Learn more about Tidelands Health sleep disorder services.

The dangers of untreated sleep disorders


The dangers of untreated sleep disorders

A good night’s sleep is vital to maintaining a healthy body and mind, but for a growing number of people, a full eight hours of shut-eye is difficult to achieve.

By some estimates, 50 million Americans have some form of sleep disorder and another 100 million report they simply don’t get enough sleep for whatever reason.

“We ignore the importance of sleep so much,” says Marissa McCaslin, respiratory therapy manager at Tidelands Health. “We don’t think about it, but we spend a third of our lives sleeping.”

Undiagnosed sleep disorders can lead to a host of other health problems, increasing the risks for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, fatigue, mood swings and headaches. A lack of sleep can also lead to trouble concentrating, remembering or thinking clearly and can weaken your immune system.

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While many patients have insomnia, narcolepsy (suddenly falling asleep) and restless leg syndrome, the most common sleep disorder McCaslin sees is sleep apnea.

McCaslin estimates that up to 85 percent of patients have sleep apnea, and many of those patients are overweight.

While snoring isn’t a definite indicator of someone having sleep apnea, most people who have the sleep disorder do snore. As annoying as snoring can be to the listener, it can be a key part of alerting the snorer to the potential problem, says McCaslin.

“If you hear your bed partner snoring and they stop breathing for a significant number of seconds, that is typically a sign of sleep apnea, and something they should be made aware of,” she says.

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If you snore, consider speaking with your primary care provider, who can help determine if you may have a sleep disorder. Your provider may refer you to the sleep lab at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital, where the medical staff will measure your breathing, oxygen levels, heartbeat and brain wave patterns while you sleep to help diagnose the cause of your sleep difficulties.

One common treatment option for sleep apnea is a CPAP machine. A CPAP machine keeps your airway inflated while you sleep, avoiding the collapse that leads to snoring and sleep apnea.

Other solutions can include losing weight.

“Weight loss can be a possible solution,” McCaslin says. “Many people who have been on a CPAP for years for sleep apnea were able to come off it after they lost weight. It’s not a fix-all, but it can be a possible resolution.”

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