Tired of being tired?

Poor sleep: A photo of a very tired man

I used to think that sleep problems were just a normal part of life. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I found out through working in health care that our sleep should be taken as seriously as any other aspect of our health. But that can be challenging, since sleep is not typically addressed in our annual exams or well visits. Therefore, it’s often left up to us to bring up the subject with our doctors.

There are many causes for sleeplessness – some are minor and improve over time, while others require seeking medical care. Many of us don’t realize that poor sleep, especially on a regular basis over time, can lead to long-term health consequences. If chronic sleep problems are left undiagnosed or untreated, they can have negative effects on our quality of life, increase our risk of accidents, reduce our performance levels on the job or at school, weaken our immune system, and have overall negative health consequences that can reduce our life expectancy.

To gather a sleep professional’s perspective and expert advice on this topic, I reached out to sleep specialists Paul Barnard, MD, Walter Castro, MD, and Diana Go, MD, at Banner Desert Sleep Center. 

Dr. Barnard:

“Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a common, but serious disorder that can increase your risk of health-related problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type II diabetes, weight gain and obesity, especially if left undiagnosed and untreated over time. The only real way to determine if you have sleep apnea is to have a sleep study performed. Common signs of sleep apnea include persistent snoring, pauses in breathing while sleeping, episodes of gasping for air while sleeping, and experiencing excessive sleepiness during waking hours. It’s important to know that effective diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea is available, and equally important that you talk to your doctor about treating your sleep apnea and preventing related health problems.”

Dr. Castro:

“Many people think that Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is an adult condition, but it is actually common in as many as one in ten children. In many pediatric cases, symptoms are mild, and the child eventually outgrows the condition once the tonsils and adenoids decrease in size. However, some children may develop behavioral issues or serious medical problems as a result of OSA, especially if it is a chronic condition that remains undiagnosed and untreated. Studies also suggest that sleep disturbed children may experience poor grades in school and symptoms similar to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If your child is having disrupted sleep or sleep issues, please talk to your Doctor about it, or consult with a pediatric sleep specialist to help diagnose and treat any underlying issues. It’s the first necessary step to help your child feel alert and productive again during the day.”

Dr. Go:

Having a consistent bedtime schedule during weekdays, weekends and school vacation is very important. I also advise my patients not to watch TV or play on the computer at least an hour before bedtime, as this tends to suppress the surge of melatonin due to the emitted light. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by our body that promotes sleep. Likewise, one should try to avoid caffeinated beverages in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant and increases wakefulness.”

Ask yourself these simple questions to determine if you may have a sleep disorder that you should discuss with your doctor:

  • Do you suffer from insomnia or the inability to fall or stay asleep?
  • Do you snore, or are you told you snore or wake gasping for air?
  • Are you excessively tired most days although you think you had adequate sleep?
  • Do you often feel fatigued, have low energy, or difficulty concentrating?
  • Do you have mood disturbances, or decreased performance in work or at school?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should strongly consider having your sleep evaluated. You can either work with your primary care doctor, or find a sleep specialist physician who is trained in Sleep Medicine, so they can help diagnose issues and determine the best treatment plan for you. Remember, making our sleep a priority rather than a luxury can be one of the most important things we can do for our health.

Also read: Sleeping like a baby when you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea

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