Chronic sleep issues shouldn’t be ignored
Every person has at least occasional struggles with sleep.
Whether it’s a night of tossing and turning in bed, waking up several times during the night or unexpectedly dozing off at work, sleep issues impact all of us at one time or another. But when do sleep issues become a concern that requires diagnosis and treatment from a doctor?
“In general, indicators of a sleep disorder are a feeling of not getting refreshed during sleep, and feeling tired and drowsy during the day over an extended period,” says Dr. Peter Analytis, a sleep medicine physician and medical director of the Morris Hospital Sleep Center. “One period of insufficient sleep doesn’t make a sleep disorder. A sleep disorder is chronic.”
That’s why many may need a wake-up call.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one third of American adults (35%) are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. The CDC even identified the rise in lack of sleep as a public health epidemic, estimating that about 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders.
The consequence, as Dr. Analytis points out, is having tired, drowsy people driving vehicles, students falling asleep in class and many others living their lives fatigued, irritable and not functioning at their normal cognitive power. Insufficient sleep is also connected to detrimental effects on health, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, uncontrolled blood pressure, weak immune systems and more.
“Inadequate sleep is not a small matter if it’s chronic,” Dr. Analytis says. “Your general health gets negatively impacted if you don’t get good, quality sleep.”
While the amount of sufficient sleep each person needs varies based on age and the individual, Dr. Analytis says the benchmark is about 7-8 hours each night. Sleep disorders are traditionally identified through problems with quality, timing and amount of sleep.
For instance, the National Sleep Foundation recommends adults ages 18 and older should get at least 7 hours of sleep. Teens, children and infants require more. However, Dr. Analytis says more important than the number of hours is feeling refreshed and rested when you wake up. If you don’t, then a sleep disorder may be the culprit.
“The ages for sleep problems range from the very young child to a person in the very upper years of life,” Dr. Analytis says. “It spans the entire spectrum of life.”
There are approximately 80 different sleep disorders which are generally grouped into three categories: lack of sleep, disturbed sleep and excessive sleep.
The most prevalent of these sleep disorders includes insomnia, which is the inability to fall or stay asleep, and obstructive sleep apnea, which is a disruption in breathing during sleep that is often identified through snoring. Other common sleep disorders include restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy (overwhelming drowsiness), sleep paralysis, sleep walking, sleep talking and sleep eating.
Along with a person simply feeling tired and sleepy during the day, other indicators of sleep disorders are identified by spouses or loved ones when they witness snoring, talking, moving, eating or appearing restless during sleep.
Dr. Analytis encourages anyone who feels chronically tired, fatigued and sleepy to see their primary care physician or a physician who is educated in sleep disorders. If the physician determines a sleep disorder may be a concern, they may recommend a sleep study.
Treatments for sleep disorders can include non-invasive breathing machines, oral appliance devices, behavioral modifications, medication and, in some cases, surgical procedures.
“Those who get treatment for their sleep disorder often see significant improvement in energy and vitality,” Dr. Analytis says. “A lot of people we treat admit that before they were treated, they didn’t realize how sleepy they were. That was normal for them. Many say they wish they had come in and gotten help sooner.”