Sleepy Nation: A restless America

Do you and your spouse wake up in the morning feeling refreshed?  Or, do you feel tired and drained? You could be one of the 42 million Americans suffering from SDB or Sleep Disordered Breathing, according to the National Institutes of Health. 

Sleep apnea is one of the most common types of SDB.  During sleep, the soft tissue at the back of your throat closes, preventing you from getting oxygen to your brain. It’s a condition that’s unhealthy and could be deadly, and it’s not the only sleep condition that worries doctors.

It’s a condition Kathy Farley was diagnosed with a couple of months ago. She works at Murray-Calloway County Hospital. As a busy single mom to a high-functioning autistic son, Farley’s lack of quality sleep took its toll at work and home.

“You can’t be your best mom or be your best self if you’re sleepy all the time,” Farley said. "The biggest thing was the body aches and the consistent headaches."

Farley ended up across the hall where she works at the hospital’s Center for Sleep Disorders.

Dr. Rachel Korson is a neurologist and board certified in sleep medicine and is treating Farley.

"Sleep affects everything from your mood to your memory to your metabolism. Poor sleep can affect your job performance, cognitive impairment,” Korson said.

 “I know that sometimes when I don’t sleep well my covers are all over the place,” Farley said.

Previous sleep studies show Farley suffers from sleep apnea, and she continues to undergo testing because of other possible problems affecting her inability to feel fully refreshed.   

Men tend to suffer from sleep apnea more than women, who often experience insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep.

There are currently 2,500 accredited sleep centers in the country, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. In many cases that’s still not sufficient to treat the number of patients. Patients in the Local 6 region can wait up to three months to see a doctor and have a sleep study performed. 

That’s why many doctors recommend home sleep test kits, which experts say can be just as accurate as the formal sleep studies. Of course, you need to talk with your doctor to see what’s right for you.

 “The most common complaint is ‘Doctor, I’m tired of being tired,’" Korson said. 

She treats a number of sleep issues, included restless leg syndrome, different para-somnias, sleep walking, rem behavior disorder and narcolepsy.

Korson says sleep apnea is the most prevalent and witnesses the main problem it often creates in relationships.

“They don’t even sleep in the same bed anymore, and it’s causing a problem in their marriage because of, say, loud snoring. So, once they get treated, they can start to sleep in the same bed again,” Korson said.

The health risks associated with poor sleep in general are even more serious.

“You’re at three-fold increase risk of getting something like a heart attack or a stroke,” Korson said.

Of the 42 million Americans who suffer from sleep disordered breathing, 18 million suffer from Sleep Apnea and 84 classifications of sleep disorders exist.  Combined, sleep problems add an estimated 16 billion to national health care costs.  

 Debbie Beyer is a respiratory therapist with 30 years experience. She currently works with Legacy Oxygen and teaches patients how to use the equipment needed to treat their sleep apnea.

"The anxiety is a huge, huge part of this,” Beyer said.

They’re anxious over using a CPAP machine that supplies constant and steady air pressure through a hose to a mask or nose piece, allowing you to breath normally and get the oxygen you need while asleep. 

Your insurance will likely cover roughly 80 percent of the costs associated with a sleep study, the necessary treatment and replacement parts for the machine. The remaining balance you owe varies.

“Every insurance dictates what we can bill, so everybody’s 20 percent would be different simply because they tell us ‘Here’s how much you can charge for this,’ and ‘Here’s how much you can charge for supplies,’" Beyer said.

However, Beyer says the proof is a happier and better rested patient.

“There really is no gray area in wearing these. You either love it, you see the results and you’re going to do it. Or, you’re anxious about it, you don’t like it and you don’t want to do it,” Beyer said.

Kathy Farley says the CPAP treatment has worked for her. 

"It’s definitely a huge change. I see a huge change in my attitude because I wake up and I’m awake. I’m not waking up groggy trying to load up on caffeine to get through the day,” Farley said.

Some of the more popular over the counter sleep aids include Unisom, Simply Sleep and Alteril.

Medical experts, doctors, and organizations like the Mayo Clinic agree that short term the over the counter treatments probably will work, but not in the long run. 

They contain antihistamines. Tolerance to the sedative develops quickly, so the longer you take it, the less likely you are to feel sleep. Also, some sleep aids can leave you feeling groggy the next day. There’s also the risk for negative interactions with other medication you might be taking.

Here are helpful links to learn more about sleep disorders and other related issues. 

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