Experts believe adults need about eight (8) hours of sleep for good health and optimal performance. Even more sleep is needed by children (10-12 hours) and teenagers (9 or more hours). When our bodies don’t get enough or have poor quality sleep, especially over time, all kinds of risks increase.
Reduced reaction time and alertness or even falling asleep at the wheel can be a deadly combination for those driving to work (or driving FOR work) after a suboptimal night of sleep. Poor sleep is associated with memory, learning and thinking difficulties, as well as making it hard to deal with the curveballs life can throw. Sleep deprivation is also linked to high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes and other conditions.
During sleep, our bodies perform dynamic physiologic processes that are essential for motor and cognitive function. That’s why we feel refreshed and more alert after a good rest, but not so much after a short or disturbed sleep. Sleep research pioneer, Allen Rechtschaffen explained that lab mice deprived of sleep will survive only about three weeks—about the same time frame for death due to starvation.
Many sleep problems are often linked to other health conditions that can be prevented. For example iron deficiency is associated with restless leg syndrome, a sleep disorder where tingling or prickling in the legs (and sometimes other body parts) cause an irresistible urge to move, making sleep difficult. Often, testing for and treating the iron deficiency can resolve, or least improve, restless leg syndrome.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Snoring was once considered just an annoyance, but is now recognized as a sign of sleep apnea, a condition where the muscles in the back of the throat relax and obstruct air flow. Sleep apnea can stop a person’s breathing for several seconds or even minutes and cause dangerously low blood oxygen levels. When breathing resumes, the body jerks, gasps and snorts. Besides disrupting rest, sleep apnea can add stress to the heart and blood vessels and increase the risk for heart disease, stroke and dementia.
Sleep apnea can be diagnosed by monitoring a snorer’s sleep patterns either at an overnight sleep lab or at home with a portable testing device. If the diagnosis is confirmed, the treatment often involves the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to keep the airways open during sleep.
Such testing and treatment are expensive. Sleep labs run about $2,000 a night and two nights are usually required (one for the study and one to try out the CPAP machine) and CPAP machines cost about $1,000. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare payments for sleep testing increased from $62 million in 2001 to $235 million in 2009. Such skyrocketing costs have both insurers and health advocates questioning how much unnecessary testing and over-diagnosing is involved.
Is Your Weight Affecting Your Sleep?
Sleep apnea is associated with being overweight and can be improved or resolved by weight loss. The magazine, Lancet, reported that seven (7) out of 10 people with sleep apnea are obese. Overweight people tend to have extra neck tissue which increases the likelihood of a blocked airway.
What’s a Consumer to Do?
Sleep testing can be an important step, but keep in mind, not all people who snore have a chronic sleep disorder. Before agreeing to expensive— and possibly unnecessary testing—there are some common sense strategies to consider. Ask your healthcare provider to assess your risk for sleep apnea and if there other possible approaches. Would weight loss or lying on your side reduce your risk? Could a home testing unit provide the information you need? Do you have a consistent sleep hygiene routine?
Also talk to CPAP machine users. Some dislike wearing the mask, the machine’s noise, and the difficulty of traveling with it. As with all healthcare decisions, the more you understand in advance, the more satisfied you will be with your decisions.
Jack and Sonya*
Sonya complained about Jack’s snoring for years. Jack was 50 pounds overweight and had just been diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and diabetes. He and his doctor were already discussing how weight loss would improve his conditions.
After learning about the risks of sleep apnea and the expensive testing and treatment, he decided to step up his weight loss game. A month later, he’d dropped 16 pounds and Sonya reported quieter nights. They also found that when he slept on his side with a body pillow, he had fewer snoring episodes.
Jack has now lost 30 pounds and is working towards his goal to lose 20 more. Sonya reports, “I had no idea how much better a night could be until Jack’s snoring stopped. Now he and I wake up feeling ready for the day!” Jack adds, “I sleep well and so many of my problems have gone away!”
Set Yourself Up for Success
If bedtime is 11 pm, then 10 pm is not the time for caffeinated beverages, intense exercise and loud music. Getting a better night’s sleep means adopting bedtime practices conducive to restful sleep at night and alertness during the day (or the opposite if you work a night shift). Try these sleep hygiene tips:
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine: turn down lights and sounds, adjust the temperature, put concerns on hold. Research suggests that TV and other media use before bedtime interferes with sleep.
- Avoid napping during the day as it interrupts normal sleep patterns.
- Say no to caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime. Alcohol can make you sleepy initially but then causes wakefulness as the body metabolizes it.
- Exercise daily, as early in the day as possible. Yoga at bedtime can be relaxing.
- Eat lightly before bed. Large meals and spicy foods can disrupt sleep.
- Seek out natural light during the day; it helps with maintaining a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
If you have difficulty sleeping, let us help you consider your options. Call your KnovaSolutions nurse at 800/355-0885.
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*Name changed to protect privacy.
The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.