70 million Americans suffer from some form of insomnia. Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep. Ongoing insomnia can predispose to depression. Treatment of depression with medications and treatment of insomnia by behavioral modification results in an improvement of the depression which would not otherwise take place without the simultaneous behavioral treatment of insomnia.
Insomnia Treatments Provide Short-Term Relief, But Sleep Apnea Sufferers Need Targeted, Effective Treatment
There are essentially two methods to treat insomnia: 1) psychological and behavioral treatments, and 2) medication treatments. In 2011, US physicians wrote 60 million prescriptions for sleep medications, and 20% of our country’s population uses a sleep aid. While medications help over the short term, insomnia is a chronic condition: When sleep medications are stopped, the problem of insomnia returns. Sedative hypnotics such as Ambien (Zolpidem) and Lunesta (Eszopiclone) are the most commonly prescribed sleep aids. Unfortunately, these medications are paradoxically associated with morning and day-time fatigue, and other side effects, including dizziness, memory loss, and abnormal thoughts and behavior.
One has to question the efficacy of utilizing sleep aids as a treatment of this chronic condition. Do the side effects of these drugs outweigh the benefits of these medications? Do these sleep aids improve day-time functioning? And if the problem is a physical, medical issue like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), then aren’t prescription drugs just a “band-aid” that only provides temporary relief but doesn’t address the physical problem of OSA?
Basic Steps to Improve Quality and Duration of Sleep
Sleep inspires creativity, enhances learning and memory capacity, rebalances our emotions, refreshes our cardiovascular health, regulates our metabolic processes, boosts and regulates our immune system. There are a number of relatively simple common-sense techniques to maximize one’s ability to get a good night’s sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day: a disciplined sleep routine is critically important. Don’t stay in bed unless you’re asleep, don’t get in bed unless you’re sleepy; Utilize the bed as a place for sleep only; it should not be a venue for watching TV, answering e-mail, or reading. By utilizing the bed as a place for sleep, we train our brain to sleep;
- Keep media and technology out of the bedroom;
- Keep the room cool (as opposed to too warm);
- Keep the room dark;
- Keep ambient noise to a minimum;
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes, all of which can interfere with sleep
Experts believe that sleep deprivation contributed to the Staten Island Ferry crash, (2003: 11 killed, 165 injured) the Exxon Valdez oil spill, (1989: up to 32 million gallons of oil spilled and considered one of the most devastating environmental disasters in history) and the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown. (1979: the worst US nuclear accident). For other measures of the negative impact of sleep deprivation, see this infographic.
Americans sleep approximately 2 hours less per night compared with 50 years ago. Today, 40% of American adults and 70% of adolescents are sleep deprived. Living in a 24/7 society encourages us to jam more activity into the 24-hour day. Electronic devices keep us connected all the time. 65% of Americans sleep with their cell phones next to their beds. A good night’s sleep vs. a bad night’s sleep is one of the most significant factors in terms of our quality of life.
Sleep deprivation especially affects young people. 70% of high school students fail to get the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation impairs memory and learning. There is up to a 40% decrease in the capability of the brain to make new memories with sleep deprivation. Because of these problems there are even ongoing proposals for high schools to start school later in the morning. Students in schools that do have a later start time have higher test scores, lower rates of depression, and up to 70% fewer car crashes, which proves that more sleep time means fewer negative consequences during the day.
When Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the cause of a sleep disorder, those who suffer from insomnia and the daytime impairment that often follows sleep deprivation should look beyond patchwork measures like prescription drugs and focus on receiving effective treatment for their OSA.
If you or someone you know is in need of a better night’s sleep, contact us for a no obligation consultation. We are the sleep specialists at Chevy Chase ENT located in the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. metro area dealing with sleep apnea and sleep-related problems. We can help diagnose your condition, recommend whether a sleep study would be beneficial, and offer you a variety of treatment options including CPAP, Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) and more.