Get on your mark, get set, sleep!
OK, so it's not quite that easy for most of us to fall asleep and stay asleep for seven to nine hours the nightly total that is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Many Amer-
icans are sleep-deprived on a fairly regular basis.
Sleep is essential for good health and optimal functioning at home, work or play. Bill Moore, registered respiratory therapist and director of respiratory care services at Yampa Valley Medical Center, said lack of sleep can affect mood, behavior, weight, work performance and the ability to safely drive a vehicle.
"People aren't always aware of the consequences that can result from lack of sleep," Moore said. "Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are estimated to cost Americans more than $100 billion annually in lost productivity, sick leave and medical expenses."
That number may sound high, but not when you consider some of the serious health conditions that can accompany sleep problems. They include congestive heart failure, hypertension (high blood pressure) and chronic headaches.
For all of these reasons, the Sleep Study Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center is encouraging Routt County residents to take the "Great American Sleep Challenge" by March 31.
Sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the challenge is an online program. It's simple, it's free and it could improve your life. Simply pick one week during February or March. With a click of your computer, you'll get information to help you set your own goals for healthy sleep and measure how close you come to achieving them.
The NSF has designed the Sleep Challenge to allow participants to personally experience the health benefits of sleeping well. To get started, visit the NSF web site, www.sleepfoundation.org/challenge. You will find sleep tips, fun quizzes and facts about caffeine, insomnia, snoring and sleep myths.
For example, daytime sleepiness isn't always caused by insufficient sleep. It could be a sign of an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea.
The challenge involves keeping a sleep journal for a week. You can print this journal and track your behaviors such as caffeine intake, exercise, naps, and any night-time awakenings or sleep disturbances.
After taking the challenge, you will have valuable information that you can discuss with your physician if you suspect you may have a sleep disorder.
It is estimated that up to one-third of Americans have sleep disorders that cause everything from daytime drowsiness to depression. The Sleep Quiz on Yampa Valley Medical Center's web site, www.yvmc.org, provides information about five common sleep disorders.
The most serious disorder is obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening condition, Moore said. Symptoms include snoring, weight gain, personality changes, high blood pressure, night sweats, pounding or irregularly beating heart during the night, morning headaches and loss of sex drive.
"Sleep disorders are still not well-recognized," Moore said. "We know that sleep apnea is underdiagnosed in Steamboat Springs. It just makes sense to be aware of your sleep habits and to see a doctor if you are having problems.
"The best way to diagnose a sleep disorder is to have a medically supervised sleep study performed at the same altitude at which you live."
Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center.