by Michael Pierce
It’s no secret: For many people, daily life is characterized by high stress, short nights, long working hours and lots of caffeine.
For people 50 and older, these problems are coupled with the higher probability for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
A good night’s sleep plays an important part in leading a healthy lifestyle, but the high-stress habits that many of us have adopted are often the cause of the most common sleep disorders. These sleeping problems—like insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome—can reduce your lifespan. If left untreated, sleep disorders can lead to a higher rate of heart failure, as well as an increased risk for developing diabetes.
Uncovering the problem
The Regional Center For Sleep Medicine, 4041 West Sylvania Ave., Toledo, offers diagnostic testing and treatment for those who suffer from sleep disorders. “Sleep disorders are becoming more frequent. One factor is the increase in consumption of coffee and energy drinks. As people use these, they become more restless and the long-term health effects are quite severe,” said Dr. Joseph Shaffer.
Dr. Shaffer has been studying and treating sleep disorders for more than 30 years. He has the distinction of being a Diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine (DABSM) and is a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (FAASM). A board-certified sleep specialist , he earned his Ph.D. from Temple University, and teaches in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toledo.
“Our job is to find the problem areas within the sleep cycle and break through them,” said Dr. Andre Aguillon. Dr. Aguillon has practiced at the Regional Center For Sleep Medicine since 2012. He earned an M.D. from The University of Toledo.
Dr. Shaffer defines a sleep disorder as “any factor that affects the natural rhythm of the genetic expression of the sleep-wake cycle.” While many people find themselves having trouble falling asleep at night, an occasional occurrence of difficulty falling asleep is not cause for alarm. Stress and difficult life -circumstances are bound to catch up with us from time to time, causing restless nights of poor sleep.
But when the inability to fall asleep persists over a prolonged period of time, serious mental and physical problems can occur. This is insomnia, a common sleep disorder. If persistent, medical attention should be sought. “In severe cases, patients have extreme difficulty functioning in their daily lives,” said Dr. Shaffer.
In other cases, it’s not a matter of falling asleep, but rather what happens once the individual is asleep. Sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome (RLS) are two common harmful sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is a condition where the muscles surrounding the nose and throat relax during sleep, and breathing
starts and stops for more than 10 seconds at a time during the night. RLS is a neurological condition where unpleasant sensations cause move the legs during sleep, preventing the individual from reaching the deeper levels of sleep needed to stay healthy.
“Every individual has a unique biological rhythm. When it’s disrupted, it often has adverse consequences,” said Dr. Shaffer. People with insomnia, sleep apnea, and RLS feel exhausted the following day, an obvious sign that one’s biological rhythm is off-balance.
Loud snoring at night is a possible indicator of sleep apnea. “The louder someone snores, the more likely they may have issues with getting a good night of sleep,” Dr. Aguillon explained. According to Dr. Shaffer, “There are different levels of severity with sleep apnea; the most severe cases occur when an individual stops breathing 3,0-40 times per hour.”
Other symptoms include tossing and turning while in bed or waking up with a headache or dry mouth. Obese individuals are the most prone to severe cases of sleep apnea.
The value of good rest
“Sleep is underappreciated, and sleep disorders are under-diagnosed,” said Dr. Shaffer. Problems with sleep are often overlooked or viewed as less important, but in many cases, they can be life–threatening if left untreated. “Sleep disorders are not traditionally taught in medical school, so many of these issues have not received the attention they deserve,” Dr. Aguillon explained.
Sleep disorders are increasingly found in both middle–aged adults and seniors. “The older you get, the greater the chances that unresolved sleep disorders will cause other problems,” said Dr. Shaffer.
Heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and sexual dysfunction are all associated with sleep apnea, as well as insomnia and RLS. Anxiety and depression are often interlinked with sleep disorders as well; these mental conditions may be the result or cause of the sleeping problems. “It’s a bit of a two-way street,” said Dr. Aguillon. Disorders can also affect others. “[A sleep disorder] has the effect of increasing auto accidents, and is especially problematic for truck drivers,” Dr. Shaffer said.
Reducing overall stress levels and cutting out alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine use may lessen the severity of these conditions. For more severe cases, cognitive behavioral therapy and/or prescribed medication may be needed.
The most common type of treatment for sleep apnea involves wearing a breathing machine known as a CPAP, short for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. This machine uses air pressure to open the airway, allowing the patient to have normal breathing patterns during sleep. Patients who have difficulty sleeping can undergo a sleep evaluation. This procedure involves running diagnostic testing, known as a polysomnography (PSG), while the patient sleeps overnight. During PSG, the patient is connected to a series of electrodes that monitor the patient’s internal activity during sleep. A healthcare provider records this activity in another room while the patient sleeps. The results can determine the type and severity of the sleep disorder.
Often, people aren’t aware that they suffer from these sleeping conditions. “Sometimes patients know they have a problem. Other times, their bed partner is the one who notices that they snore, or that they stop breathing at night,” said Dr. Aquillon. When it comes to these conditions, it’s important to remember the rule of quality over quantity: The number of hours that a person sleeps each night doesn’t mean the individual has a sleeping disorder. “Some people need six hours a night, and others need nine or 10. So it’s not necessarily the number of hours a person sleeps, but rather the quality of the sleep they get,” he said.
For more information, or to schedule a consultation, contact the Regional Center For Sleep Medicine at 419–292–1616.