Without enough sleep, people compromise their health and appearance.
“In our society, it’s very common for people to be relatively sleep-deprived,” says Dr. Daniel Nepomuceno, a pulmonary and sleep doctor based in McHenry, Barrington and Elgin.
Lack of sleep can cause auto accidents, workplace accidents and problems with work performance, Nepomuceno says.
“We often get referred patients because they are having problems with their job performance,” he says.
But how much sleep does a person really need?
The National Sleep Foundation suggests that school-age children 5 to 10 years old receive 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night; those ages 10 to 17 receive eight to nine hours of sleep; and adults get seven to nine hours.
Unfortunately, based on a national survey, 30 percent of workers consistently get less than six hours of sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Insufficient sleep can lead to serious health problems or even death. CDC reports that people lacking sleep are more likely to have hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, cancer and other chronic diseases.
Local doctors agree that lack of sleep stresses the body and is associated with medical problems, ranging from depression to heart conditions.
Social and family conflicts also arise because people can become irritable and act out of character, Nepomuceno says.
And without enough sleep, people probably won’t look their best either.
A recent Swedish study showed that people look healthier and more attractive after eight hours of sleep.
The results were based on observers rating photos of healthy men and women after a normal night of sleep and after sleep deprivation.
Insomnia is the most common sleep problem. However, it is often a symptom of another problem, such as stress, anxiety, depression or a health condition.
More women than men suffer from insomnia, Nepomuceno says. Older people also tend to have insomnia and other sleep disorders because of age-related health issues.
Doctors refer to sleep hygiene — creating good sleep habits — as an integral part of a health regimen.
“One of the biggest problems that people have with their sleep is that they don’t have a regular sleep time,” Nepomuceno says.
Have consistent bedtime and awake times, exercise early in the day, avoid caffeinated beverages and fall asleep in a quiet, dark environment, he advises.
Sleep medication with melatonin is an option if someone is having trouble falling asleep, he says, adding that sleeping pills should typically be used for only a short while.
Other common sleep problems are snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, when breathing temporarily stops because the tongue and soft tissue collapse and block the airway.
Snoring and high blood pressure are signs of apnea, which is more common in men. However, some people are just snorers, and others have apnea without snoring or high blood pressure.
Sleep-disordered breathing can be risky because many people don’t even know they have a problem and walk around untreated. That can be dangerous because besides snoring and high blood pressure, other medical problems associated with apnea are congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, strokes and diabetes, local doctors say.
About 70 percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight or obese, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.
“Overweightness or obesity is one of the main contributors to this condition,” says Dr. Gene Sherman, a certified sleep dentist and owner of Dental Care of Algonquin.
Changing a diet is usually the first suggestion to help someone with apnea or snoring, says Sherman, who also fits patients with oral appliances for both problems.
In fact, some people with mild apnea may be cured if they lose a significant amount of weight, Nepomuceno says.
Snoring and apnea are typically worse when people sleep on their back, so doctors also suggest they sleep on their side to see if that helps.
Like Nepomuceno, Sherman recommends going to bed at a consistent time. Additionally, he suggests people avoid alcohol, eating and heavy exercise a few hours before bedtime.
If someone has indications of apnea or another sleep problem, Nepomuceno says to start with a primary care physician or a sleep doctor to arrange an overnight sleep study for a diagnosis.
“For treatment of sleep apnea, CPAP is the standard of care,” he says.
A machine called a CPAP — short for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure — provides oxygen through a mask.
Oral appliances, also called mandibular advancement devices, are legitimate for the treatment of apnea, Nepomuceno says, but they are best for patients with mild to moderate apnea. Patients typically consider using an oral appliance if they are uncomfortable wearing a CPAP mask.
An oral appliance, which looks like a double retainer, is fitted on a patient to move the lower jaw forward so the airway stays open, Sherman says.
CPAP machines and oral appliances for sleep-disordered breathing fall under medical insurance. All health insurance companies cover CPAP machines, Nepomuceno says. He advises his patients to check with their insurance company to see whether oral appliances are covered.
An oral device can cost between $2,000 and $3,000, Nepomuceno says, whereas a CPAP generally ranges from $500 to $2,000.
For those having a hard time falling asleep, a change of lifestyle may help. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers these tips:
• If you’re not sleepy, do something relaxing, such as read a book or listen to music.
• If you’re still awake after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing in another room until you’re sleepy. Your bedroom should not be associated with restlessness or boredom.
• Get up at the same time and keep a regular schedule.
• Avoid naps. But if you need one, don’t nap after 3 p.m.
• Don’t have caffeine after lunch.
• Avoid strenuous exercise and alcohol within six hours of bedtime.
• Don’t go to bed hungry. However, eating a big meal just before bedtime also causes insomnia.
• Avoid sleeping pills or only use them for a short period. Most doctors do not prescribe sleeping pills for more than three weeks.