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Sleeping Problems Affect Daily Life
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Most everyone experiences an occasional restless night, but people with persistent sleeping problems may be suffering from a sleep disorder that could threaten their health.
In fact, many deaths attributed to other causes, such as heart disease or traffic accidents, may actually be related to sleep disorders.
Linda Patterson, extension health education specialist at Mississippi State University, said an estimated 30 million Americans have some type of sleep disorder. Most of these remain undiagnosed and untreated.
"Not only do sleep disorders cause fatigue, but they increase the chances of accidents and health problems in those who suffer from them," Patterson said.
Sleep apnea is a disorder often characterized by snoring. Though some people take snoring lightly or even believe it to be a sign of good sleep, it actually may be the body's cry for help.
"People with sleep apnea suffer from repeated obstructions of the throat during sleep, but most don't remember their nightly struggles to breathe," Patterson said.
Not all snoring is a sign of sleep apnea, but when an individual snores so loudly that it disturbs others, obstructive sleep apnea is almost certain to be present.
Patterson said sleep apnea occurs in 4 percent of middle-aged men and 2 percent of middle-aged women. Some studies show the disorder is associated with a three to seven times increase of automobile accident risk, and it may increase chances of developing heart disease.
"Sleep apnea is more common in older people, and after insomnia it is the second leading cause of daytime fatigue," Patterson said.
For a person suffering from sleep apnea syndrome, irritability, mood changes, lowered sexual drive and a reduction of intellectual ability can become part of everyday life. They also have increased risks of high blood pressure and stroke, depression and death either in accidents or in their sleep.
Sleep disorders also have business, insurance, health and social costs. Americans suffer the loss of productivity and the impact of accidents caused by drivers and workers falling asleep.
Patterson said sleep disorders are sometimes difficult for doctors to recognize, but effective medical treatments are available.
"People who suspect they have sleep problems should be sure to give their doctors a clear description of the severity of their problems," Patterson said.