Walruses groan, hogs grunt, tigers snarl. But those guttural noises can’t compare to the heart-stopping, brain-dinging, sleep-robbing snorts, gasps and snores that humans with sleep apnea emit.
Sleep apnea – interruptions to breathing while asleep, lasting 10 or more seconds – is triggered when soft tissue in the back of the throat blocks airflow, by irregularities in the brain’s breathing instructions, or by both. Twenty-five million Americans have SA. Risk factors include obesity, smoking, drinking alcohol and taking muscle relaxants/sedatives, but even children can have it.
SA causes daytime fatigue, forgetfulness and mood changes. Untreated, it can be life-threatening – to both the person with SA and others. People with SA often fall asleep at inappropriate times and are at risk for ministrokes, plus cardiovascular and cognitive problems.
And now federal agencies declare that they’re not going to require SA testing for truck drivers and train operators, putting lives at risk. The NTSB considers SA the probable cause of 10 deadly highway and rail accidents that it’s investigated since 2000.
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SA usually is managed by eliminating risk factors and/or keeping airways open when you sleep by using an oral appliance or a mask delivering positive airway pressure. If that doesn’t work, there’s the device newly approved by the Food and Drug Administration that uses implanted electrodes and a remote control to stop the muscles in the back of your throat from obstructing airflow. Occasionally, airway-widening surgery is needed.
So, for your health, your bedmate and travelers on roads and rails, if you think you have SA, pledge to Stop the Snore (www.sleepeducation.org), and see your doctor pronto.
Sleeping for two
Perhaps no worker is more notoriously sleep-deprived than a hospital staff resident. In one scene in “Grey’s Anatomy,” Meredith confesses, “I fell asleep at a restaurant, at a table, while I was on a date.” And 40 years ago, Dr. Mike fell asleep – face down into his dessert – while at his boss’s dinner party.
We all need sleep, and that’s especially true for pregnant women. A new study looked at records for almost 3 million births and found that women with insomnia were 30 percent more likely to have a preterm birth (before 37 weeks), while 5 percent delivered before 34 weeks. In addition, 40 percent of women with sleep apnea delivered preterm.
Researchers think sleeplessness leads to elevated inflammation, which over time can trigger early delivery. Preterm infants can have breathing, heart, gastro and brain problems, as well as chronic health and behavioral/cognitive issues.
So if you’re pregnant or planning to be and have sleep issues, talk to your doc and ...
▪ Shoot for 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, with your doc’s approval.
▪ Make the bedroom cool and comfortable.
▪ Eat ever-smaller meals as the day goes on. And make sure to get two nutrients associated with better sleep: magnesium, in leafy greens; and tryptophan (an amino acid that converts into the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin) in egg whites, soybeans, chicken and pumpkin seeds.
▪ No midnight snacking.
▪ Turn off electronics 30 minutes before bed.
▪ Practice 10 minutes of mindful meditation before sleep.
The danger of loneliness
In the 2000 film “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks played Chuck Noland, a man stranded on an island for four years. Noland finds a volleyball from the wreckage of his plane and, out of loneliness, draws a face on it, naming it Wilson. Noland then constantly talks to his new “companion” as if it were another person.
Clearly, one of the most basic human needs is to be connected to others. Friends, family, colleagues – they aren’t just fun to spend time with. Being connected makes you healthier and happier. But according to a paper presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association recently, loneliness is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in America.
Approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 are suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s 2010 Loneliness Study, and the public health consequences are devastating. The researchers found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death significantly – even more than obesity does. And you know what a health threat that is!
If you feel lonely or blue, even occasionally, it’s time to plug back into the world. If your isolation is because of illness, find local, online and telephone-based support groups for people with your condition. If you’re new to an area, volunteer with local organizations in schools and charities or join a club (try a cooking club), and you’ll get social very quickly. If you’ve lost touch with former friends and family, reach out. Make the effort. You’ll reduce your risk of early death by 50 percent.
In the 1976 film, “The Pink Panther Strikes Again,” Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) checks into a hotel. As he gets his “rheum” key, he spies a dog a few feet away. “Does your dog bite?” he asks the proprietor. “No.” he replies. But when the inspector reaches down to pet the dog, it bites him. “I thought you said your dog does not bite,” he queries. The proprietor replies, “That is not my dog.”
It’s estimated that overall there are around 4.7 million dog bite incidents in the U.S. annually, many minor. But each day about 1,000 Americans need emergency care for serious dog bites.
To avoid a dog bite, follow the Pink Panther Rules.
▪ Don’t approach a dog you don’t know.
▪ Always address the dog’s owner first before reaching toward it.
▪ Stand sideways and let the dog sniff the back of your hand.
▪ If you’re seriously attacked, drop to the ground, curl into a ball, tuck your head into your chest and put your hands and arms over your ears and neck.
If you or someone you’re with is bitten, if the bite’s not too deep or severe, clean and disinfect it thoroughly. Experts at Penn State Children’s Hospital believe the risk of infection is only 5 to 15 percent. Rabies is rare, and since most dog bites occur between dogs and people familiar with their owners, it’s usually possible to verify a dog’s vaccination history. For any deep wound or an injury from an untagged dog, go to the emergency room.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.