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Trouble Sleeping? Get Help

October 20, 2010

Sleep Disorders Center Tackles Tough Sleeping Disorders

With the fast pace of everyday life, especially in the Bay Area, it’s easy to look at sleep as simply idle time when you don’t get anything done. Don’t be fooled. Restful, uninterrupted sleep is a vital ingredient to being alert and functional during the day.

Unfortunately, for approximately 40 million Americans, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a good night’s rest can be impeded by a range of different sleep disorders.

"There are 101 reasons that people are not sleeping, and it’s important to figure out the correct diagnosis and treatment for each individual," says Nitun Verma, M.D., Medical Director of Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders.

But ultimately, you are the only person that can decide if sleep problems are impacting your quality of life. If you’re frequently tired during the day, have a hard time falling asleep at night or wake frequently, it may be time to get professional help.

"The Center offers free online quizzes to help patients determine who should see the doctor," Dr. Verma says. "Whether you live in the area or not, you can look at our Web site as a resource. It’s a great option for patients who are thinking, ‘Do I need to see the doctor or not?’ The quizzes are scientifically valid and can tell patients if they are at low risk or high risk for a sleep disorder."

One of the most frequent and serious diagnoses that Dr. Verma sees is snoring or pausing in breathing during the night, also called sleep apnea.

"It’s a difficult diagnosis because there are some people with sleep apnea that don’t snore and, conversely, a lot of patients that do snore and don’t have sleep apnea," he explains. "Snoring is sometimes just an annoyance, but if you’re actually pausing in breathing during the night, it’s serious. Think of it this way—if someone pinches your nose, are you going to wake up calmly like it’s breakfast on Christmas morning? No, you’re not."

Dr. Verma likens it to waking up feeling like you’re being chased by a lion. And, strangely enough, he says these events are most often not remembered the next morning, which means you may not even know there’s a problem.

"Your pulse is up, you’re breathing hard," he says. "It’s this fight or flight response that can lead to serious health problems. If you have a choice between sleep and stress, you obviously want to choose sleep."

Perhaps most significantly, sleep apnea can put a strain on the cardiovascular system because of the sudden drops in blood oxygen levels, increasing the chances of high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure and other vascular conditions.

The good news is that the Center focuses on finding the right treatment options for each individual patient.

"We’re not rigid about treatment options; we help them find the right treatment for their lifestyle," Dr. Verma says.

In addition to sleep apnea, the Center treats countless sleep disorders, some of them specific to certain populations.

"Interestingly enough, there are a lot of people who just have a hard time falling asleep and, for these individuals, work can drag," according to Dr. Verma. "This is a particular problem in Silicon Valley, especially for a lot of people with computer science degrees. Delayed sleep-phase syndrome (DSPS) is not something people commonly know about, but it’s something people do suffer from.

"It’s common to the Bay Area. Fortunately, you can get treatments without medication. It’s lifestyle modification. We actually take care of this a lot. In some cases, we find people are incorrectly diagnosed with insomnia."

Another group that Dr. Verma treats frequently includes women who are going through menopause.

"Menopause is enough of a transition on its own and now disruptions in sleep patterns add to the fire," he says. "There are a variety of sleep conditions that occur with menopause, including insomnia, hot flashes, tiredness during the day and increased snoring, and we can help."

Notably, during menopause, according to Dr. Verma, women also are at three times increased risk for sleep apnea, without the protection of hormones progesterone or estrogen.

Dr. Verma also specializes in treatment of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), a condition characterized by an irresistible urge to move to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations, often in the limbs.

"For RLS patients who have tried everything, we’re the last resort and we can help them effectively take care of this condition."

For those who suffer from sleep apnea and other sleep-related disorders, as well as users of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, Dr. Verma facilitates a regular support group at Washington Hospital called AWAKE.

The group meets the fourth Wednesday of each month from 11 a.m. to noon. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 27, in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Room A, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont across the street from the main hospital.

To learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders at Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders, visit http://washingtonsleep.com/ or call (510) 744-6726 or (510) 744-1129 after hours

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