Sleep medicine: an overview

Danelle Smit

What do the following disasters have in common - Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown…Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion….Exxon Valdez oil spill? The answer? These are all disasters where sleepiness has been implicated.

Sleep disorders have a significant impact on the lives of many Americans says Allen Foster, MD, medical director of St. Agnes Hospital’s Center for Sleep Disorders.

Consider this. The average American sleeps less than seven hours a night. Thirty-seven percent of adults are so tired during the day it interferes with daily activities. Seventy-five percent of adults have at least one symptom of a sleep disorder two times or more nights a week. And, 55 percent of adults nap at least one time a week.

What are the consequences of sleep deprivation? According to Dr. Foster, many – including – psychomotor slowing, attention lapses, irritability and decreased coping ability, decreased impulse control, memory problems, confusion, impaired judgment and micro-sleeps.

Fatigue-related traffic accidents are also high, dependent on the time of day. It escalates across the night shift from midnight to 8 a.m. The U.S. National Highway Safety Administration conservatively estimates that driver fatigue annually causes more than 100,000 police-reported crashes, at least 4 percent of fatal crashes, over 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

Here are some other startling facts. Sixty percent reported driving drowsy in the previous year; 37 percent reported dozing off at the wheel, 33% drove drowsy at least once a month in the past year; and 14 percent drove drowsy at least once a week in the past year.

And, teens are equally affected by sleep concerns as adults. One in 10 high school seniors nodded off while driving over a one-year period. Fifty percent of adolescents admit to driving drowsy over the past year with 11 percent driving drowsy one to two times a week. And, 28 percent of high school students admit to falling asleep at least once a week while in school.

The Center for Sleep Disorders diagnoses and treats the following sleep concerns: sleep apnea (non-breathing episodes during sleep); insomnia (persistent difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep); narcolepsy (characterized by uncontrollable sleep attacks and persistent daytime sleepiness); and restless leg syndrome.

Dr. Foster gives several tips on getting a good night’s sleep, including: maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule; establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine; create a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool sleep environment; sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillow; and use your bedroom only for sleep, not for work or other stressful activities.

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