March 27, 2020 by John Fernandez
Do You Have a Sleep Disorder? Find Out Now
It’s World Sleep Day tomorrow, a time to raise awareness of the importance of sleep, a crucial component of healthy living which can be compromised by factors that are hard to control, including stress, illness and the constant presence of electronic devices.
Sleep health carries even more importance as healthcare professionals recommend staying healthy to bolster one’s immune system during the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“Give your body the best shot at having a low risk from this infection — and that involves doing those things that enhance your immune system,” says Aileen Marty, M.D., professor, Infectious Diseases, at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. “Get a good night’s sleep. That’s very refreshing for your immune system — that means seven or eight hours if you can manage it.
When a lack of undisturbed slumber occurs regularly and interferes with daily life, it may indicate a sleep disorder. In fact, more than 75 percent of Americans between ages 20 and 59 report having sleeping difficulties fairly regularly, say experts.
Ask yourself these questions to assess your quality of sleep:
- Do you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep?
- Do you toss and turn or wake often during the night?
- Have you been told that you snore?
- Have you been told that you gasp or stop breathing while you sleep?
- Do you wake up feeling tired?
- Do you get morning headaches?
- Do you struggle to remain alert during the day or fall asleep when you are watching television, driving or reading?
If you answered “yes” to two or more questions, you may have a sleep disorder that should not be ignored. “Chronic lack of sleep can negatively impact your energy, mood, concentration and overall health,” said Jeremy Tabak, M.D., medical director of Baptist Sleep Center at Galloway and Sleep Diagnostic Center at Baptist Hospital. “When left untreated, a sleep disorder can increase a person’s risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure, weight gain, cognitive decline and falling asleep while driving.”
Insomnia – the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep – is the most common sleep disorder. Insomnia can be caused by health issues, anxiety, depression, medication, alcohol or a traumatic life event. Addressing lifestyle habits and sleep hygiene often is the first step in treating insomnia. In addition to getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, Dr. Tabak recommends incorporating these healthy habits:
- Maintain a stable bedtime and waking schedule.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime.
- Boost melatonin production at night by dimming lights and turning off your television and computer.
- Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine, which may include reading or meditating.
- Create a good sleep environment – one that is quiet, dark and cool.
- Reduce stress and anxiety by exercising.
“Insomnia can be difficult to treat because the cause often is multifactorial and a person’s habits perpetuate the disorder,” Dr. Tabak explained. “Cognitive behavioral therapy administered by a sleep psychologist can help people change their sleep routines.”
Sleep Apnea and Treatment Options
To diagnose disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, parasomnia and narcolepsy, a sleep study commonly is prescribed. The 18 million Americans with obstructive sleep apnea stop and start breathing numerous times while asleep, causing heavy snoring, morning headache, sore throat and daytime drowsiness.
“More than 80 percent of people with sleep apnea are overweight, so losing weight usually is the first step in the treatment process,” Dr. Tabak said.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which keeps the airways open, is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. Dr. Tabak says surgery to remove obstructions is an option for some people and those with mild to moderate sleep apnea can get relief by wearing an adjustable dental appliance.
A small percentage of people with moderate to severe sleep apnea, who are unable to use CPAP, may be candidates for an implantable neurostimulator. The small device, implanted in the chest area, stimulates the tongue at the back of the throat during sleep to clear the blockage caused by the tongue. This procedure was approved by the FDA in 2014.
It’s important to make sleep a priority and get proper treatment if a sleep disorder is preventing you from getting healthy, regular sleep, Dr. Tabak says. “Studies show us that sleep is a highly active brain process and is necessary for healthy brain function,” he added. “While we sleep, our brain rests and resets in order to process and store the information and memories from the day.”