the body for documentation of brain waves and muscle activity during sleep. The censors allow the technician to monitor the patient's sleep from another room. This test is commonly used for patients who exhibit symptoms of sleep apnea.

Treating Your Sleep Disorder

Once properly diagnosed, most sleep disorders can be effectively treated. For example:

  • For patients with obstructive sleep apnea, a mask that emits continuous positive airway pressure (C-PAP) is often helpful. But for others, surgery to correct nose or throat obstructions is the optimum treatment.
  • In addition to medication, insomnia can be addressed through a number of behavioral techniques, including biofeedback, sleep restriction, light therapy and cognitive therapy.
  • Stimulant medications (Ritalin, Dexedrine and Provigil) often are used in the treatment of narcolepsy. 

As with any medical issue, discussing your sleep problem with your personal physician is the first step in the treatment process. Your primary care doctor may refer you for a consultation with a GW sleep specialist who will thoroughly evaluate your testing and treatment needs.


The GW Center for Sleep Disorders
2021 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037

The Center is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).