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Snoring part of unseen sleep apnea epidemic, expert says

By Joel Hall and Johnny Jackson

jhall@news-daily.com

Angie McReynolds, a registered sleep technologist at Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale, said on a regular basis, people drag their snoring spouses to the Sleep Center in hopes of finding some personal relief.

While irritating, excessive snoring, McReynolds says, is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition which raises the risk of stroke, heart attacks, and hypertension (high blood pressure).

This week, from March 3-9, is National Sleep Awareness Week. Hospitals and sleep centers throughout the Southern Crescent are bringing awareness to the many problems caused by chronic sleep disorders. In an effort to educate the public, the Sleep Care Institute in Stockbridge is offering free sleep disorder screenings from now until March 14.

The Sleep Care Institute is located at 151 North Park Trail, Suite B in Stockbridge, and is open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Friday, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The Institute is an American Academy of Sleep Medicine-accredited sleep lab, and treats sleep-disorder patients in Henry, Clayton and Fayette counties.

McReynolds said while many ignore the benefits of sleep, getting enough rest is serious business.

Snoring is "more than just annoying," said McReynolds. "They don't realize that it's actually a dangerous sign of sleep apnea and that it needs to be treated.

"Snoring throws off all of your sleep," McReynolds said. "When you wake up, you don't realize that you are waking up. If you have those small arousals at night, that could be why you are sleepy during the day."

While more senior citizens tend to require less sleep, most adults need at least eight hours of continuous sleep per day to be healthy. Teenagers, on average, need 10 hours of sleep.

McReynolds said over 20 million people suffer from OSA, most often spurred by obstructions of the throat and nasal passages which cause a person to stop breathing during the night. Those interruptions in breathing prohibit a person from achieving REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, a time when the mind dreams and the body is most at rest.

During REM sleep, the body generates serotonin and melatonin, chemicals the body uses for energy and self repair. When people deprive themselves of sleep, it affects their "overall quality of life," and causes many vital body functions to shut down, McReynolds said.

"Nearly 50 million Americans chronically suffer from sleep problems and disorders that affect their careers, their personal relationships, and safety on our roads," said Darrel Drobnich, acting chief executive officer for the National Sleep Foundation, NSF. "Longer workdays and more access to colleagues and the workplace through the Internet and other technology appear to be causing Americans to get less sleep."

About 63 percent of respondents to a poll recently conducted by the NSF said they were very likely to accept their sleepiness and keep going at work and 32 percent were likely to use caffeinated soft drinks when they get sleepy. More than half were likely to use their weekends to makeup their sleep deprivation.

"It really is an unseen epidemic," said Christy Brannon, clinic research coordinator at Sleep Care Institute, Inc., in Stockbridge. "A lot of people with busy lifestyles don't pay much attention to their sleep."

Common sleep disorders include: Insomnia, which affects mostly women; obstructive sleep apnea, which affects obese and middle-aged or older people; Narcolepsy, which exists in some 100,000 American men and women but is more common in men; and Restless Leg Syndrome that affects 12 million people, both men and women and some children.

"For someone with [OSA] or Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS), the chances of them nodding off would be greater than someone that doesn't have EDS," Brannon said.

"Weight-loss is a possible remedy," Brannon says. "The best remedy would be to have a sleep study and Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (C-PAP) Therapy, when the air is forced through the airway. People that get on that therapy and are compliant with it improve their sleeping, and their quality of life improves because they feel better."

For other sleep disorders, potential patients would need to have a sleep study and some other therapeutic remedies like prescription medications. To schedule a free appointment at The Sleep Care Institute, call (770) 507-8344. For more information on sleep disorders, visit www.sleepfoundation.org.