PALMER — Lack of sleep is a widespread problem in America, affecting not only our mental alertness, mood and ability to focus during the day, but also our long-term health. Chronic, long-term sleep disorders impact more than 40 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) — and an additional 20 million people have occasional sleeping problems.
“Your body has an internal clock or circadian rhythm that naturally tells it when to wake up and go to sleep by releasing hormones and changing your body temperature,” said Ross Dodge, M.D. “Often times these natural rhythms get off track causing difficulties sleeping.” Dodge clinically assesses patients with sleep disorders at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center’s Sleep Laboratory.
During sleep, your body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure lower to conserve energy, the brain refreshes by removing waste and your body works to rebuild parts that have been stressed during the day. Lack of sleep is associated with many different disorders. Not getting the proper amount of sleep does not allow your body to rejuvenate.
Stress-related insomnia, sleep disorders, lifestyle habits, and the failure to establish and maintain a regular routine are all to blame. Getting enough sleep is an essential part of keeping the body healthy and avoiding chronic disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insufficient sleep contributes to the development of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Getting a good night’s sleep is especially difficult if you suffer from a sleep disorder.
The most common sleep disorders include:
Insomnia — difficulty falling and remaining asleep
Sleep apnea — or the interruption of breathing during sleep
Restless legs syndrome — aches and pains in the legs that make it difficult to fall asleep and remain asleep
Narcolepsy — excessive daytime sleepiness that sometimes results in “sleep attacks,” sudden and unpredictable episodes of sleep during the day.
Who’s At Risk?
Sleep problems can affect anyone, at any age. However, certain conditions or risk factors may make getting a good night’s sleep more difficult:
Middle age (age 40 and up)
A large neck circumference (17 inches or more for men; 16 inches or more for women)
Large tonsils or tongue, or a small jaw bone
A family history of sleep apnea
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Nasal obstruction due to allergies, sinus problems, or a deviated septum
Men are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, according to health experts; however, women have two to three times the risk of insomnia, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). One reason that sleep apnea may be diagnosed more often in men, according to the NSF, is that sleep apnea in women is commonly misdiagnosed as depression, diabetes, hypertension, hypochondria, or several other health conditions. Sleep in women is also influenced by the menstrual cycle, biological life stage, stress level, health, mood, parental status, work hours and other life responsibilities.
As we age, sleep patterns change and sleep problems become even more common. A person may sleep less, experience fragmented sleep — dozing and waking in irregular patterns — or have more difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. These changes may also be caused by a chronic illness or medication. Also, as we age, our bodies produce less of the chemicals and hormones that help us sleep well, such as growth hormone and melatonin.
“Chronic sleep problems can be primary in nature, which would mean that they’ve essentially been present since childhood,” said Dodge. “Whereas secondary — or developed sleeping problems — usually reflect an underlying medical problem.”
Diagnosing Sleep Disturbances
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, or experiencing daytime drowsiness, a sleep study can diagnose potential disorders and help with treatment. The study is performed in a controlled home-like environment while you sleep and is supervised by medical professionals trained in sleep disorders. Your body is observed and monitored to see what occurs during sleep, from snoring to halted breathing.
During a sleep study, most of these activities are monitored through electrodes (small pads with electric wires attached to carry signals) which are painlessly attached to your head and parts of your body. Recorded electrical signals by your brain and muscles are transmitted and recorded so that sleep specialists can “read” the study, or examine the patterns in your brain waves and muscle movement during sleep, looking for any unusual activity.
If you have a sleep disorder, it’s important to seek diagnosis and treatment. Treatment may be as simple as lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, or taking certain medications such as a topical nasal decongestant.
Other treatment options may include surgery or the use of medical devices to help you breathe easier and sleep better. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device is commonly prescribed for people with moderate to severe sleep apnea. Consisting of a mask and air machine, a CPAP device delivers a steady, gentle stream of air, to keep the tissues of the nose and throat open during sleep. Other helpful devices are a humidifier in the bedroom, or special pillows to promote proper sleeping positions.
Research has also recently shown that use of electronic devices immediately before bed can disrupt your circadian rhythms. Cell phones and laptops emit blue light that tells your body it is time to wake up. It is recommended that you stop using electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
To learn more, visit www.matsuregional.com; click on “Services” and “Sleep Disorders Center.” Or call (907) 352-2822 for an appointment with our sleep experts.