“You’re getting VEEEEERY SLEEEEPY …”
We have all been there. Fighting to stay awake at work, at school or even at the kitchen table. Snoring while the boss is discussing the next round of layoffs could make the decision about “Who’s next?” a bit easier. And believe me, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as waking up with a steering wheel in your hands. Ask me about it some time.
But this is no laughing matter. Sleep deprivation is epidemic and can be fatal. Driving drowsy (after 18 hours awake), is just as unsafe as driving drunk. But if you think you can keep going and pull over when you feel drowsy, think again. Your brain begins to shut down long before your eyes start to close. Eyes wide open, brain fast asleep.
Research on pilots, nurses and doctors, and first-responders shows conclusively that they can miss big important details when they are tired – just like you do. Call me silly, but I want the person with the gun, the scalpel or flying the jumbo jet to make good decisions. I also want the person driving on the highway with me to be alert. The Chernobyl nuclear accident has been attributed to sleepy technicians, and the same goes for the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the space shuttle Challenger disaster.
Let me just get you a cup of coffee so you can get on with your day, right? People who routinely get less than seven hours of sleep have a much greater risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, just to name a few of our favorite diseases to die from. Lack of sleep also worsens short-term memory, long-term memory, decision making, creativity, attention and reaction time. To recap, if you want to be fat and stupid with a good chance of a heart attack, stroke or dying suddenly in an accident, by all means stay up late and make up for it with a double espresso.
Listen, I’m not your dad telling you to get to bed because you have school tomorrow. I’m the guy trying to convince you that it is more important than you realize. What causes drowsiness? OK, this is a no-brainer, but the biggest cause is sleep deprivation. You simply did not get enough sleep. Maybe you were reading or web-surfing until 3 am (again). Maybe you weren’t being foolish. Shift workers die younger. Especially those who switch shifts or those who work nights. For your few days off, you try to be awake with the family. The result? See list of bad things earlier in this article.
Some prescription medications keep you from getting proper sleep. Some over-the-counter medications (and some under-the-counter substances) interfere with sleep. Alcohol, and of course energy drinks, soda, and coffee also interfere with sleep. Hello caffeine, my old frenemy. Sleep deprivation can also be caused by other health problems, including mood disorders and obstructive sleep apnea. You’ve heard of sleep apnea, but what is it?
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your breathing is interrupted during sleep. Your breathing is interrupted because some piece of your anatomy is blocking your upper airway. Your tonsils may be too big, for example. Quite often, your tongue relaxes enough to drop back in your throat to block your airway. Your tongue may not be the problem, but you understand the concept. The blockage may be partial or complete, frequent or rare, long lasting or brief. But what’s frightening is that as many as 9 out of every 10 individuals who have obstructive sleep apnea don’t know they have it. It is common for the person with sleep apnea to believe they had a full night’s sleep and not know why they are always tired anyway. A person with sleep apnea may notice symptoms such as headaches in the morning, snoring or gasping for air at night (someone else usually notices this), tiredness and difficulty concentrating during the day.
Do you think this could describe you? The experts from the UH Samaritan Sleep Lab and Cardio Pulmonary Services will be on hand to talk with you one-to-one about your sleep, home sleep studies, in-lab sleep studies and to do an initial no-cost screening to see if you should talk to your Primary Care Provider about a sleep study. Join us in the UH Samaritan Medical Center lobby, 1025 Center St. in Ashland, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 27, Dec. 5 or Dec. 9. Along with great information, everyone who participates will receive a free sleep mask.
— Steven Baldridge, RN, is a staff educator at University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center.