The Promise of Sleep: Sleep Apnea

In the book, The Promise of Sleep, Dr. William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D., and Christopher Vaughn, explore the vital connection between health, happiness and a good night’s sleep.  This book is the culmination of decades of research which follows the progression of sleep as a curiosity in health into a robust field of scientific study.

“For nearly half a century, a huge reservoir about sleep, sleep deprivation, and sleep disorders has been building behind a dam of pervasive ignorance and unresponsive bureaucracies.  We don’t know how many preventable tragedies are occurring right now, today, at this very instant.  It is time to either lower the floodgates or blow up the dam. The gentler approach of convincing authorities to lower the floodgates has not worked. Therefor, I hope and pray that this book will be the bomb that blows up the dam, and let the information flow to the millions of lives it can change – and save.”

William. C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D.

I began to read this book because of my own issues with sleep, or rather, my partner Krista’s.  I snore, and I snore loudly.  It was so loud that it drove her to the couch, and a wedge between us.  Beyond that, I didn’t think it was a problem; how wrong I was.  Chapter 7, Snoring and Sleep Apnea: The Midnight Stranglers, was the first chapter I read and just as I was impressed with the information, so too was I shocked by what I learned. Most people, and most doctors, are ignorant when it comes to the signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation.  When it is associated with apnea – the Greek word for absence of breath – the diagnosis is not difficult.  Two questions can point a doctor in the right direction of making the appropriate diagnosis:

  1. Am I tired in the daytime?
  2. Have I been told that I snore?

If the answer to both these questions is yes, there is a good chance that the patient may have some level of sleep apnea. Not all snorers have sleep apnea, but in general, the louder the snoring, the more likely that the sleeper has apnea.  Dr. Dement likens sleep apnea to a silent killer, except it is far from silent; people with apnea usually snore so loudly that their snoring is compared to jackhammers.  Unfortunately, the true significance of this loud warning is not heeded by most people.  It is usually those who must share the bed or room that are the ones who bring the problem to light.  Loud snoring is a sign that breathing is strained, that the throat is almost closing down.  In obstructive sleep apnea, the walls of the throat do collapse and stay closed until the sleeper is awakened by a lack of oxygen to the brain.  Thus, even though a snorer may not have sleep apnea, those who snore are still straining to get air while they sleep.

When a patient has severe obstructive sleep apnea, he or she usually suffers from some degree of cardiovascular disease: high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke.  These patients usually have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, the most common of which is obesity.  Unfortunately, their doctors then attribute their condition to the other risk factors and miss the diagnosis of sleep apnea.  Not is sleep apnea associated with cardiovascular disease, a variety of other conditions are common.  Although the most common is daytime fatigue and tiredness, other conditions associated with sleep apnea include: esophageal reflux, frequent nocturnal urination, heavy sweating at night, morning headaches, raspy throat, personality changes, loss of hearing, male impotence and the reduction in sex drive in both men and women.  And of course, there are also the byproducts of daytime sleepiness: diminished performance and mental acuity, forgetfulness, poor concentration and disorientation.

What do you do if you suspect that you or a loved one suffers from sleep apnea or other sleep disorder?

You need to see your physician so that an appropriate diagnosis can be made.  Your physician can refer you for a sleep study that will further diagnose any sleep difficulties.  This form will need to be filled out by your physician. Once an appropriate diagnosis is made, you have options to choose to be able to help cure this condition: weight loss, herbs for sleep, acupuncture, CPAP machines and in some instances, surgery, can all be beneficial to helping you return to a restful night’s sleep.

Even if you don’t suffer from sleep apnea or snore, The Promise of Sleep covers all other aspects of sleep and many other sleep disorders as well: insomnia, narcolepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep debt, night terrors and others. Remember, this is only ONE chapter of this encyclopedia of information regarding sleep.  One of your best tools in your health kit is your education.  Please refer to my other post regarding sleep (Sleep – The Natural Remedy) for more information on the importance of a healthy sleep.

So, what happened with my sleep?

Although I knew I snored and made it through my afternoons by yawning behind the back of my hand, I never knew that I could feel as good as I do now.  I have to thank Krista for “diagnosing” my problem and supporting me into getting the help I needed.  The difference in my quality of life is astounding.  I have more energy, I think more clearly, I make decisions more easily and I get things done.  I could say that I am a new man, but really, am I just sleeping better. And the couch is now just a place for hanging out!

Other sleep resources:

The Science Network: Waking Up To Sleep.  Can sleeping on a problem create overnight insights? Will naps make you smarter? Are you getting enough? How much IS enough? For the answers to these and other pillow problems, join a group of wide-awake researchers for a conversation on the science of sleep.

Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, 4th Edition (Principles & Practice of Sleep Medicine) by Meir H. Kryger, Thomas Roth, and William Dement (2005). For clinical professionals.

Sleep Disorders for Dummies by Max Ph.D., A.B.S.M. Hirshkowitz, Patricia B. Smith, and William C. Dement (2004)

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Dr. Jonathon Friz Berghamer