The quality of your sleep is directly related to the quality of your life, according to Dr. Jeffrey Nascimento.
The sleep disorder specialist spoke about obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and insomnia on Tuesday at the Cora J. Belden Library Tuesday as part of the library's adult summer reading program, and made it clear that the better sleep you get the better you feel mentally and physically.
"Poor sleep affects us mentally and physically. Poor sleep puts the body under stress,” Nascimento said. "Good sleep makes our bodies healthier. And it makes our minds happier."
Although sleep apnea is simple to define - interference with the body’s normal breathing process while asleep – it is by far the more dangerous of the two, Nascimento said. When OSA is left untreated, it can contribute to serious long-term health consequences such as blood pressure, diabetes, psychiatric disorders, stroke, and heart failure, as well as serious or fatal accidents caused by individuals nodding off during the day because they are prevented from getting restful sleep.
Nascimento recommended that anyone who may have OSA undergo a sleep study that involves polygraphic monitoring of the person's eyes, brain, hear, and chest while they sleep. He said lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol or sedating medications near bedtime, and positional sleeping methods may help those with less serious cases. In more serious cases treatments range from various forms of non-invasive medial treatments to surgical procedures.
Although Nascimento considers insomnia less worrisome than OSA, he said that it could also bring on psychiatric and medical conditions.
Nascimento outlined a number of treatments that are used for insomnia, but he cautioned that not all of them are F.D.A. approved, such as various herbal remedies, over-the-counter sleep-aids and prescription medicines that are for other purposes but induce drowsiness as a side effect.
Of the F.D.A. sanctioned remedies for insomnia, Nascimento said people should be careful with the dosage because of the potential side effects and eventual withdrawal symptoms. If a person is going to use prescription sleep medication, they should opt for non-benzodiazepines like Ambien or Lunesta, Nascimento said. Benzodiazepines like Ativan or Xanax should only be taken as a last resort due to their highly addictive properties.
But, what Nascimento favors most to treat insomnia are non-pharmacologic methods like relaxation therapy and "sleep hygiene,” teaching patients how to create the ideal environment and habits to produce sound sleep.
Nascimento also embraces some cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that seem counter-intuitive. For instance, he teaches strategies called "sleep restriction" and "stimulus control.”
In sleep restriction, he instructs insomniacs to stay up until a very late, pre-set hour-- even though it means abbreviated total hours of sleep-- and then incrementally move their bedtime forward as they find themselves able to consistently sleep from the time they finally go to bed until they have to wake up.
For sleep control, Nascimento instructs insomniacs to go to bed at a "reasonable hour" but get up after approximately 20 minutes if they can't fall asleep. They are then to stay up until they feel sleep coming on again but engage in no activity that contains any type of stimulation in the meantime.
The library's adult summer reading program continues on Aug. 7 by "Bat Lady" Gerri Griswold about the importance of the nocturnal mammals in nature along with how to care for them.