Do you ever wonder what it must feel like to operate on eight hours of sleep each day?
If you’re functioning on a full night’s rest today, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re one of the few.
Almost 74 percent of Americans do not get enough sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and more people are suffering from sleep deprivation each year.
|Susan Harding, director of UAB’s Sleep/Wake Disorders Center, demonstrates how patients use the CPAP machine.
“Our society is just not sleeping an adequate amount of time,” says Susan Harding, M.D., director of UAB’s Sleep/Wake Disorders Center. “Most people require eight hours, but very few actually get it.”
For some, the lack of sleep comes from their lifestyle habits. But for many, daytime sleepiness likely is due to a sleep disorder. UAB’s Sleep/Wake Disorders Center has been a leader in sleep medicine for more than 20 years, aiding those who struggle to function daily due to lack of high-quality sleep.
The center recently moved to the seventh floor of UAB Highlands, where Harding and her staff provide clinical evaluations, diagnostic procedures, treatment and management for more than 90 sleep-related disorders.
Other doctors on staff include Jeffrey Hawkins, M.D., clinical assistant professor of medicine; David Calhoun, M.D., Division of Cardiology and professor of medicine; and Jennifer DeWolfe, D.O., assistant professor of neurology.
There are many reasons we are not sleeping, according to Harding. Among them:
• Lifestyle habits (Not allowing enough time for sleep)
• Anything that causes insomnia or poor quality sleep
• Sleep disorders
• Excessive worry, depression
• Medication side effects
• Working odd hours
• Medical illness causing pain, difficulty breathing, etc.
One common culprit robbing us of proper rest is sleep apnea; it’s also the most common sleep disorder diagnosed at the Sleep/Wake Disorders Center.
Sleep apnea essentially is a cessation of airflow during sleep and can come in three different forms: obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive is the most common type of the three. Despite the difference in the root cause of each type, people with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep in all three cases.
Those suffering from severe cases of sleep apnea could stop breathing hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer. Following each apnea, a patient awakens momentarily before returning to sleep. Most patients are not aware of or remember these brief awakenings, called arousals.
Patients who have hundreds of arousals each night become sleep-deprived, which shows up as excessive daytime sleepiness despite what seemed like adequate sleep at the time.
Sleep apnea is very common; it affects more than 12 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. If left untreated it can cause numerous health-related problems or make existing ones — such as hypertension and heart disease — worse.
“Untreated sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and daytime sleepiness,” Harding says.
“It may impact cognitive skills as well.”
Common signs, treatment
How do you know if you or a loved one may have sleep apnea? There are several common signs and symptoms:
• Excessive daytime sleepiness
• Loud, disruptive snoring, often followed by snorting sounds
• Irregular breathing during sleep, including gasping, long pauses, and/or shallow breathing
• Restless sleep
• Difficulty concentrating
• Depression or irritability
• Morning headaches
• High blood pressure
CPAP therapy is the Sleep/Wake Center’s primary treatment for sleep apnea, and it is the most widely accepted treatment in the field.
A bedside device gently delivers pressurized air through a nasal mask or pillows system. This pressure acts like an air splint to keep the upper airway open. CPAP treatment does not involve drugs or surgery and helps hundreds of thousands of people worldwide enjoy healthier sleep and a healthier life. Many patients experience the benefits quickly — often after the first night of use.
“Many patients require an overnight sleep study to properly diagnose apnea,” Harding says. “Sleep apnea can develop slowly over years, so symptoms associated with sleep apnea may not be appreciated until the patient is treated. Once patients are properly treated for sleep apnea, they typically say, ‘Wow, I was really in trouble.”
Physicians may refer patients to the Sleep/Wake Disorders Center at UAB Highlands by calling 930-7114.