By Heidi Smith, Contributor
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a third of Floridians reported not getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Insufficient sleep can be more than just an annoyance; it is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Insufficient sleep is also responsible for motor vehicle and machinery-related crashes, causing substantial injury and disability each year.
“Ideally, adults should get seven hours of uninterrupted sleep. Studies show that less than six hours or more than nine may indicate underlying medical problems,” said Walid Tanyous, M.D., a board-certified pulmonary medicine specialist with Gulf Coast Pulmonology Associates. Dr. Tanyous treats patients with lung conditions and diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema, sleep disorders and cancer.
“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. Tanyous said. “With sleep apnea, 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 excess weight and obesity can contribute to sleep apnea, the cycle can become life-threatening. Sleep apnea can be hereditary since the shape and size of the airway are involved. The condition is more prevalent with age.
Diagnosing sleep disorders may begin with your primary care physician or a specialist like Dr. Tanyous. Your 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, patients used to have to go to a sleep lab overnight, but today, technological advances make it possible for most patients to undergo a sleep study at home.
For the home sleep test, Dr. Tanyous’ office provides a comfortable, low-profile and high-tech wireless recorder worn on the forehead. The device, which is designed to accommodate all sleep positions, captures information about the patient’s breathing and sleep. The next day, the patient returns the unit to Dr. Tanyous’ office where the stored information is retrieved and analyzed. The patient is then notified by phone of the results and next steps.
If the diagnosis is sleep apnea, the doctor is likely to prescribe a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) 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. Tanyous said. “They are amazed at how much better they feel during the day – more clear-headed and energetic. They may even experience improved memory.”
Advances in CPAP technology allow the machine itself to know how much air the patient needs and give it to them, Dr. Tanyous said. The physician also monitors the CPAP remotely and adjusts the settings.
Treatment of sleep apnea is dependent on its cause. If other medical problems are present, such as congestive heart failure or nasal obstruction, sleep apnea may resolve with treatment of those conditions. As interruption of regular breathing or obstruction of the airway during sleep can pose serious health complications, symptoms of sleep apnea should be taken seriously. Treatment should be sought from a health care provider.
To find out more about sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, or whether a home sleep test is right for you, talk with your primary care physician. Or call Gulf Coast Pulmonology Associates at 941-488-1906.
Walid Tanyous, M.D., is a board-certified pulmonary medicine specialist with Gulf Coast Pulmonology Associates.
Gulf Coast Medical Group
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