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Is Your Sleep Killing You?

The next time you hear someone 'sawing logs' as they sleep, don't think the sleep they are getting is good.

"It's a misperception that when people snore, they are getting a good night's sleep," said Eric Altamirano, manager of Kaweah Delta's Sleep Center and Neurodiagnostics Lab. "It's not true. It's an abnormality."

And it's one sign the auditory offender could be experiencing Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, one of the many sleep ailments estimated to affect 44 million people across the United States. While Altamirano said the majority of those are older individuals, he said "the average age is getting younger all the time," adding that the youngest local patient diagnosed was just 22 months old.

If left untreated, Altamirano said sleep disorders can lead to more serious complications, which can eventually be fatal. He cited the late Reggie White, a former all-star professional football player who died in his sleep due to complications caused by sleep disorders.

A New Area of Study

"It's only been in the last 20 years that sleep issues have come to the forefront of modern medicine," Altamirano said. "We spend about two-thirds of our life waking and one third asleep. Most medicine is geared toward waking time."

However, the quality of a person's sleep can definitely affect the other two thirds of their day.

"Sure, there are people who can operate on three to four hours of sleep a night, but eventually, that's going to take a toll," he said. "As normal adults, we need about seven to nine hours a night. While it seems that no one gets that much anymore, over time they will start to experience cognitive impairments, that foggy feeling when we don't get a good night's sleep. Throw sleep disorders on top, and you can start getting cardiac impairment."

The number one ailment is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, according to Altimirano, and snoring is a symptom. "As we get older, we start having medical issues because of the age thing.," he said. "The sleep quality we get becomes worse. Skin starts to sag, muscle tone becomes less, the whole OSA thing is because of excessive soft tissue. We start storing fat in the back of the throat."

While losing excessive weight can help reduce the problem it is not a guaranteed solution, he said. One of the most severe cases the lab has seen involved a 36-year-old fitness instructor who complained she couldn't stay awake during sessions. The testing revealed the case to be one of the most severe ever seen in the Kaweah Delta Sleep Disorder Center.

What Signs to Look For

Altamirano said there are indications someone should be checked. "Are they sleepy all the time? Do they have cognitive impairment or short term memory loss, and do they snore? If they have all three, they should definitely be checked," he said.

Kaweah Delta offers a free, online risk assessment that allows you the ability to answer a few basic questions that can help determine your risk for sleep apnea. It takes about 7 minutes to complete. At the end, you will receive personalized, strictly confidential information that will help you:

• Assess your current health status and identify those medical or lifestyle conditions that may lead to development of the disease

• Take action to reduce your level of risk.

• Receive, at your option, free continuing education via e-mail about your health and risk factors

Individuals who complete the assessment and are found to be at high risk may be offered a free screening and consultation by a certified sleep speicialist. To take the online test, go to, scroll down the page, then click on SleepAware.

Of course, a poor night's sleep doesn't mean you have a sleep disorder. Altamirano said it is important to establish healthy habits that promote getting the nightly rest you need. "Use your bedroom for sleeping, not for watching TV or browsing the internet," he said. "Restrict the amount of time you spend in bed awake. If you remain awake, don't stay in bed. The old routines, taking a warm bath, drinking warm milk, going to bed and getting up at the same day each day, those are very effective."

He also said it is a myth that as we age we need less sleep. "We require exactly the same amount of sleep we did when we were younger," he said. He forewarned that afternoon naps count toward the amount of daily sleep one needs, and if too long, can interfere with that night's sleep.

But if you do meet the criteria for having a sleep disorder, the good news is Medicare and most insurance does cover the cost of professional diagnosis and treatment. For more information about sleep disorders, contact the Kaweah Delta Sleep Center and Neurodiagnostics Lab at 624-6797


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