Editor's note: This article ran in a July 2013 issue of Steamboat Today.
If you’re like an estimated 70 million other Americans, you have occasional or persistent sleep problems. That means you’re not at your best at work, at home or at play.
Sleep is a vital part of good health, just like eating, drinking and breathing. Getting enough quality sleep is essential for mental and physical health, quality of life and safety.
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“When we don’t get enough hours of quality sleep, we don’t feel good or function well,” said William Moore, director of Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Respiratory Therapy Department and Sleep Study Center.
“Sleep disorders can make it more difficult to solve problems, remember things, make decisions, finish tasks and control emotions and behavior,” Moore said. “They also can cause or contribute to drowsy driving, weight gain and a number of other serious conditions.”
Among these are high blood pressure, low oxygen levels and cardiac and circulatory disorders. Lack of sleep also is associated with diabetes, emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis and obesity.
“Recent research shows that sleep disorders may be one cause of attention deficit disorder in children,” Moore said.
Although all sleep disorders can cause problems, Moore said obstructive sleep apnea poses the most serious health threat.
“Untreated sleep apnea, or OSA, can increase the risk of stroke and cardiac problems including heart attack, heart failure and arrhythmias,” he said.
The Sleep Study Center at YVMC diagnoses sleep disorders through sleep studies, which measure how much and how well a person sleeps. Two types of tests are available — overnight laboratory sleep studies at the hospital and home sleep studies.
“Some individuals may be recommended for a home sleep study, which costs less and may be more comfortable,” Moore said.
“Because home studies capture less data and are not observed by a sleep technician, they are generally recommended only for those who have a high probability of OSA and no other medical conditions.”
Sleep Study Center tests, whether conducted at home or in the sleep lab, are interpreted by board-certified sleep specialist physician Dr. Mark Petrun. Results are reported to the referring physician.
If a test is positive, education is the important next step, Moore said. The Sleep Study Center and the patient’s physician may help identify factors that hinder sleep and work to improve positive behaviors that aid sleep.
Creating a better sleep environment may require prescription medications or other aids, Moore said. These can include continuous positive airway pressure, custom-fit oral devices or surgical options.
Moore said a number of symptoms can indicate sleep disorders, including:
• Regularly having difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep.
• Snoring, pauses in breathing and/or gasping for breath when asleep.
• Waking up tired in the morning and functioning poorly during the day.
• Experiencing tingling, creeping, itching, aching or other strange feelings in the legs while sitting or lying down.
“Sleep disorders that interfere with work, school, driving and social functioning can be diagnosed and treated,” Moore said. “Yet they often go unrecognized. Many people attribute their tiredness to other factors in their busy lives. They don’t think to mention frequent fatigue when they see a physician.
“An accurate diagnosis is the first step toward improving sleep and health. If you are experiencing any sleep problems, it is important to talk about them with your physician.”
Christine McKelvie is a writer/editor for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.