Monday Medical: Sleep apnea linked to diabetes

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A helpful publication, “Your Guide To Healthy Sleep,” is available from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website at www.nhlbi.nih.gov. For more information about sleep studies at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, call 970-871-2392.

“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”

— Thomas Dekker (1572-1632)

Sleep — it’s more important than you think. Healthy sleep has numerous benefits, while sleep disorders have been linked to everything from drowsy driving to diabetes.

Research has shown that as many as 80 percent of white males with Type 2 diabetes also have sleep apnea, which can be a serious disorder. Although Type 2 diabetes puts people at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, adding sleep apnea on top of it multiplies that risk even more.

We are just now discovering how crucial sleep is to our health and well-being. Accor­­ding to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep helps us improve learning, memory and mood, while lack of sleep causes slower thinking, confusion and difficulty focusing.

Lack of sleep also can lead to depression, increased risk-taking, poor decision-making and slower reaction time. In many ways, not getting enough sleep is dangerous.

Sleep is crucial for a healthy heart. Overall during sleep, blood pressure and heart rate decrease by about 10 percent. Poor sleep can prevent this lowering of blood pressure and lead to an increased rate of strokes, chest pain, irregular heartbeat and even heart attacks.

A lack of sleep also increases the release of stress hormones in the body, which raises blood glucose levels and further exacerbates the risk for heart disease.

Sleep involves several phases. Each phase has an important role in the typical functioning of the human body, and poor sleep can cause people to miss parts of or complete phases of sleep.

As we age, the number of hours we spend sleeping gradually decreases. Adults need as much as eight hours of sleep per night. In addition to quantity of sleep, we need good quality sleep.

Several factors can affect quality and quantity of sleep: caffeine, certain pain relievers and decongestants, nicotine, alcohol, large meals or exercise right before bed, sleep environment and certain prescription medications. Some psychological disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder) also can disrupt sleep.

Sleep disorders greatly decrease the quantity and quality of sleep. People who have sleep apnea actually stop breathing for a period of time — again and again — during the night. Risks for sleep apnea include:

■ Throat muscles and tongue that relax more than usual during sleep

■ Enlarged tonsils and adenoids

■ Being overweight or obese

■ Having a smaller airway created by the shape of your head/neck

■ Congestion from allergies

■ Family history

People with mild sleep apnea sometimes can reduce symptoms by sleeping on their side instead of on their back. Avoiding alcohol, smoking, sleeping pills, herbal supplements and any other medications that cause sleepiness also may help. Some individuals can manage sleep apnea with weight loss.

Moderate or severe sleep apnea may be treated with continuous positive airway pressure, which keeps the airway open while you sleep.

The NHLBI lists these common signs of a sleep disorder:

■ It takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night

■ You awaken frequently at night and have trouble falling back to sleep

■ You awaken too early in the morning

■ You frequently don’t feel well-rested despite sleeping for at least seven or eight hours

■ You feel sleepy during the day and nap easily

■ You snore loudly, snort, gasp, or make choking sounds while you sleep

■ You have tingling, “crawling” feelings in your legs, especially at night when you are trying to fall asleep

■ Your legs or arms jerk often during sleep

■ You need to use stimulants to stay awake during the day

If you think you might have a sleep disorder, contact your health care provider. Keep track of your sleeping habits, levels of energy/fatigue and what others tell you about your snoring or breathing and then share your “sleep journal” with your provider.

You may be referred for a sleep study to find out if you have a sleep disorder. Bill Moore, director of Respiratory Care Services and the Sleep Study Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center, recommends that studies be performed at the same altitude where you live.

Taking steps to diagnose and treat sleep disorders can give you a longer, healthier life. That’s something to dream about.

Jane K. Dickinson, R.N., Ph.D., CDE, is the Diabetes Education Program director at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at jane.dickinson@yvmc.org or 970-871-2352.

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