Do you have trouble falling or staying asleep? Do you wake up feeling as tired as when you went to bed? Or do you find yourself getting drowsy behind the wheel? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time for a sleep study.
The most common disorders
Among the most common conditions are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) when breathing is interrupted, insomnia, sleep-wake disorder (when cycles are disrupted), restless leg syndrome, hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness) and narcolepsy (sudden attacks of sleep).
“OSA and insomnia are the two of the biggest sleep-related issues in older adults,” notes Talene Churukian, DO, MPH, Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Sleep Medicine. “While men are more likely to have OSA, the same condition in women increases from about nine percent to nearly 50 percent after menopause. Some of this is age related because of changes in airway structures along with a decrease in estrogen and progesterone.”
About half of all people who have OSA are overweight. A family history of OSA increases the risk for the condition, and people who have small airways in their noses, throats or mouths are more likely to have it.
The health risks of too little sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get seven to eight hours nightly. But a recent Gallup poll reported that 40 percent of Americans only get six hours or less per night and the national average is just 6.8 hours per night. This shortfall can have serious health consequences.
“In patients who are sleep-deprived, we see increased markers of inflammation, which is linked to the incidence of many different diseases, including certain cancers,” Dr. Churukian says. “It also harms our ability to function and cope with everyday stress, and it impairs our memory and ability to concentrate.
“In addition, studies show that driving on too-little sleep is like being under the influence of alcohol,” she continues. “It is important that people aren’t a risk to themselves or others on the road.”
Notably, about half of the people who have OSA also have high blood pressure, and it is also linked to smoking, diabetes, and risk factors for stroke and heart failure.
“By treating the underlying disorder, it helps reduce these associated risks,” Churukian says.
What a sleep study involves
To determine the most appropriate treatment and whether a study is warranted, patients first have a comprehensive evaluation. A study evaluates how a person sleeps and looks for the presence of disorders. Patients with suspected OSA who are generally healthy may be candidates for an at-home test; they simply wear a device that collects information while they sleep in their own beds.
“Those who need to have an in-lab study often have other health conditions, like lung or heart disease, that require closer monitoring,” Dr. Churukian notes. Sensors that track brain activity, breathing, oxygen level, heart rate and muscular activity are attached to the body. Patients come in around 8 p.m. and go home around 7 a.m.
Talk to your doctor
“If you’re not getting enough rest so that you’re tired during the day, or if you’re sleeping a lot but still feeling tired, don’t brush off your concerns,” Dr. Churukian says. “Talk to your doctor about the quality of your sleep and how it is affecting your life — because there are treatments that will improve it.
“No matter what your age, you don’t have to go through life feeling tired,” she adds. “There’s something we can do for you.”
Many sleep centers require a referral from a primary care doctor, and services are often covered by insurance if considered medically necessary.