Sleep and Health for You and Your Family
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You might think, “Oh great, now I have to eat cardboard food or do aerobics while I drive.” Actually, you can get these health benefits simply by getting healthy sleep, night after night. You might well ask, What is healthy sleep?” Well, there is a great deal of medical research demonstrating that good sleep (7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep brain waves) protects you by repairing cells and building the body to fight infections and reduce the risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Unhealthy sleep is defined as any hours of interrupted or fragmented sleep. This damages cells in the body and brain and increases the risk of previously mentioned medical conditions. Unhealthy sleep also results in memory problems, hyperactivity, daytime sleepiness and accidents of all kinds. It can be caused by a variety of health problems, many of which can be called sleep disorders.
Some of the most common sleep disorders are:
- Sleep Apnea (the airway collapses on itself)
- Restless Legs Syndrome (sensations that make you want to move at night)
- Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (motion of the legs and arms during sleep)
- Hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness)
- Insomnia (difficulty falling, staying or feeling refreshed following sleep)
- Narcolepsy (sleepiness with sudden bouts of weakness called cataplexy)
- Parasomnias (behaviors that should not occur during sleep)
These disorders can fragment sleep and require the attention of specialty trained Sleep Medicine doctors. Not many folks realize it, but an entire branch of medicine is dedicated to helping people identify and treat sleep problems. Sleep medicine is more than a drug you take to fall asleep; it is an area of medical practice and research that focuses on preventing many common chronic medical conditions and helping to control existing medical problems. Doctors trained in sleep medicine concentrate on identifying sleep disorders, the causes of daytime sleepiness and sleep “timing” problems, such as sleeping at different times around the clock. To treat a sleep disorder, you first must find it. If you are snoring, waking up at night, having difficulty falling asleep, kicking during sleep or experiencing daytime drowsiness despite getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep, you might have a sleep disorder.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 120 million Americans could have sleep apnea without realizing it. Studies show that professional drivers are one of the highest risk groups for sleep apnea – nearly 30 percent of drivers have it. Remember that sleep apnea is a serious medical problem that causes high blood pressure, weightgain, heart disease, diabetes and strokes. In fact, untreated sleep apnea increases the risk for these conditions 2-to-3 fold! What can you do about it? First of all, you need to talk with a doctor about your symptoms or concerns. If a sleep medicine doctor suspects a disorder like sleep apnea, you could be given a test in a sleep laboratory or at home with similar equipment.
There are even sleep safety programs that bring the lab right to you in your truck, so you won’t lose time out on the road. The overnight sleep test is called a polysomnogram (or PSG). It is a non-invasive procedure that records a number of physiologic parameters while you sleep. Unlike some common medical tests, the PSG does not involve any medications, needles, injections, painful posturing, radiation, immobility or prolonged inconvenience. Testing is just the start. Treatment keeps you alive and extends your health into the future. Current technology allows doctors to prescribe therapies that eliminate sleep apnea using a simple device called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP.
The pressure stabilizes vibrating muscles in the upper airway that cause snoring, allowing deep, uninterrupted sleep. Many patients who begin CPAP treatment are skeptical that they can sleep with a “mask” fitted over their nose. This attitude often shifts once they realize how much better they feel, how much healthier they are and how much more comfortable their sleep becomes. You might ask, “What if I can’t sleep with that thing on my face?” There are other treatments for sleep apnea and snoring other than CPAP which could help. It is important to remember that sleep apnea requires nightly therapy to reduce the risks of serious medical diseases, plus a sleep medicine support team that communicates with you on a regular basis to ensure your long-term success.