You May Think You’re Sleeping, But You’re Not

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APNEA_minicpapSome people can’t sleep, and some people are not sleeping—even when they think they are—such is the confounding nature of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a condition where breathing pauses during sleep due to a narrowed or partly blocked airway. It sneaks up on many people who only question their slumber when they are consistently tired during the day.

The fact is that the body has a strict physiological definition of sleeping, and a test known as a polysomnography (sleep test) is the only way to truly know whether you are getting enough sleep—or waking up multiples times (without knowing it!) during a typical hour.

Fortunately, there is a solution, and it’s called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This “gold standard” therapy works every time, if you use it. Fortunately, thanks to some creative engineering, CPAP units do not have to be bulky items that don’t fit in a drawer or on a typical nightstand. Companies such as Somnetics International make an incredibly light and compact unit called Transcend.

Brands such as Transcend are fueling a movement to address OSA as a serious health problem that can have serious consequences. Instead of turning to sleeping pills, for example, patients should consult a physician who specializes in sleep. There are no side effects of using CPAP, but pills have plenty.

According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), emergency room visits involving the sleep aid zolpidem nearly doubled between 2005 and 2010, exceeding 42,000 visits in the year 2009-2010. Zolpidem is the active ingredient in many major sleep drugs. In 57% of these overmedication cases, there were additional drugs involved.

“Overall, nearly half (47%) of zolpidem overmedication-related emergency department visits resulted in either a hospital admission or a transfer to another medical facility,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde via press release. “About a quarter of these more serious cases involved admission to a critical or intensive care unit. Sleep aid medications can benefit patients, but they must be carefully used and monitored. Physicians and patients need to discuss the potential adverse reactions associated with any medication, and work together to prevent problems or quickly resolve any that may arise.”

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