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Sleep as a Vital Sign

January 07, 2019

By Kevin Carter, DO. Doctor Carter is a board-certified, fellowship-trained slep physician specializing in obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, and parasomnias. He is the medical director of the Sleep Center at Kettering Medical Center.

Could you be one of the 70 million adults in the United States with a sleep disorder? It’s possible, because a number of those cases remain undiagnosed. Many of us don’t think to discuss our sleep difficulties because we think poor sleep is just a normal part of aging, menopause, parenting teenagers, or having a stressful job. But bringing this topic up to your primary care provider could not only bring you better sleep but also give your doctor clues to underlying health issues, from hypertension and congestive heart failure to depression and Parkinson’s disease.

Think about these diagnostic questions to help you figure out if sleep issues are something to bring up to your doctor:

  • Does it take you more than 20-30 minutes to fall asleep at night?
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, can you fall back asleep?
  • Do you wake up at night gasping for air?
  • Do you feel fatigued throughout the day or become sleepy while driving?
  • Have you been told you snore loudly or stop breathing while sleeping?
  • Do you have headaches when you wake up?
  • Do you have a dry mouth when you wake up?

If you have trouble with one or more of these things, your doctor will be able to talk with you about what these symptoms may mean and the proper course of treatment.

Underlying issues

Kettering Health Network Sleep Centers specialize in treating sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), narcolepsy, abnormal movements during sleep, and others. Many of these sleep disorders are associated with other medical problems. For example, OSA alone is a risk factor for high blood pressure (hypertension). Many people who have OSA will experience higher blood pressure during the daytime when breathing is normal. Because proper treatment for OSA can contribute to lowering cardiovascular risk, it’s essential to make sure you are properly evaluated.

OSA is associated with a number of other cardiovascular health problems. For example, 50% of heart failure patients have sleep apnea. It also increases the risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib), even contributing to more cases of AFib returning after treatment in those who have OSA. Treatments with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines can reduce cardiovascular risks, and can even reduce the risk of another stroke for patients with OSA and a history of stroke.

Other issues that sleep problems are associated with include depression, anxiety, and insomnia related to menopause. Seeking treatment for your sleep problems is an important step in combatting other health conditions.

Specialized treatment

Many sleep disorders can be diagnosed and treated by a primary care physician, but sometimes you may need more specialized care. The network’s sleep centers offer sleep studies and other diagnostic tests, as well as the full spectrum of treatment options, including CPAP therapy and medication.

Kettering Health Network now has seven sleep center locations, which you can find here.

If you believe your sleep is becoming a problem, speak to your primary care provider about whether referral to a sleep center is right for you. Click here to find a primary care provider.