Not Catching Enough Zs

For many people, sleeping a full seven to eight hours each night is a challenge. Doctors have tips and techniques to help.

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Poor sleeping habits and sleep disorders disrupt more than just a good night’s sleep. For many people, a night of quality sleep is only a dream.

An estimated 50-70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, and insufficient sleep has been described as a public health epidemic by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jonathan Schwartz, a sleep medicine specialist in Oklahoma City and medical director of the INTEGRIS Sleep Disorders Center of Oklahoma, says it’s not uncommon for a person to have more than one sleep problem.

The most common disorders include insufficient sleep, insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome – conditions that carry myriad adverse health effects.

“Poor quality of sleep and inadequate sleep are associated with an increased risk of mood disorders, including depression and anxiety,” Schwartz says. “In addition, untreated obstructive sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease and stroke.”

Suzanne Olive, a pulmonologist with St. John Clinic in Tulsa, says seven hours of sleep per night is recommended for adults, and busy lifestyles and distractions caused by technology, including TV, computers and mobile devices, leave many sleep-deprived.

“Excess daytime sleepiness can lead to poor judgment, increased [risk of] accidents, loss of job productivity and mood disturbances,” she says.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, Schwartz advises adopting good sleep practices.

“People often aren’t giving themselves the best opportunity to sleep,” he says. “Having a regular bedtime and regular wake time is very important, as well as turning off electronics. However, if you’ve applied these practices and continue to have sleep problems, then you should see a sleep specialist.”

Schwartz says obstructive sleep apnea affects up to 9 percent of women and up to 24 percent of men. Apneas occur when a person’s upper airway narrows during sleep and obstructs airflow. In addition, 5 to 10 percent of the population have restless leg syndrome – an overwhelming urge to continually move one’s legs while awake.

“A sleep study is used to evaluate the quality and quantity of an individual’s sleep,” he says. “The study evaluates for breathing disorders of sleep, including obstructive sleep apnea, as well as movement disorders of sleep. In addition, a sleep study gives the ability to initiate CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure] to determine appropriate pressures to treat obstructive sleep apnea.”

For insomnia, which includes habitual sleeplessness as well as difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, Olive says behavior modification, exercise, having good sleep practices and/or medication can help. Schwartz recommends cognitive-behavior therapy for insomnia (cbtforinsomnia.com), a five-week program that claims to improve sleep in 75-80 percent of patients.

“The program helps people take an introspective look at their sleep habits,” he says. “It is cost effective and, when compared head-to-head to sleeping pills, it was found to be more effective over time than the medication.”

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