For Health Care Professionals

Why must we think about sleep disorders?

Sleep disorders are extremely widespread among our patients. For example, sleep apnea appears more common in men over 40 than either diabetes or asthma.

The prevalence of sleep disorders can be expected to increase. Some reasons:

  • The increasing prevalence of obesity, a major aggravating factor for sleep apnea.
  • The fact that after menopause, the prevalence and severity of sleep apnea rise sharply, and the fact that many women are being withdrawn from hormone replacement therapy that was partially protective.
  • The rapid evolution of American society as a severely sleep-deprived and highly stressed culture.
Vital clues to the origins of many illnesses can remain hidden in the night, during sleep: that previously mysterious state that constitutes approximately one-third of our patients’ lives.

It is extremely common for patients to appear healthy in wakefulness but critically ill during sleep. Vital physiologic control mechanisms differ dramatically as our patients transit between wakefulness and the various stages of sleep.

Sleep disorders are potentially serious. Some examples:

  • Sleep apnea is found in approximately 60% of male stroke victims.
  • Sleep apnea has been associated with an up to 23-fold increased risk of recurrent heart attack.
  • Occult sleep apnea can render it virtually impossible to control congestive heart failure and hypertension in many patients.
Sleep disorders are easily treated in most patients.

  • For example, sleep apnea–a potentially devastating and lethal disorder–can usually be treated rapidly and effectively with air–and without a need for drug therapy or surgical procedures!