As many as 70 million American adults experience chronic sleep disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in 20 respondents to a CDC survey reported they'd dozed off while driving at least once in a month. And more than one-third of those surveyed said they inadvertently fell asleep at least once in a day.
Lack of sleep has been linked to car crashes, industrial disasters, medical mistakes and other workplace accidents.
Sometimes the problem is quite treatable. More than 18 million American adults have what's called obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which a person stops breathing during sleep. These episodes can last at least 10 seconds or even longer.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite efforts to breathe. It can cause fragmented sleep and low blood-oxygen levels. People who have sleep apnea may not even be aware of the condition.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
· Choking and gasping during sleep
· Excessive daytime sleepiness
· Morning headaches
· Snoring (bed partners may report very loud or interrupted snoring)
· Irritability and even impaired mental or emotional functioning
Can you treat sleep apnea?
If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, the first thing to do is see your physician. Your doctor may recommend a sleep study, which is the most common way to diagnose sleep apnea and determine its severity. This may require an overnight stay at a sleep center. Sometimes, treatment can be started during the first night in the sleep center.
The treatment of choice for obstructive sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP uses a mask that fits over the nose or mouth and gently blows air into the airway to help keep it open during sleep.
Getting a good night's sleep
Even if you don't suffer from sleep apnea, a good night's sleep is an essential key to health. Here are some tips if you are experiencing trouble sleeping.
1. Maintain a regular sleep and wake time schedule, including weekends.
2. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding stimulating activities.
3. Create a sleep environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool. Your sleep environment should also be free from noise and other interruptions.
4. Ensure that your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive.
5. Use your bedroom only for sleep to strengthen the connection between bed and sleep.
6. Limit eating 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime. Try to avoid fluids to prevent nighttime bathroom trips.
Page 2 of 2 - 7. Regular exercise strengthens sleep hygiene, but make sure it's complete at least two hours before bedtime.
8. Avoid caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate) close to bedtime.
9. Avoid nicotine (e.g. cigarettes, tobacco products) close to bedtime. Nicotine can cause poor sleep and difficulty in falling asleep.