Timothy C. Adams, DDS D.ACSDD, LVIM
The importance of sleep to physical health has been a fundamental tenet of common medical knowledge for centuries. Sleep allows our bodies to relax, rejuvenate, and dream, permitting the mind to work on a subconscious level, solving problems and preparing for the coming day. While we sleep our bodies burn calories, create vital nutrients and hormones, and perform complex chemical processes that keep our bodies internally balanced, or in homeostasis.
However, as a result of what has become the norm in American society—a much busier life—the healthy sleep of many adults and children is often compromised. This lack of healthy sleep in large percentages of the population is causing widespread concern within medical and dental communities all over the United States.
We see that sleep is of concern because it frequently appears in our conversations with health care professionals, in print media, and on television. Physicians and dentists are focusing more on the amount and quality of sleep. We read articles on sleep in popular magazines such as US News and World Report, Time, and Newsweek. The cable news station CNN, narrated by resident medical expert Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has presented a special report on sleep.
Nevertheless, for all the research and information available to us, lack of sleep continues to directly affect the majority of people in the US: we are reminded every morning of the importance of sleep when we awake exhausted after a fitful night of tossing and turning, unable to get the rest we desperately need.
Physical and mental manifestations of lack of sleep, such as weight gain, hormonal imbalances, headaches, inability to concentrate, and even depression, are becoming more and more commonplace.
Some sleep deprivation can be psychological (mental stress at work, in relationships, or in family life). However, there is a serious physiological cause of lack of sleep that exists as well: airway obstruction. Airway obstruction generally affects the elderly, adult males, post-menopausal women, pregnant women, and even children. Airway obstruction at night results in what health care practitioners call Sleep Disordered Breathing. Everyone is at risk. Obstruction as simple as snoring can signal a much greater problem. More severe airway conditions include Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS) and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). In many cases OSA can be fatal.
If you manifest any of the above symptoms, wake up tired, or snore/gasp for breath while sleeping, you could be one of millions of Americans suffering from airway obstruction. You are certainly losing sleep. If the problem goes untreated, you will lose your health, and you could even lose your life.