By Rose L. Thayer
Killeen Daily Herald
After repeatedly waking up in her sleep nightly and feeling tired all day long, Donna Jackson decided to consult her doctor.
"When I talked to her, she suggested that I wasn't getting good sleep," said Jackson, recalling the situation she underwent about five years ago.
Jackson, a respiratory therapist in her early 40s at the time, thought she was too young to be suffering from sleep apnea, but after a night at the Metroplex Sleep Center, she discovered that's exactly what she had.
"Come to find out, I stopped breathing probably 25 times that night," she said. "That's why I wasn't feeling rested, because I just wasn't sleeping and I wasn't breathing well."
Jackson was put on a continuous positive airway pressure machine, which provided her oxygen through a face mask while she slept.
In patients with sleep apnea, the throat muscles or the tongue fall and block the airway during sleep, said Samantha Camp, manager of the Metroplex Sleep Center and a registered polysomnographic technologist.
Among the 100 patients the center sees each month, sleep apnea is one of the top reasons for visiting the center, said Camp.
Some of the symptoms of untreated sleep apnea include sleepiness and morning headaches. Also, people with a spouse or partner may hear complaints about snoring or hearing them stop breathing.
Sleep apnea is as common as type 2 diabetes, affecting more than 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
For many people, being overweight can cause sleep apnea, so losing weight can sometimes allow them to get off the breathing machine at night, as was the case with Jackson.
The entire revelation kick-started her into a healthier lifestyle that resulted in a 25-pound weight loss.
"It did, because you feel more rested and you're able to eat better," she said. "You eat like crazy when you're tired and you don't eat well because you're just trying to get your energy."
Whether caused by illness or lifestyle choices, lack of sleep can reduce cognitive function, increase one's risk of traffic accidents, impact mood, increase risk for depression and cause weight gain, said Dr. Chris Spradley, sleep physician at Scott & White Healthcare.
Continual lack of sleep can also lead to a sleep debt, and the tendency to be sleepy will increase with the amount of sleep deprivation.
To avoid any of these symptoms, Spradley advised getting 7½ hours of sleep each night.
"The best way to ensure you get a good night's sleep is to maintain a good sleep schedule," he said, emphasizing the importance of waking up and falling asleep at the same time each day.
"Humans actually have a sleep cycle," he said. "We have a natural tendency to sleep at the same time every day. When we get outside of that, the quality of sleep is actually impaired. It would also probably impact the quality of sleep for the next couple of nights as well."
For those who have tried everything, Spradley recommends visiting a sleep physician to determine the cause or possible treatments.
"The best treatments are not medication. The gold standard treatment is actually behavioral modifications," he said. "Lying there trying to sleep creates a negative sleep environment. If you try to force yourself to sleep, you will not be successful, because it wakes the brain up."
Instead, Spradley suggested changing bedroom behaviors to promote sleep, such as creating a cool, dark space, taking a hot shower before bed and avoiding television or computer screens before bed because blue light has a strong waking effect.
"If you're trying to sleep, you're not doing it right," he said.
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.
Tips to sleep better
Dr. Chris Spradley, sleep physician at Scott & White Healthcare, offers the following suggestions:
Only use the bedroom for sleep and sex, no TV watching or reading.
Create a cold, dark bedroom.
Take a hot shower before bed.
After lying in bed for 15 minutes without sleeping, get up and do a boring task.
To avoid worrying about the time, turn the alarm clock away from the bed.
Avoid screens with blue light before bed. Blue light promotes waking.