Health & Medicine

Feeling sleepy during the day? There may be a more serious problem

Ron Shashy
Ron Shashy

Getting enough sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but work and family commitments often get in the way of a good night’s rest.

Even one hour of sleep deprivation has been shown in studies to have an impact on performance. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depression. Those who are sleep deprived also are at greater risk for work-related and auto accidents.

Sleepiness has a definite relationship with sleep deprivation, but it could also be related to disrupted sleep. A common cause of sleep disruption is obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing during sleep. Those with sleep apnea can stop breathing hundreds of times each night.

Up to 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, according to the American Association for Respiratory Care. Another 10 million are estimated to have the disorder, but remain undiagnosed.

The condition is more common in men than women, but also occurs in children. Those who are overweight and older than age 50 are at higher risk for sleep apnea, and nearly 50 percent of those who have it also suffer from high blood pressure.

There are two main types of sleep apnea. The most commonly diagnosed is obstructive sleep apnea, in which a person struggles to breathe because his or her airway collapses repeatedly during the night. The second type is central sleep apnea, a respiratory condition in which the brain does not properly signal the body to take a breath.

The symptoms for both types are generally the same. The most common is loud snoring, although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Other symptoms may include restless sleep, gasping or choking during the night, daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating and morning headaches.

One of the most common methods to diagnose sleep apnea is through a sleep study. This is a study in which patients are observed overnight as they sleep in a comfortable and controlled environment, while their oxygen levels and breathing are monitored.

The gold standard of treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Patients wear a mask while they sleep, and the machine delivers steady air pressure to enable consistent breathing. A CPAP machine has been shown to ensure a better night’s sleep and also help decrease high blood pressure.

Additional treatments for sleep apnea may also include dental appliances to reposition the lower jaw and tongue, and surgery to remove tissue in the airway.

If you snore loudly, gasp or hold your breath during the night, or suffer from excessive drowsiness, talk to your physician about a sleep study.

Dr. Ron Shashy is with KentuckyOne Health Ear, Nose and Throat Care.

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