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Resolving Sleep Issues Can Reduce Risk of Other Major Illnesses

The importance of sleep to the physical and mental health of patients cannot be overlooked. Living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder can increase the magnitude and risk for age-related conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease and stroke, notes Michael Summers, MD, sleep medicine specialist and director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Nebraska Medicine.

Many sleep-related problems can be treated with the proper diagnosis. An overnight sleep study in an accredited sleep lab is the most effective way to diagnose most sleep disorders. The Sleep Disorder Center has been accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) since 1991.

Michael Summers, MD
Michael Summers, MD

The most common sleep disorder we diagnose is obstructive sleep apnea, notes Dr. Summers, though there are over 80 different sleep disorder diagnoses. Obstructive sleep apnea can occur at any age but is more common in adults and is frequently seen more often in men than women.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when the muscles of the airway relax during sleep, causing the airway to become narrowed or blocked and preventing breathing for at least 10 seconds at a time. These individuals may experience anywhere from five to more than 100 episodes per hour in which they stop breathing.

Some common symptoms these patients may have include: obesity, hypertension, snoring and daytime sleepiness. "Sleep deprived patients often complain of chronic pain issues as well," notes Dr. Summers. "When you are sleep deprived, your sensitivity to pain is often higher."

You should ask some basic questions to determine if your patient is a sleep study candidate: Is your patient obese, does he or she snore (or been told they stop breathing when they sleep) and is he or she tired during the day? If the answers to these questions are yes, then your patient likely should be studied, says Dr. Summers. Be aware, however, that a patient does not have to be obese to have sleep apnea, notes Dr. Summers. As many as 10 to 15 percent of sleep apnea patients are not obese but have anatomical issues such as a small airway or large tonsils that are causing their apnea.

The most effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is positive airway pressure (PAP). Individuals with milder cases may be candidates for a mandibular advancement device, a device worn like a mouth guard that pulls the lower jaw forward. "A comprehensive sleep study that allows us to observe the patient in all position and stages of sleep can help us determine the most appropriate treatment option(s)," says Dr. Summers.

Other sleep specialists with the Sleep Disorders Center include Teri Barkoukis, MD and John Harrington, MD (who will be starting this fall as faculty).

"We see all of our patients, manage them and treat all of their sleep issues," says Dr. Summers. "Nothing but good things happen once patients' sleep issues are resolved. They may lose weight, have less pain issues, greater alertness, improved reaction times and better blood pressure control. Their risk for other major diseases like heart disease and stroke is also reduced."

To learn more, make a referral or connect with Dr. Summers or a member of the Sleep Disorder Center team call, 877-647-7497.