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Archive for the ‘Insomnia’ Category

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which one’s breathing pauses while one is asleep. These pauses last from seconds to minutes and can occur five to 30 times per hour.

Sleep apnea is a common condition affecting 12 million to 18 million Americans. It robs people of a good night’s sleep, causing excessive daytime drowsiness and a feeling of constant tiredness.

Most people with sleep apnea aren’t aware of the condition and might think they are getting a decent sleep. Many are tipped off by a family member or bed partner who is aware of the sleeper’s nocturnal breathing difficulties.

Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax, which can temporarily narrow and even close off the airway. The brain then senses the lack of oxygen and awakens the sleeper enough to take a normal breath, and so the cycle continues.

Symptoms of sleep apnea are:

-Loud snorting or choking sounds during sleep.

– Loud snoring. (But not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.)

– Excessive daytime sleeping or drowsiness.

– Observed episodes of not breathing during sleep.

– Awakening with dry mouth or sore throat.

– Abrupt awakening, feeling short of breath.

Sleep apnea is found more commonly among people who are obese; men; the elderly; users of sleeping medications, tranquilizers, alcohol or tobacco; and patients with hypertension or hypothyroidism.

The condition is diagnosed on the basis of family and medical histories, a physical exam and sleep studies done at specialized sleep clinics. These sleep studies, some of which can also be done at home, monitor the sleeper and can definitively determine if one has sleep apnea and how severe it is.

Treatments for sleep apnea include lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol and tobacco use, losing weight, sleeping on one’s side instead of on the back, and keeping nasal passages clear.

Some patients wear mouthpieces to keep their airways open while they sleep, and others use breathing devices, such as the continuous positive airway pressure machine. This machine uses a mask that fits over the mouth and nose, or just over the nose. It gently blows air into the throat, keeping the airway open.

In some cases, surgery may be used to widen breathing passages.

Sleep apnea needs to be taken seriously. Studies in recent years have shown that people with untreated sleep apnea have a three times greater chance of death, mostly from heart attacks, than people without the condition.

If you show signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, or if someone you love does, a visit to a primary-care physician is essential for a routine health check and referral to a sleep specialist.

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Many Plagued by Insomnia

It is estimated that about one-third of adults have difficulty sleeping and are thus sleep deprived.

Twenty percent of people get less than six hours of sleep. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Any less than this can cause increased stress and a depressed immune system and can make one cranky and irritable. It also puts one at increased risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Insomnia becomes more prominent as we age, which is unfortunate, because older people still need as much sleep as younger people do. Aging causes a change of sleep patterns, leading to a lighter, less restful sleep. Decreasing physical and social activity and an increase in chronic health problems also contribute to less sleep.

These are some causes of insomnia:

– Stress

– Anxiety and depression

– Medications, such as heart and blood pressure drugs, steroids, decongestants and weight-loss products

– Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol

– Medical conditions, such as chronic pain, frequent urination and sleep apnea

– Changes in environment or work schedule

– Eating and drinking too much late in the evening

Nonprescription-medication remedies should be tried first.

Lifestyle changes

Be consistent with the time you go to bed and when you wake up. Don’t nap more than 30 minutes a day, and preferably do it before 3 p.m.

Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature. Don’t linger in bed if you can’t sleep.

Limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Avoid large late meals.

A recent study found that most adults who did aerobic exercise four times a week dramatically improved their sleep.

Behavioral therapies

Learn relaxation techniques.

Limit the time you spend in bed, and associate your bed and bedroom only with sleep.

See a therapist who specializes in insomnia, who may provide a cure for insomnia and not just treat the symptoms with medication.

Alternative medicine

Melatonin and valerian are over-the-counter supplements that are marketed as sleep aids. They may be worth a try; however, some studies have shown them to be no more effective than a placebo and their long-term safety record isn’t known.

Prescription medication

Prescription sleep aids can be very effective in many cases, but they should be used for as short a time as possible, because longer-term use is thought to contribute to other health problems.

Sleeping pills also have side effects, such as drowsiness, impaired judgment, depression, agitation and balance problems.

If you are not getting the good night’s rest you deserve, see a doctor who can help to treat and guide you to having a more restful and satisfying sleep.

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