Sleep disorders sometimes a puzzle


It’s midnight on a weeknight and it’s time for bed. After tossing and turning for hours, sleep fails to come. Six hours later, the alarm clock goes off and the day begins. Sound familiar? While this situation is inconvenient and annoying, it could be evidence of a real health concern.

Sixty million Americans experience symptoms of a sleep disorder, according to a National Public Radio story on the subject. These symptoms vary in their severity and the way they manifest themselves. People can be diagnosed with a wide range of disorders, the most common being sleep apnea, trouble breathing while sleeping and insomnia, trouble falling asleep.

Dr. Syed Nabi, a doctor at the Sleep Institute of Utah in Ogden, treats individuals who have or may have a sleep disorder.

“You have to figure out where they [the symptoms] are coming from,” Nabi said. “It’s like a headache.”

Similar to a headache, the symptoms could come from a number of different stressors in the person’s life.

Dr. Nabi meets with his patients and asks them questions about their symptoms. If he suspects an issue with the patient’s sleep, he will order a sleep study. This study evaluates the person while he or she is sleeping and measures brain activity.

Jared Facer, a senior majoring in international studies at BYU-Hawaii, has the most severe form of sleep insomnia. Facer, of San Clemente, Calif., served as a missionary in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he received his diagnosis. According to doctors, his insomnia was triggered by high elevation. After staying awake for seven days, he was honorably released from his mission. Five years later, doctors are still unable to help him sleep.

“I sleep maybe six hours a week,” he said. “My body functions on about two hour of sleep [a night]. I’ve been on every every type of medication, but nothing will work.”

Since the time most people spend sleeping is time Facer can use to his advantage, he said he tries to be productive.

“I work a lot,” he said. “I do a lot of pondering and scripture reading. Isaiah is not as boring as people told me it was.”

Sara Michael, a junior majoring in public relations, also believes she has a sleep disorder, though she has not been diagnosed.

“A lot of times when I’m sleeping, I wake up and think my dream is still happening,” she said. “My dreams are really crazy.”

At times, she will be having a dream a family member is in danger or someone dangerous is in her room. She wakes up and acts how she would if the event was happening, at times creating a comical situation.

Michael said her vivid dreams can effect her sleep because she still thinks about them, even after she is awake and knows it was a dream.

“Sometimes [when I am dreaming] I want to stop the dream, but I can’t,” she said.

To fall back asleep, she listens to music or lies in bed quietly.

Michael believes her active dreams could be caused by stress because they often occur when she is in a new environment or with new people.

While the two students have rather severe cases of sleep disorders, many Americans have problems sleeping, including BYU students. Those experiencing symptoms can receive help on campus from Biofeedback Services in the Wilkinson Student Center. Barbara Morrell is a clinical professor at the Counseling and Career Center and coordinator of Stress Management and Biofeedback Services.

“We use biofeedback to help people become aware of stress in the body and where they’re holding the stress and tension and then to learn to relax it,” she said.

While Biofeedback Services does not treat diagnosed medical conditions, it is designed to help relieve stress and tension, often alleviating common sleep disorder symptoms.

“One of the ways that stress impacts sleep is that our brain waves are different speeds, depending on what we’re doing,” Morrell said. “Our brains are fast for thinking and doing and very slow for sleeping. If we are stressed and our mind is racing, it is very tough for our minds to slow down enough to sleep.”

Biofeedback Services focuses on relaxation training. Anyone seeking help with relaxation techniques can either schedule an appointment with Biofeedback Services or visit the website,, where downloadable relaxation recordings are available as well as information on ways to sleep better.


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