Have you ever been tired? Ha ha ha...who hasn't?
Research indicates that 6-8 hours of sleep is best for the body to function normally. Some people intrinsically need less while others can't function without more. Some lucky people can run on 4 or 5 hours. But some folks aren't even getting that.
Sleep medicine is a subspecialty of pulmonary medicine and is amazing science. Disordered sleep can wreak havoc on functional capacity, mood, and productivity. It can also increase the likelihood of injuries and accidents, predispose the body to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and even sudden death.
Our bodies need sleep to repair, restore, rejuvenate. It is the time when essential growth hormones are created and new information is committed to memory. But how do you identify a condition if the symptoms occur when you're asleep?
There are several signs and symptoms of disordered sleep such as:
- Headaches - Morning dry mouth - Personality changes - Depression - Profound fatigue - Difficulty paying attention (especially in children) - Snoring/snarfling - Abrupt / frequent awakenings - Memory difficulty - Decreased libido - Obesity
It's important to bring awareness to SLEEP APNEA because up to eighty percent of people with sleep apnea have the above symptoms but are undiagnosed. Sleep apnea is defined as when you stop breathing during sleep for a period of 10 seconds that causes a drop in your blood oxygen level.
During the night, your brain cycles through different stages of sleep. The deepest stage is the restorative stage. When your oxygen levels drop, your brain wakes up; not necessarily so that you're sitting up in bed with eyes open, but your brain comes out of the deeper levels of sleep to lighter levels. Sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders can prevent your brain from spending time in the deepest stages of sleep where restorative hormones and chemicals are produced.
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea relates to the airway being closed of compromised. Central sleep apnea is when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Mixed types of sleep apnea involve aspects of both. Risk factors for sleep apnea include being overweight, having a thick neck or small airway, being older, male, smoking, using of alcohol or tranquilizers.
Screening and testing is particularly important because patients with mild-moderate sleep apnea are twice as likely to die and those with severe apnea are five times as likely to die. Because it has many symptoms in common with other sleep disorders, many people are treated with medications for symptoms, such as those listed above, but should actually be treated for sleep apnea instead.
Many don't get tested for fear of the sleep apnea mask, but the first line treatment is weight loss and smoking cessation. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove tissue that is obstructing the airway. This is more common in children with large tonsils or small airways AND are experiencing sleep difficulty. Airway devices and oral appliances are other treatment options.
Many who are accurately diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea experience revolutionary changes in energy and mood. They also note that they have an easier time losing weight, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol. Many can come off medications and enjoy a significant improvement in quality of life.
My own daughter had her tonsils removed at age four because not only was her sleep disrupted by severe snoring and snarfling, but her fatigue was causing personality changes. Ever since her surgery, I find myself checking on her at night to make sure she's breathing because now she sleeps so quietly and soundly. As a result, our entire family is sleeping more soundly and has more energy.
If you think you might have some symptoms of sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. In the meantime, try to sleep on your side, avoid alcohol and sedatives and of course, don't drive if you're tired. I'd love to hear about how your sleep apnea treatment changed your life OR feel free to tag a friend who might benefit from this article!
Now, here comes the disclaimer because I'm still a doctor with an obligation to do the most about of good while doing no harm... Before doing anything on your own or because you read about it on the internet, please confer with your trusted doctor. You may need a medical workup to rule out dangerous things. When it comes to any concerning symptoms, delaying care often leads to worse outcomes. So with these or any symptoms you have, please see your doctor regularly.
To a good night's rest, Dr. Lex