The medical community and healthy lifestyle advocates see the evidence mounting. Our spouses and children recognize the symptoms, even when they don't know the cause. They all agree: We need a good night's sleep!
When we don't get a full night of restful sleep, it can dramatically affect our health and impair our mental function and job performance. It can ruin our relationships with our loved ones. Research also points to a myriad of physical health issues caused by a lack of sleep, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
How Much Is a "Good Night's Sleep"?
A good night's sleep isn't just determined by the length of time one sleeps, but also how restful, deep and uninterrupted that sleep is throughout the night. Even still, according to the American Sleep Association, the average minimum amount of sleep required to be considered "a good night's" sleep is between seven and eight hours for adults, and more for teenagers, children and infants.
Lack of sleep can be caused by just not getting to bed when one should because of poor habits, like watching TV until the wee hours of the night. Certain medicines and foods, smoking and alcohol can all affect the ability to fall asleep, the ability to stay asleep or the restfulness of sleep. Stress is also a big contributor. Usually a person can change their routines, and those with insomnia or stress-related causes can usually be treated by over-the-counter or prescription medicines.
When a lack of sleep is caused by snoring, the issue becomes even more complicated, and the health consequences are much more serious.
Snoring: A Major Cause Of Sleep Deprivation
Unlike a sleep disorder, snoring is a physical condition. It is caused when the throat relaxes and the tongue falls into the airway in the back of the throat causing a vibration in the soft tissue during sleep. This vibration is an interruption of airflow through the nose and throat.
It is estimated that more than 40 million Americans snore. Snoring interrupts sleep throughout the night, leaving the snorer with the same mental and physical conditions as someone who is sleep deprived. There are numerous causes of snoring, such as deviated nasal septum, nasal polyps or turbinates. Sinusitis and allergies can cause snoring, as can anatomical factors such as abnormally relaxed neck muscles, a large tongue or tonsils. Obesity can also cause snoring because excessive weight can narrow the windpipe. Smoking, alcohol, sedatives and certain sedating antihistamines can lower muscle tone in the upper airways and cause snoring, as well.
Sleep apnea is the most common cause of snoring and also the most dangerous.
People who suffer from sleep apnea stop breathing dozens of times during sleep and it is particularly severe and life threatening when there are more than twenty or thirty events per hour. There are three types of sleep apnea, obstructive (OSA), central and mixed, with OSA being the most serious type because it effects blood pressure, the heart and lungs.
Without enough sleep, we lose our ability to concentrate, and our physical performance suffers. Sleep is necessary for the nervous system to function properly. For example, the ability to do math and operate a car are compromised. Other symptoms include daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, irritability and poor memory. A person with sleep deprivation can burn-out easily, and it can lead to feelings of depression, mood swings and even hallucinations.
Unfortunately, if lack of sleep is caused by snoring, often a person doesn't even know they snore unless they're told by a partner. Even when a person knows they snore, they often go untreated because they are embarrassed and hide it, or they ignore it because they don't know it is a serious problem.
In the case of sleep apnea, there is even more of a toll on the body. Considering an apnea patient is unable to breathe many times throughout the night, their sleep is especially interrupted by episodes of waking up, gasping for air. This oxygen deprivation, combined with an inability to get a good night's sleep, causes severe sleep deprivation and other health issues. Apnea can lead to high blood pressure because during apnea events, blood oxygen drops abnormally low, resulting in an increase in blood pressure. This can bring about stroke. It can also cause lung dysfunction because of low levels of oxygen in the blood and high concentrations of carbon dioxide in lung tissue. Since the heart is sensitive to oxygen levels in the blood, apnea is most dangerous in people who are already prone to heart disease. Arrhythmia is very common, as is enlargement of the heart. An estimated 80 to 85 percent of sleep apnea patients go untreated, which is a serious health problem in the U.S. today.
Luckily, just as we have learned more about the consequences of sleep deprivation and snoring, today there is also a wide variety of surgical and non-surgical treatment available for snoring sufferers. If you suspect that you snore at night, or have been told by a loved one that you do, it is important to speak to your doctor. He or she can recommend you to an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor or Otolaryngologist who will provide you with the correct diagnosis and start you on the path of treatment for a lifetime of healthy sleep.