By Rebekah Almquist
Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs
More than 90 percent of sleeping disorders involve trouble falling asleep at night or staying awake during the day.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the most common disorder, is a blockage of the airway that
keeps oxygen from entering the lungs, explained Army Col. (Dr.) William Frey, Brooke Army Medical Center sleep expert and consultant to the Surgeon General sleep medicine.
Individuals with OSA often wake up choking due to lack of breath. Sleep clinics prescribe Positive Airway Pressure devices to open airways and allow patients to breath regularly – ensuring a full night’s rest.
“Some people recognize this and wonder why they wake up. If it happens enough times over an eight-hour period, there is no continuity of sleep. That can lead to daytime sleepiness,” Frey said. “This still has the same consequences of not getting adequate sleep. OSA is found in 25 percent of men and 10 percent of women over 30.”
The National Sleep Foundation estimates 16 percent of fatal traffic accidents are due to drowsy driving or falling asleep behind the wheel.
“Staying awake driving, during briefs, firing a weapon and other potentially dangerous situations is vital. Lack of sleep can affect your military career and personal life,” Frey said.
Insomnia, a less common disorder, makes it difficult for individuals to fall asleep. The symptoms can often be categorized as Voluntary Sleep Disorders, lifestyle habits resulting in sleep problems. Frey said VSD is very common in soldiers.
“Before we can diagnose anyone with a sleeping disorder, we have to sit down and look at their schedule to rule out things making them get inadequate amounts of sleep,” Frey said. “We use an actigraphy, an activity watch. It tracks a patient’s level of movement for two weeks – allowing us to sit down and objectively evaluate their lifestyle and say, ‘I know you’re problem, just look at your schedule.’”
Alcohol and tobacco usage along with excess weight are also significant factors in sleep wellness. Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles while tobacco causes tissues to swell. Excess weight creates fat deposits in the neck. All three factors contribute to airway blockage causing individuals to wake up or stop breathing during sleep.
Sleep hygiene is the most important aspect to a good night’s sleep, Frey noted. Individuals experiencing sleep troubles should create a nightly routine to help wind down. A peaceful, stress-free environment helps ensure an efficient rest.
“It’s a set of processes that make your sleeping environment and behavior conducive to falling asleep. Take all electronics out of the bedroom,” Frey said. “Consistent bed time and consistent wake up time are extremely important in maintaining good sleep.”
Prescription drugs are rarely prescribed in sleep clinics. Many problems, Frey said, are simply an issue of sleep hygiene and can be successfully treated if the patients commit to changing behaviors.
For more on healthy living and sleep habits, visit http://www.armymedicine.army.mil/PerformanceTriad/index.cfm or http://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-disorders.