WILL PINKSTON | The Sun
Dr. Kanchan Koirala, a Murray-Calloway County Hospital pulmonologist and board certified in sleep medicine, adjusts a plastic nasal CPAP mask used to treat sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder.
MURRAY — Why our bodies need sleep remains a medical mystery that continues to perplex doctors, but what doctors do know are the vast implications the effects of little to no sleep can have on our systems.
In simplest terms, it is thought people need sleep to help refresh their bodily systems by allowing the brain a period of time to reset and to recharge chemicals depleted throughout the day, said Dr. Kanchan Koirala, a pulmonologist board certified in sleep medicine at the Center for Sleep Studies at Murray-Calloway County Hospital.
Although an exact reason remains undetermined, when sleep is deprived from a person over the course of several days, it can lead to a litany of problems, including depression, cardiovascular issues and the breakdown of the body’s immune system.
So for the nearly 60 million people who suffer from occasional to frequent sleep disorders, the difficulty in achieving a good night’s sleep can result in more than just a tiresome workday, even though many symptoms might seem benign in nature.
“People think, ‘well this is just my personality that I’m tired or lethargic, this is who I am, my attention span isn’t good and my reaction time isn’t good,’ but it may have been the case that this may have been a form of sleep apnea,” Koirala said.
The common disorder of obstructive sleep apnea — believed to affect 18 million Americans — is the result of interrupted breathing patterns during sleep and can often times be associated with loud snoring (though not everyone who snores has the disorder.)
Caused by the collapse of the windpipe, obstructive sleep apnea will block airflow for 10 seconds or more, forcing the sleeping person to wake sometimes hundreds of times in one night. Left untreated, sleep apnea is a risk factor in developing heart disease, sudden cardiac death and strokes, Koirala said.
The most common therapy for sleep apnea is a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) mask, that affixes to a person’s nose while they sleep and provides a constant flow of air into the airways to act as a splint. For less serious sleep apnea cases, a dental appliance can be worn to bed that helps maintain an open airway.
If a person suspects sleep apnea, a study can be performed at a sleep center to monitor a patient’s resting heart rate and brain activity during sleep to check for the disorder.
Also a common disorder, insomnia is a frequent complaint seen in Koirala’s office. Denoted as extreme difficulty falling asleep lasting more than a month, the disorder is often caused by an additional medical issue, depression or psychiatric issue that prevents the body from sleeping.
People suspecting insomnia should seek out their physician and are often times recommended for psychological evaluations to get to the root cause of the sleeplessness, said Lisa Devine, a registered sleep technician at Western Baptist Hospital. Testing at a sleep center could determine if insomnia is truly the case or if the person suffers from difficulty maintaining proper sleep hygiene.
While we all have trouble sleeping from time-to-time, Devine offered several recommendations for achieving the most from sleep.
Following a consistent sleep schedule, regular exercise, decreasing caffeine intake, limiting alcohol and cigarette usage around bedtime, and creating a comfortable sleep environment devoid of distractions like computers or televisions will all lead to a better night’s sleep, Devine said.
“If you go to bed and you’re not sleepy, get out of bed and don’t stay there tossing and turning,” she said.
Most people require 7 to 8 hours on average of continuous sleep, though some people can require more or less sleep. Koirala added avoiding naps, which tend to fragment sleep or disrupt sleep schedules, as maintaining a proper sleep schedule remains one of the keys to getting the most from your sleep.
Call Will Pinkston, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.