The High Cost of Sleeplessness

The High Cost of Sleeplessness

If you’re suffering more than an occasional restless night, you may be at risk for more than a few tired mornings. Absence of quality sleep is being seen more and more by scientists and physicians as a link to chronic disease, hormone dysfunction, high blood pressure, and disruptions in the immune system’s ability to function properly. Lack of sleep is even being considered as a contributing factor to a premature death.

Millions at Risk 

Between 40 and 50 million Americans currently suffer from a sleep disorder and many may not know it. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, some people report as many as 19 nights of inadequate sleep each month.

Occasional sleep disturbances could be the result of poor habits, a side effect of medication, a symptom of a neurological illness, or merely a touch of temporary age-related insomnia. Other conditions that may cause sleep problems include stress, allergies, epilespsy, fibromyalgia, and REM behavior disorder.

Sleep disorders can cause daytime exhaustion, learning problems, and may contribute to a number of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease to name only two. Adults who suspect they are experiencing chronic insomnia or a recurring disruption in sleep should consider with their doctor if undergoing a sleep study would be a useful diagnostic tool.

Other sleep disturbances called parasomnias include night terrors, sleepwalking and/or sleep talking, bedwetting and teeth grinding. Treatment of sleep disorders, from behavioral therapy and machine-enabled breathing to robotic surgery, is available to people in most cities.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes a person’s breathing to stop repeatedly during the night. Normal breathing usually resumes after a short period of several seconds, but the repeated loss of breath causes a simultaneous drop in oxygen levels, which is dangerous and may, over time, cause neurological and cognitive delays.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million Americans currently have some form of sleep apnea. The word ‘apnea’ literally refers to the long pauses — sometimes as much as ten seconds — that can periodically occur during periods of sleep.

The combination of sleep disturbance, lack of restful sleep, and oxygen deprivation can worsen existing disease, but it can also cause more immediate danger in the form of a higher-than-normal accident risk. Any amount of sleep apnea can also cause memory problems and learning delays; it can even worsen mood disorders and cause sexual dysfunction.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The most common form of sleep apnea is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is caused by a physical obstruction that interrupts a person’s normal breathing during sleep.

In OSA, the muscles of the mouth and throat fail to keep the airway open. Other factors could also contribute to that obstruction, including large tonsils, a large tongue, or a smaller-than-normal jaw or larynx. Being overweight and having a large neck size (greater than 16-17 inches) are risk factors for OSA. Furthermore, physicians now believe there may be some predisposing genetic components.

The most common symptom of sleep apnea is chronic snoring; especially snoring that stops and starts with a wheezing or gasping sound as if the sleeping individual is “pushing” air out (after breathing is suspended). Another common symptom is feeling tired throughout the day. Less noticeable symptoms may include sexual dysfunction, elevated blood pressure, lack of concentration, depression, and irritability. People experiencing serious OSA may develop heart problems like cardiac arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, and/or heart attacks.

Obstructive sleep apnea is treatable through a variety of therapies. These include the use of a positive pressure machine to keep the airway open (CPAP, BiPAP or APAP), surgery to increase airway volume, or a mandibular advancement device (MAD). Lifestyle changes are also encouraged. Those include:

·     Losing weight

·     Avoiding alcohol (relaxes tongue muscles)

·     Avoiding caffeine, except in the morning

·     Quitting smoking (increases upper airway swelling)

·     Avoiding sleeping on your back

·     Avoiding sleeping pills or sleep aids

·     Maintaining good sleep habits

Anyone who is experiencing sleep apnea needs to be continually evaluated by a physician. Many of the problems of effectively treating sleep apnea have to do with tailoring a specific treatment to the patient’s lifestyle; a single standard therapy is not recommended for all.