OHIO VALLEY — Often ignored and sidelined, sleep takes a back seat when discussing one’s health. Not getting quality sleep and ignoring sleep disorders can have serious implications on your health — some of which can even be life threatening. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently published that one in five road accidents in the U.S. are caused by the driver falling asleep behind the wheel. Regardless of whether you are driving or not, chronic sleep deprivation can kill, says a recent research published by the New England Journal of Medicine.
In a time when life is driven by technology and stressful workplaces, forcing us to be more productive with relentless, brutal schedules, students are staying awake all night to meet submission deadlines or preparing for exams, and sleep is the last thing on their minds. Sleep disorders are so common that we rarely see them as a disease or an issue worth discussing with our doctors. Lack of quality sleep can impact both physical and mental wellbeing. Ignoring sleep disorders can lead to irritability, anxiety, hormonal imbalances, and, in some cases, serious medical conditions such as hypertension, obesity and even cardiac disorders.
Snoring, often the first symptom of a sleep disorder and an annoying and embarrassing habit that sometimes causes marital discord, has been traditionally mocked and laughed about for many years. However, snoring during sleep may be a sign that something is obstructing the airway and depriving the heart and brain of adequate oxygen. This leads to a disturbed sleep. Many people become accustomed to living with fatigue and sleepiness, but, if left untreated, in some severe cases it can lead to heart arrhythmias, heart attack and stroke, among others.
Be it insomnia or narcolepsy, the irresistible urge to sleep while doing daily activities such as cooking, eating or driving, sleep disorders can take different forms. The majority of people suffering from sleep disorders are diagnosed with sleep apnea, the medical name for abnormal pauses in breathing, or abnormally low breathing during sleep. Untreated sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, irritability, sexual dysfunction, learning and memory retention issues, depression and an impact to the overall quality of life.
Dr. Santpal S Mavi, MD specializes in pulmonology and sleep medicine with Holzer Health System. Mavi is certified by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine; American Board of Internal Medicine (sleep disorders). He answers some frequently asked questions on sleep disorders.
What is the importance of sleep to our well-being?
When a person sleeps, the body restores the essential hormones, repairs the muscles and organizes the data in the brain, preparing the human machine for the next day. The medical advancement in the last two decades has helped us understand more about sleep and better understand its importance for a healthy body. Like good nutrition, exercise and clean environment, good quality sleep is one of the most important factors that is necessary for a healthy body.
How does one identity if (s)he suffers from sleep apnea? Can you list a few common symptoms?
Snoring is the most common symptom. Most of us are not aware about the seriousness of snoring, unless our partner disrupts our sleep, or we get up often during night. Frequent snoring may be the first sign of sleep apnea, a common and potentially dangerous disorder characterized by abnormal breathing during sleep. Other symptoms include feeling tiredness and sleepiness, even after seven to eight hours of sleep. In the majority of cases, a family member is the first one to recognize that the patient has difficulty getting adequate sleep.
What medical conditions contribute to sleep apnea? Is it affected by lifestyle and genetics?
Sleep disorders are a result of lifestyle, clinical disorders and genetic conditions. Obesity is one of the major causes and adds to the problem caused by genetic predisposition. Other clinical disorders such as substance abuse, craniofacial abnormalities (congenital musculoskeletal disorders that primarily affect the facial bones) enlarged tonsils and adenoids in children, and thyroid diseases among others contribute to sleep disorders.
Which age group is most affected by sleep apnea?
No age group is exempt. Both children and adults can suffer from sleep apnea. In children, enlarged adenoids and tonsils cause sleep apnea, which can be treated through a small surgical procedure. However, the peak of onset is after 40 years of age and in adult males, especially those who are obese being at a higher risk of suffering from sleep apnea.
Is sleep apnea life-threatening?
Yes, sleep apnea is a life threatening condition that requires immediate medical intervention. If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea may lead to heart attacks, strokes, impotence, irregular heartbeat and hypertension, among others. In addition to these serious medical conditions, sleep apnea also causes non-medical issues such as daytime sleepiness, fatigue, poor concentration and productivity, motor vehicle accidents, inter-personal relationship issues and poor academic performance in children.
When should a person see a sleep doctor?
Anyone who is experiencing significant daytime tiredness or sleepiness should immediately see a sleep medicine specialist. You should also discuss your sleep issues with your partner or family members, as they are the first ones to experience your snoring or disturbed sleep patterns. People who engage in occupations such as driving public vehicles, operating heavy machinery, or similar tasks should see a sleep specialist as soon as they experience difficulty in concentrating or fatigue while working. Parents who notice their children snoring and a sudden decline in performance at school or in sports should also consult a sleep doctor.
Is the treatment easy, effective and affordable? How early can a patient see the results of his treatment?
The treatment depends on the evaluation of symptoms and their severity. A sleep doctor will conduct an overnight sleep test — polysomnogram — primarily monitoring brainwaves, heartbeat, oxygen flow and chest and abdominal movements. Based on the results, a treatment that best suits the patient will be prescribed. In majority of the cases, treatment of sleep apnea involves a non-invasive procedure. Treatments may range from using Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices to surgery. A CPAP devise is used in many cases diagnosed with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. A CPAP devise is a mask attached to a machine that provides a constant stream of air under pressure that keeps the airway of the patient open, making it easier for him or her to breath while sleeping. The CPAP devise is of the size of a tissue box. Depending upon the diagnosis your sleep doctor will prescribe one and configure it specifically to suit your needs.
The majority of insurance companies cover sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment costs. A patient will see the results of the treatment immediately through a boost in physical energy and mental, productivity and concentration.
How should I schedule an appointment with a sleep doctor?
All patients should consult their primary-care doctors about their sleep issues. Your primary care doctor will either schedule a sleep study or refer you to a sleep doctor with his report. This will enable the sleep doctor to know about other underlying medical conditions that may contribute towards sleep apnea. In cases where a patient experiences extreme sleep deprivation, he/she should immediately see a sleep doctor.
What is your suggestion for people in general to get better quality sleep? Do changes in seasons affect sleep?
Everyone should follow a sleep schedule; they should sleep at a regular time everyday. They should also try to develop a positive association of our brain with our bedrooms. This can be achieved by removing all distractions from the bedroom, such as TV, cell phones, computers and other electronic devices. These devices keep the brain stimulated and prevent it from drifting off. We should also try and unwind ourselves, both mentally and physically, at least an hour before retiring for bed.
The brain requires deep REM/dream stage sleep to recharge itself. This stage is usually achieved after the first 90 minutes of sleeping; therefore it is highly recommended that you sleep for a continuous 7-9 hours, instead of taking frequent naps throughout the day. The seasons do not affect our sleep cycle, but people suffering from allergies may develop sinus congestion, and find it difficult to sleep in certain seasons. Whatever the case may be, if you experience any issues with your sleep, you should immediately seek medical intervention.
How much sleep does a healthy human body need?
The age, physical strength, and your occupation are a few factors that ascertain the amount of sleep that your body needs. The amount varies for every individual. Infants usually sleep for 12-17 hours in a 24 hour period. An average adult needs 7.5-8 hours of normal sleep, while teenagers need 9-10 hours of sleep everyday. Accumulating sleep over the week, and recovering from sleep deficit over the weekend should be avoided. If you feel sleep deprived, you should try and catch-up as soon as you can.