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Sleep: Small changes can have big benefits

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We all know that getting enough sleep improves our overall health. More specifically, research has shown that healthy sleep staves off serious health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Getting the right amount of good quality sleep also improves our quality of life, resulting in improved mood, energy level and alertness.

In the last year or so, new research has reinforced the relationship between sleep and good health. Several groups have recently published their results regarding how obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common disorder where recurrent pauses in breathing interrupt our sleep, impacts our long-term health prospects. One group analyzed all available data on the proposed connection between OSA and automobile accidents. They confirmed that drivers with untreated OSA are roughly three times more likely to cause an accident compared with drivers without the disorder.

Keeping their eyes on the big picture, three independent groups published data on OSA and risk of death from any cause. Taken together, the three groups followed more than 8,000 patients. Severe obstructive sleep apnea was found to be an independent risk factor for death in all three studies.

Insomnia also gets a lot of attention from medical researchers. Over the past several years, research has connected inadequate sleep to both weight gain and the development of diabetes. New research now suggests that insomniacs who get too few hours of sleep each night have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, a major cause of heart disease and stroke.

Car crashes, high blood pressure, death? Scary stuff! The good news is getting a good night's sleep doesn't have to be impossible. We can make some important changes on our own. One less cup of coffee or one less television program can make a big difference. Keeping a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends and holidays, can also help. Tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, can keep us awake and should be avoided before bed. If you can't fix things on your own, your doctor can help. Your doctor might tweak your sleep habits, recommend a medication or ask you to see a sleep doctor.

When it comes to obstructive sleep apnea, patients usually need an overnight sleep test (called a polysomnograph) to figure out if they have it. Signs you're at risk include loud snoring, feeling tired or sleepy despite a normal night's sleep and being told you stop breathing while you sleep.

Recent research has only reinforced the relationship between sleep and wellness. Sleep well and stay healthy!


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