Sleep On It: Read Jean's Story
How can someone who sleeps all night, as opposed to someone who lays awake for hours, feel just as un-rested? Beware: sleep disorders come in different forms.
“I never felt rested and I was always yawning throughout the day. I thought: this can’t be normal,” says Jean Gendex, recalling the exhaustion she used to feel.
A diagnostic test conducted during an overnight stay at the RWJ Hamilton SleepCare Center confirmed Jean had obstructive sleep apnea. Upon visiting her physician, Jean felt hopeful, as they addressed the mind, body and spirit.
“Besides the fatigue, I had other risk factors that I didn’t even know - my age and weight; menopause; and I also have restless leg syndrome.” Jean also learned how sleep apnea was a strain on her heart and brain. ”Sleep affects things we’re not even aware about."
Her prescribed treatment was a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Machine. It delivers a steady flow of oxygen while she’s sleeping. Jean warns it takes some patience. “I can’t tell you how worthwhile it is to give the CPAP a good try. Sure, I had to get adjustments a couple times, but there’s a lot to be gained from this.”
“I feel one hundred percent better. I’m used to the equipment and I get great sleep.”
Sleep Is a Necessity
People who do not benefit from sleep tend to be irritable and less productive. Their health is also at stake. Think of the body as an automobile; the engine powered by essential fuels.
You wouldn’t starve your car of gasoline or oil – and you certainly can’t afford to deprive your body of fuel either, including water, food and sleep,” says Shahid Meer, MD, medical director of RWJ Hamilton’s SleepCare Center.
Of course, the body is much more complex than a motor vehicle but you get the idea. “When we sleep, our body temperature drops, melatonin is released, levels of the stress hormone drop and the heart does not have to work as hard.”
Sleep and Your Health
Meer cites a number of causes of sleep disturbance: from obesity, stress and menopause to illnesses such as arthritis, asthma and cancer. The medical community does know that sleep has a direct effect on these medical conditions. Less clear, however, is the extent to which sleep quality causes disease or disease progression.
According to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, the severity of diabetes is directly associated with disturbed sleep. The immune system and brain function also are compromised by lack of sleep.
“The most harmful effect of ignoring obstructive sleep apnea over the long term is that it damages the heart,” adds Meer. “People who have sleep apnea have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.”
All of this adds up to a need to talk with your doctor about sleep patterns, especially if you have other medical conditions.
Identifying the Cause
Sleep apnea affects 18 million Americans and occurs when a person stops breathing during sleep, the result of the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapsing, closing off air passages.
People with sleep apnea often snore severely or wake themselves up with a gasp or snort for air. Taking sleeping pills, being overweight and excessive alcohol consumption can aggravate the condition. Left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, memory problems, headaches and weight gain, in addition to debilitating fatigue.
Meer recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night. When people address their sleeping problems, they usually regain a sense of well-being and energy. “It’s wonderful to see my patients’ renewed ability to exercise and improve their quality of life,” he says.
“Their primary care physicians also recognize this as good news because it puts them in a better position to prevent disease, solve related physical problems or better manage conditions like diabetes.”
To learn more about sleep disorders and treatment, call 609.584.5900 for a FREE Sleep Kit.
Are you at risk for a sleep disorder? Take a complete self-test online at rwjhamilton.org/sleeptest.