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March 2011: How Sleep Disorders Affect Your Health

28 Feb 2011

Dr. Michael Bommarito is board-certified and fellowship-trained in pulmonary medicine, critical care medicine and sleep medicine. He has a special interest in sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Dr. Bommarito has an office at Weiss Memorial Hospital.

Michael Bommarito, M.D.
Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Specialist
Weiss Memorial Hospital
(773) 564-5577

With one-third of our life spent in sleep, healthy sleep is an important part of our overall health. A number of disorders occur during sleep, which may seriously impact a person’s health as well as how he or she feels overall. We all know what it is like to get through a day after a poor night’s sleep. Sleep medicine is a medical specialty that deals with disorders of sleep and a sleep specialist is a medical professional with special training and certification to treat such disorders.

Sleep apnea
The most common sleep disorder is sleep apnea. This disorder occurs frequently with obesity and may worsen other health problems that go along with obesity, such as heart disease and diabetes. The cause of sleep apnea usually is a collapse of the upper airway in the back of the throat. Muscles around the throat that help keep it open relax during sleep leading to the airway closing down and causing difficulty breathing. Excess weight, especially around the neck, makes it harder for the throat muscles to keep the airway open during sleep. Apnea is an abnormal pause or stoppage in breathing and because this happens from the airway closing down, the full name of this disorder is obstructive sleep apnea.

Symptoms of sleep apnea
The most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are snoring, especially if it is loud, and sleepiness during the day. Obstructive sleep apnea makes for poor sleep. People with this disorder report feeling overly sleepy during the day despite having what they feel should be enough sleep. They wake up in the morning not feeling like they got a good night’s sleep. Having obstructive sleep apnea makes it difficult to stay awake during the day and some people unintentionally fall asleep. Because this disorder commonly causes oxygen levels in the body to fall, a person may wake from sleep with a headache due to this lack of oxygen.

Risk factors
Obstructive sleep apnea increases a person’s risk for heart attacks and strokes. It can worsen diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as be a cause of high blood pressure. It can make a person moody, tired all the time with a lack of energy, and can cloud thinking. People may have this disorder for years and not even realize it. Only after it is diagnosed and treated do they understand how much it has affected their lives.

Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is diagnosed with an overnight sleep study and the treatment is simple. Most commonly, a patient wears a mask over the nose or the nose and mouth hooked up to a machine that pushes pressurized air through the back of the throat. The pressure keeps the throat from collapsing and allows easy breathing during sleep. This treatment usually is all that is needed to correct the problem. Treatment will eliminate snoring and will restore healthy sleep. The machines are very quiet, small and portable. For those patients that have mild to moderate sleep apnea, a treatment with a dentist specialized in sleep medicine and coordinated through a sleep physician may also be effective. And of course, for those patients who are obese or overweight, weight loss may cure the sleep apnea.

Other sleep disorders
Sleep medicine specialists treat a variety of sleep disorders beyond sleep apnea. Insomnia, for example, is a very common disorder that is often treated with sleeping pills. If patients wish to go beyond the sleeping pill solution to insomnia, a sleep physician will try to identify and treat what is causing the insomnia. There are several ways a person who has a sleep disorder can find a physician or center specialized in sleep medicine. They can ask their doctor for a referral or recommendation. Additionally, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has a web link (http://www.sleepeducation.com/) for patients about sleep disorders and information about finding a sleep center and a physician who is a specialist in sleep medicine.

For more information
If you would like more information about sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, or would like an appointment, please call Dr. Bommarito’s office at (773) 564-5577.