Sleep disorders are among the most under-diagnosed, treatable illnesses in
"Forty percent of adults report treatable sleeping problems," said
Sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing and periods of shallow breathing during sleep. The most prevalent form, obstructive sleep apnea, is characterized by blockage of air flow. Other common sleep disorders include insomnia, restless leg syndrome, teeth grinding and narcolepsy.
Sleep disorders that go undiagnosed can have serious consequences, including strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, even death. Some symptoms, like snoring and choking, are more obvious and most people know when they struggle to fall asleep. Still, many think they are getting their recommended eight hours or, after many years, are accustomed to sleeping poorly.
Sleep apnea also stresses the heart by causing an irregular or interrupted flow of oxygen.
Because sufferers of sleep apnea are more likely to be overweight, their symptoms can easily be misattributed or ignored entirely. Some symptoms, like fatigue, lack of focus, apathy and irritability are common to both sleep problems and depression. Antidepressants are more likely to be prescribed than a sleep test.
Recent research indicates that women are especially under-diagnosed with sleep apnea. According to the
Traditional symptoms, like heavy snoring, choking and obesity, are not always as pronounced or present in women who more often report difficulty falling or staying asleep, early morning awakenings and leg cramps. Meanwhile, common symptoms in women such as general fatigue, morning headaches and anxiety are easy to attribute to something else.
"Women have it less frequently. However, the classic thinking is that women can't have sleep apnea, this is a disease of obese men who snore heavily and have thick necks,"
Carthage Area Hospital Sleep Center Coordinator
A well-documented, if unconscious, bias that leads to certain illnesses as being wrongly perceived as "male" or "female" has also been cited for the discrepancy between genders.
Symptoms and medication tend to pile up when sleep disorders go untreated.
"(We can) get a patient who has been 100 pounds overweight for 20 years, and is on 50 kinds of medication, but their sleep has never been checked even after decades of problems,"
Many sleep disorder cases are genetic or simply caused by anatomy, but external factors like weight and stress can play a large role. According to the
Doctors more commonly prescribe sleep aids than sleep disorder testing. According to the
"Sleeping pills put you to sleep but they do nothing about the quality of sleep."
For those with sleep disorders, if anything, sleeping pills mask the cause of symptoms such as insomnia and fatigue and do nothing for problems including high blood pressure.
Modern hurdles to quality sleep such as obesity and sleeping pills aside, overall diagnoses of sleep disorders have risen quickly in recent decades. Sleep medicine is a relatively young field, but it's gaining traction. A joint study conducted in part by the
Overnight sleep testing and sleep centers are also becoming more accessible, both as a part of existing medical providers and hospitals and as standalone services.
When sleep disorders are suspected, patients are tested overnight, either at home or in a monitored room in a lab. Home tests are cheaper, can be more comfortable and are often required, by insurers looking to cut costs, as a precursor to in-lab tests.
However, these test results are limited and can be used only to diagnose sleep apnea.
SLEEP CENTERS PLENTIFUL
"I think a lot of people are nervous about it at first, about someone watching them sleep. It's very personal,"
When coming in for the comprehensive tests, patients are recommended to bring their most comfortable pajamas, their own pillows or blankets if they'd like, and everything they need for the next day.
The rooms at Samaritan Sleep Disorders Center and
Patients are then set up with a veritable thicket of wires, EKG and electrode sensors.
"I always have people saying they're not going to sleep, but when they come to us they are exhausted and they almost always sleep more than they expected to,"
Technicians spend the night tracking brain waves, pulse, breathing and much more via the sensors. Rooms also each have a camera and microphone to keep an eye on movements and sleep talking, and to communicate with the patient when needed.
Most diagnoses take a single night, though some patients spend several nights.
Once diagnosed, the path to a solid eight hours becomes much clearer. Most sleep disorders are highly treatable, whether it's sleeping with a small CPAP machine for sleep apnea, medication or being educated in routine and stress management tools. As for treatment costs,
"We all know how we feel after one bad night of sleep,"
"There is still under-diagnosis and undervaluation of these conditions and how they relate to overall health,"
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