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Local doctors push importance of sleep

February 27, 2009

Published in the Redlands Daily Facts, 2/24/2009
Written by Megan McClain, Staff Writer

Americans are not getting enough sleep.

That is why the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that works to improve public health by educating about the importance of sleep, emphasizes National Sleep Awareness Week, which starts March 1.

The foundation times the yearly event to coincide with the annual "spring forward" of clocks, which can cause many Americans to lose an hour of sleep.

According to the nonprofit, 62 percent of Americans are not getting enough sleep.

"I think it's the norm to not get enough sleep," said Dr. Ernie Medina, a preventive care specialist with Beaver Medical Group in Redlands.

He said even a little extra rest can go a long way.

"They're showing that even a short nap works well, too," Medina said.

Even high-achievers such as Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein were known to take 20-to-30-minute naps regularly.

Dr. Stuart Menn, medical director of Pacific Sleep Medicines Services, said the second-most preventable cause of death in traffic accidents, after driving under the influence of alcohol, is drowsiness.

"They can't avoid an accident because their reaction time is so slowed down," he said.

He said there are many reasons people do not get enough sleep, but the most common problem is chronic insomnia.

A person's inability to sleep for more than a few nights a week for a few months becomes a problem that can affect their lives, leading to cognitive or behavioral problems such as short tempers or impaired judgment. Menn also mentioned problems such as restless leg disorder, parasomnias, REM sleep behavior disorders, and excessive daytime sleepiness disorders such as narcolepsy.

Medina said many patients he sees with sleeping problems also work the night shift, which can go against the body's circadian rhythm, regular changes that happen in roughly a 24-hour period.

Sleep can also be affected by stress, which has become a more common problem in the current economic times. According to the Better Sleep Council, 65 percent of Americans are losing sleep due to stress.

And that lack of sleep has physiological implications, too. Medina said lack of sleep affects hormone levels, causing people to eat more and crave carbohydrates and sugars to give them energy.

"Lack of sleep affects certain brain chemicals that control appetite," Medina said. "You crave carbohydrate-rich foods." 

The National Sleep Foundation found in a 2008 survey that sleep loss and obesity may be linked.

According to the poll, those who are overweight or obese were more likely than people of normal weight to sleep less during the work week. They also were more likely to sleep less than six hours a night.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 66 percent of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight or obese.

The foundation also found those polled who were overweight or obese were more likely to be told they have a sleep disorder - 18 percent compared to 6 percent of those at a healthy weight.

Being overweight can also contribute to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, where the airway closes during the night. Twenty percent of overweight or obese adults risk developing it, compared to less than 1 percent of people at a normal weight.

The Center for Sleep & TMJ Disorders in Redlands treats sleep disordered breathing, which includes snoring, upper airway resistance syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea. The center offers a oral appliances for treating sleep apnea.

"Both are equally effective," said dental sleep medicine specialist Dr. Calvin Fritzsche, who practices at the Center for Sleep & TMJ Disorders.

Menn said he was worried about how many patients tend to ignore their sleep apnea because they do not like the treatment.

"It's almost like ignoring you have cancer," he said.

Other sleep problems can be caused by temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems, which can be caused by injuries to the jaw area, some forms of arthritis, dental procedures, genetics or hormones, infections or auto-immune diseases, stretching of `the jaw that occurs with inserting a breathing tube before surgery, and clenching of the jaw or grinding of the teeth.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health has said that more than 10 million people in the United States suffer from TMJ problems at any given time.

Both men and women experience TMJ problems and 90 percent of adults who suffer from TMJ disorders are women in their childbearing years.

For more information about the importance of sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation at www.sleepfoundation.org