did you sleep last night? Did you wake up feeling refreshed? Perhaps
you felt fatigued and tired. If you did, youíre not alone. In fact,
50 to 70 million American adults suffer from sleep and wakefulness
disorders, according to a new report from the United States Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sleep is more than just a period of time when youíre not awake.
Studies conducted over the past several decades have revealed that
sleep has distinctive states that cycle throughout the night. Your
brain stays active throughout sleep, but different things happen
during each stage. For instance, certain stages of sleep are needed
for you to feel well rested and other stages help you to learn.
"Adequate sleep is as important as diet and exercise, and only
a relatively small percentage of people are getting what sleep experts
believe is an adequate amount of sleep," says Steve Gardner,
director of marketing for the Sleep Wellness Institute and executive
director of the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Foundation in West Allis.
"Adults need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night
and teenagers and children need more."
Not only does the quantity of our sleep matter, but the quality is
important, too. People whose sleep is interrupted or cut short might
not get enough of certain stages of sleep, leading to health and
performance problems. Not getting enough sleep has been tied to
depression, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and
certain risk behaviors like cigarette smoking, physical inactivity and
If you arenít getting enough rest, your bedroom could be the
culprit. "You want to make sure to create a restful
environment," Gardner says. "Remove anything that is
distracting from sleep, such as a TV, computer or even a radio. Make
sure your window coverings are adequate and keep the temperature
With any luck, creating a more conducive sleep environment will
help you get the rest you need. "If you are still waking up tired
or feel very sleepy during the day, you might have a sleep
disorder," says Karen Block, a respiratory therapist and owner of
Endeavor Therapy Sleep Center in Mequon. In fact, more than 18 million
Americans have sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing. Sleep apnea
occurs when a person stops breathing while asleep, for a few seconds
or more up to 30 times in an hour, due to throat tissue collapsing and
the airway becoming blocked. It can also happen because the brain is
not sending consistent messages to the body to breathe, Block says.
The symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, choking during
sleep, morning headaches, memory impairment, mood disturbances,
daytime fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness. "Obese men over
50 are the most common sufferers of sleep apnea, but we are finding a
growing number of men and women of all ages and all sizes with sleep
apnea," Block says.
There are a variety of treatments for sleep apnea, depending on an
individualís medical history and the severity of the
disorder. "The first step is a sleep study, typically
ordered by a physician. We can usually determine their problem in one
night," Block says.
Most treatment regimens begin with lifestyle changes, such as
avoiding alcohol, losing weight and quitting smoking. Some people
are helped by special pillows that keep them from sleeping on their
backs, or oral appliances to keep the airway open during sleep. If
these methods donít work, doctors often recommend continuous
positive airway pressure, in which a face mask is attached to a tube
and a machine that blows pressurized air into the mask and through the
airway to keep it open.
Ironically, Gardner was one of the millions who suffer from sleep
apnea, but didnít realize it. "I had been working at the Sleep
Wellness Center for a short time and my wife told me that I was a
prime candidate for a sleep study because I was snoring loudly at
night. I had the sleep study and discovered I had moderate to severe
sleep apnea," he says. "I didnít realize how bad I felt
until I was fitted for a CPAP mask and started using it. I have so
much more energy now."
For people who have a snoring problem or mild sleep apnea that does
not require a CPAP device, a mouthpiece or oral appliance may help.
Dr. Sandra Casper of Milwaukee is a dentist who works with the medical
community to custom fit patients for these oral appliances.
"After we have an accurate diagnosis, we do a comprehensive oral
exam to determine if the patient is a candidate for an oral appliance,
and that can depend on their oral and dental health. Then a decision
is made as to what appliance is appropriate for the patient," she
The oral appliances made by Casper are FDA-approved and look
similar to an orthodontic retainer. "The mouthpiece attempts to
open a personís airway by adjusting the position of the lower jaw
and tongue. Patients find these appliances very easy to get used to,
which is not always the case with the CPAP devices," Casper says.
"Very often people with sleeping disorders donít even
realize they have a problem until a loved one tells them that they
snore, snort or stop breathing for short periods, which brings them to
the doctor," Casper says. "Although sleep disorders can be
serious, itís important to remember that they can be treated."