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Rx for Better Health? Better Sleep

Photo Courtesy of Venice Regional Bayfront Health
Photo Courtesy of Venice Regional Bayfront Health

One impact from Hurricane Irma’s passage through Florida was much less obvious than damage to homes and businesses, toppled trees, and power outages. Sleep deprivation also affected millions of people in the storm’s path, as well as family and friends watching from afar.

Even without a hurricane looming, lack of sleep is a widespread problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-quarter of the U.S. population report occasionally not getting enough sleep, while nearly 10 percent experience chronic insomnia.

Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions — such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression — which threaten our nation’s health. Additionally, insufficient sleep is also responsible for motor vehicle and machinery-related crashes, causing substantial injury and disability each year.

“Getting sufficient sleep is absolutely necessary for good health,” said Yousuf Dawoodjee, M.D., a board-certified pulmonologist and sleep specialist with Gulf Coast Pulmonology Associates. He also is medical director for sleep labs operated by Venice Regional Bayfront Health.

“We have new methods for assessing and treating sleep disorders, bringing hope to the millions of people who suffer from insufficient sleep,” Dr. Dawoodjee said.

Sleep Matters
Many people don’t give sleep the respect it deserves, Dr. Dawoodjee believes.

“Our culture values work, and not sleep,” he said. “The greatest disruptions to sleep were brought to us by Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. The assembly line and artificial light gave us the 24-hour work schedule. We look at sleep as lost time, but it’s actually the only time the body can regenerate and resuscitate itself so that when you are awake, you are much more efficient and productive.”

Insufficient sleep can be caused by any number of environmental factors, like too much light or noise, or by lifestyle choices like smoking or caffeine intake. Anxiety also can disrupt sleep.

Many people with interrupted sleep have a condition called sleep apnea where the airway constricts, making the heart work harder. When that happens, hormonal and chemical changes in the body can cause the kidneys to react, making the person wake to urinate.

Hormonal changes caused by poor sleep also can contribute to weight gain. With insufficient sleep comes fatigue during the day, which can make a person exercise less, which only adds to the overweight problem. And since overweight and obesity can contribute to sleep apnea, the cycle can become life-threatening.

A Pathway to Better Sleep
Ideally, people should get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep, Dr. Dawoodjee said. Studies show that less than six hours or more than nine may indicate underlying medical problems.

Diagnosing sleep disorders begins with an in-depth conversation with a sleep specialist. The patient’s routine, sleep environment, diet, caffeine intake, medications and other medical issues will be part of the discussion. Sometimes, lab tests may be indicated or a sleep study may be prescribed.

For a sleep study, the patient goes to a sleep lab overnight. The lab staff applies monitoring devices to measure brain waves that indicate sleep cycles, as well as sensors for muscle activity, heart rhythm, air flow and oxygen saturation.

“The most common condition we find causing insufficient sleep is sleep apnea, which is usually associated with snoring, but can be present without snoring,” Dr. Dawoodjee said. “Sleep apnea can be hereditary, since the shape and size of the airway is involved. The high incidence of the condition today is associated with weight gain and the epidemic of obesity. It’s estimated that 12 to 25 percent of the population suffers from apnea.”

If the diagnosis is sleep apnea, the doctor is likely to prescribe a CPAP machine with a mask that pushes air into the airway, keeping it open.

“Patients with sleep apnea usually receive tremendous benefits from the CPAP,” Dr. Dawoodjee said. “They are amazed at how much better they feel during the day – more energetic and clear-headed. Sometimes they even experience improved memory.”

Other treatments include an “oral mandibular advancing device” that is placed in the mouth at night to reduce obstruction to the airways. Surgery can help children with large tonsils, but surgery doesn’t help with adults, Dawoodjee said. Although a deviated septum (in the nasal cavity) can be repaired, the obstruction that causes sleep apnea is lower and behind the tongue. Snoring might be reduced with a septum repair, but the airway obstruction remains.

For Robert Hummel, the diagnosis and treatment of his sleep apnea was life-changing.

Hummel has worked to help people sleep better for more than 20 years, but it wasn’t until two years ago that he learned he had a serious sleep disorder that was contributing to high blood pressure and related kidney damage.

“I had sleep apnea and didn’t know it,” said Hummel, who directs diabetes and sleep services for Venice Regional Bayfront Health. “Here I was helping to diagnose and take care of people with sleep disorders, and had no idea my own health was in jeopardy from a sleep problem.”

“In the sleep lab, they found that I was waking up 25 times an hour,” said Hummel, who now uses a CPAP machine every night to sleep. “It has made a world of difference in my attitude. I’m waking up refreshed; not cranky like I used to be. My blood pressure has gone down, and I’ve dropped 15 pounds in 18 months. My short-term memory has improved.”

“I’m able to relate well with our patients, having gone through it,” he said. “I would tell anyone who is concerned about their sleep patterns to seek help. It certainly made a difference for me.”

For more information about the benefits of better sleep or to learn about sleep disorders, call 941-488-1906 or visit veniceregional.com/sleep-care.

Tips for Better Sleep

1. Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.

2. Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment that is a comfortable temperature.

3. Make sure your bed is comfortable and use it only for sleeping and not for other activities, such as reading, watching TV, or listening to music. Remove all TVs, computers, and other “gadgets” from the bedroom.

4. Avoid large meals before bedtime.

Source: National Sleep Foundation

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