LIVINGSTON — For years, Robert Fleischman suffered from snoring and would wake up chocking and gasping for air. He found himself tired during the day, constantly yawning and had even fallen asleep during meetings. When a friend suggested he might have sleep apnea, he spoke to his internist who recommended he have a sleep study at The Center for Sleep Disorders at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.
“Snoring, especially heavy snoring, is often associated with a condition known as sleep apnea,” says Mangala Nadkarni, MD, Medical Director of The Center for Sleep Disorders at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.
Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing is frequently interrupted and actually stops during sleep. While patients may not necessarily wake up during the episodes, the quality of their sleep is poor. This can lead to symptoms such as sleepiness during the day, lack of energy, memory problems and, often, can manifest as a mood disorder.
Dr. Nadkarni explains that apart from the symptoms themselves, research has shown that patients with severe sleep apnea are more likely to have high blood pressure that is difficult to treat, heart attacks and strokes. “The good news is that sleep apnea is a condition that can be easily diagnosed and treated,” she adds.
During an overnight stay in a private suite at The Center for Sleep Disorders, initial testing showed that Fleishman did in fact have sleep apnea. “I was waking up an average of 97 times per hour which I was told was a very bad number,” he explains. After being fitted with a specialized sleep mask, he now sleeps better and is no longer tired during the day. Unlike years past, he was able to stay awake to watch the entire Super Bowl and not fall asleep 15 minutes into the game.
For those who have trouble sleeping, Dr. Nadkarni offers the following suggestions:
What works: A combination of sleep aides and behavior modification techniques, such as yoga, biofeedback and guided imagery can help the individual coping with temporary sleep loss brought on by stress. However, Dr. Nadkarni cautions that no medications should be used for an extended period of time as they may mask a chronic sleep problem.
“For anyone with a job that prevents them from coming in contact with the sun (working in a dark environment), bright light therapy in the morning and melatonin at night may assist with sleep problems,” says Dr. Nadkarni.
What doesn’t: Exercising right before bed will not make you so tired that you fall asleep easily. In fact, says Dr. Nadkarni, it has the opposite effect. The body needs to be at a certain temperature for ideal sleep and when the body temperature rises, this is not conducive to falling asleep.
Likewise, a warm bath right before bed, which also raises body temperature, will have an arousing effect rather than the desired sedating effect. Instead, take a bath an hour or more before bed so that your body temperature falls to the desired level by bedtime.
What’s questionable: Drinking chamomile tea or warm milk or reading in bed might help one person sleep but have no effect on another individual. “Therefore, people can use their own judgment and decide what works for them and what does not,” says Dr. Nadkarni.
In addition, for those who may be suffering from a sleep-related disorder, The Center for Sleep Disorders will hold a free program on March 19 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC MetroWest, 760 Northfield Avenue, West Orange. Staff will review how people’s sleep schedule, bedtime habits and choices make a difference in the quality of their nightly sleep. The program is free, but advance registration is requested by calling 1-973-322-5620.
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