As the body of research surrounding sleep medicine grows by the month, it becomes apparent that the physical toll of poor sleep is immense. Does poor sleep actually help anything? Well, you might get more done, but at what expense?
The trifecta of daytime sleepiness, drowsy driving, and half-hearted job performance following a poor night’s sleep is probably not worth the extra productivity. The consequences are vast, and as we learn more, the mental toll of poor sleep becomes readily apparent. Researchers on the psychological side are taking note.
“Even in small doses, sleeplessness affects a healthy person’s emotions and perceptions,” writes National Geographic in a special SLEEP supplement. “In one experiment, for instance, people with insomnia repeatedly misread facial expressions, identifying angry faces as fearful instead. Studies show
that people who are short on sleep have overreactive amygdalae that yank them back and forth between positive and negative emotions.”
Not all people with poor sleep have mental illness, but National Geographic reports that 80% of people who seek psychiatric help report sleep deprivation. A “racing mind” affects sleep almost as much as poor
breathing. “Patients should address the mental and physical aspects of poor sleep,” says Shad Morris, D.M.D., owner of Premiere Sleep Solutions, St. George, Utah. “My job is to look at the physical and address problems of obstructive sleep apnea. Oral appliances are a great way to open the airway, as is positional sleep therapy via products such as the slumberBUMP.”
Expanding Awareness Before it’s Too Late
With all the legitimate talk of drowsiness and poor job performance, the threat of death looms over the conversation—because people do die from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and/or OSA complications. For example, the high profile case of star defensive lineman Reggie White remains seared in the memories of sports fans.
White died in late 2004 at the age of 43 from a cardiac arrhythmia, which many believe was partly caused by sleep apnea. According to reports, the football legend’s CPAP machine was found (unused) at his bedside. Did he use it and dislike it? Would he have benefitted from oral appliances which some find more tolerable?
At 6’5” and 300 pounds, the mighty White seemed invincible on the gridiron, and we will never know whether OSA treatment could have prolonged his life. However, his death, as well as several fatal commercial transportation accidents, highlights the need for options in the care of patients.
“We occasionally see turf wars crop up between advocates of CPAP and oral appliances,” says Shad Morris, D.M.D., owner of Premiere Sleep Solutions, St. George, Utah. “Fortunately, that mindset is largely disappearing. The consequences of not dealing with OSA are usually a matter of quality of life. However, we also see fatal consequences, particularly among people who have many comorbidities.”
A night at a sleep lab, or a home sleep test, can shed considerable light on the short- and long-term dangers that may be lurking. Treatment includes dealing with risk factors, such as obesity, and in many cases patients will be treated with oral appliances, CPAP, or positional sleep therapy devices which keep people on their side where they can breathe easier.