Worse things haunt the dreams of Utahns than ordinary nightmares, judging by comments during a call-in program Saturday: restless leg syndrome, insomnia, narcolepsy, potentially dangerous snoring and sleep apnea.
These problems were the basis of questions called in to two specialists during the Deseret News/Intermountain Health Care Hotline program. For two hours, Dr. Robert J. Farney, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at LDS Hospital, and James M. Walker, the center's director, were kept busy on the phone.The lines were jammed during the two-hour session; many callers tried several times to get through, only to wait on hold while Walker and Farney tried to help others. Nearly 50 called on the toll-free line from locales including Tremonton, Bountiful, Fillmore, Tooele, Fruit Heights, Salt Lake City, Kaysville and Logan.
At times, the conversation was humorous. Because some snoring problems are linked to obesity, Farney sought tactful ways to ask about the callers' weight.
"On a scale of Pavarotti to Lincoln, where are you?" he asked one. A pause. Then he continued, responding to the caller's comment, "Only without the voice?"
Restless-leg syndrome causes the suffer's legs to move during sleep, often waking him. It can be treated with medication, most often Sinemet, which is prescribed for other conditions like Parkinson's disease, Farney said.
Other disorders don't always require medical intervention. "Snoring is common, and not all people (who snore) need to be seen by sleep specialists," Farney said.
One caller who asked about narcolepsy - which can cause the victim to fall asleep instantly in all sorts of circumstances - was advised to seek expert help quickly. The disorder can cause automobile accidents, for example.
"The most common (inquiries) were on sleep apnea and snoring problems," Walker said. Sleep apnea occurs when the air passageways are temporarily blocked during sleep and air doesn't get through. The person may not breathe for 10 or 20 seconds, then awaken briefly with a snort, resume breathing, and go back to sleep.
Such interruptions can occur scores of times during the night. Besides leading to high blood pressure, they deprive the sufferer of a good rest, which itself can be dangerous or debilitating.
Loud snoring also can be the hallmark of a serious medical problem.
Another disorder that Walker was asked about involves the sleeper acting out dreams. Normally, people experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep - or dreaming sleep - periodically through the night.
This may happen every 90 minutes and last 15 to 30 minutes, Walker said. Ordinarily, during these times, "the mind is very active . . . but the body is in a paralyzed condition," he said. The paralysis is fortunate, because it restricts the activity to mind and the rapid eye movements that seem to track actions in the dreams.
But for some, mostly older people, the body isn't paralyzed. "In this case, they act out their dreams," he said.
"If they have violent dreams, they have violent behavior." If the dreams happen to involve a lot of action, the sleeper can thrash about wildly.
If the person happens to dream of playing football, he said, he may tackle a bedroom wall. "Injuries can occur during this type of sleep," he said. It is different from sleepwalking, which takes place during another sleep phase.
To treat the disorder, specialists must monitor the person's sleep, checking muscles and eye movement.