Why is sleep so important?

It may seem like common sense that sleep is important, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 50-70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. Often, lack of sleep can be caused by bad sleeping habits, also known as inadequate sleep hygiene. You may be surprised to know that in addition to being critical to survival, lack of sleep can also affect everything from your memory to your heart health and weight.

Steven Dekich, M.D., a board-certified sleep specialist at the Sleep Disorders Centers at EAMC explains that while scientists have not defined an exact purpose for sleep, we know that it is crucial for many different reasons. “Sleep is essential for growth and development in children; it’s proven to consolidate memory and learning, and it is also proven to help retain memory as you age,” Dr. Dekich explains. “Continued sleep deprivation is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.”

“Getting consistent restful nights of sleep provides health benefits that can allow you to live longer, healthier lives,” Shashi Sharma, M.D., another board-certified sleep specialist at the Sleep Disorders Centers at EAMC, says. “Achieving the adequate sleep that your body needs is not a sign of weakness—it will make your body strong, and it should be a priority.”

Do I have good sleep hygiene?

Inadequate sleep hygiene can often be solved by making small changes to your lifestyle in order to build good habits and develop a routine. According to Dr. Dekich, changing your sleeping habits may take some time to unlearn what the body is used to. “Many people do not even realize that they have bad sleeping habits,” Dr. Dekich explains. “The three cues your body uses to indicate the difference in day and night are light exposure, exercise and food. If you’re having trouble sleeping the first step is to make sure you’re not eating or exercising right before bed and create a cool, dark environment with no TV or lights on to sleep.”

With the prevalence of TV, smart phones and tablets, a new wave of bad sleeping habits has emerged. While reading a book can be a good tool to help unwind before bed, watching TV or looking at a smart phone has many adverse effects. “Screens emit a type of light that imitates sunlight and sends signals to the brain that the body should be awake,” Dr. Sharma explains. “The light makes it difficult for people to turn off their device and fall asleep because the light confuses the body into thinking it is daytime. Over the years I have seen this problem increase dramatically as people use their smart phones. A good rule of thumb is to turn your devices off approximately an hour before bed.”

Other habits that may affect sleep include lack of routine, the effects of drugs or alcohol, and stress. “Over-the-counter drugs such as Benadryl, may seem like a quick fix, but are not a long-term solution,” Dr. Dekich says. “They are masking the problem and can cause day-time drowsiness the next day. Alcohol, in general tends to disrupt sleep. It may help you fall asleep, but the sleep that you’ll get will not be restful. Once the alcohol wears off,  you will experience a kind of withdrawal, awakening from sleep and you may not be able to go back to sleep.”

"When it comes to sleep hygiene—make your life as predictable as possible,” Dr. Sharma says. “Try to keep the same schedule, even on weekends, and consolidate your sleep to just at night, if you can. While naps aren’t necessarily bad, they can be an indication that you are not getting enough restful sleep at night.”

How much sleep do I need?

According to Dr. Sharma, the standard eight hours is a bench mark of the average amount that most people sleep at night, but not necessarily the gold standard. “Some people need more or less,” Sharma says. “While the average person probably needs around eight hours, there are some who are rested after only six hours and others who need 10. When it comes to building good sleeping habits, you need to be intuitive and listen to your body.”

Do I need to see a sleep specialist?

According to Dr. Joseph Leuschke, director of the Sleep Disorders Centers at EAMC, lifestyle is often the culprit of sleep disorders. “Daytime sleepiness can often be accredited to using a phone, tablet or laptop before bed, not taking time to relax between the work day and sleep, and stress,” Dr. Leuschke explains. “When people have trouble sleeping, it’s much more than just sleep apnea, which can be treated with a CPAP. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is a machine that blows air into a tube which is connected to a mask worn by the user. When you have a sleep study done in a comprehensive clinic like ours, all of the different sleep disorders can be diagnosed, much more than just sleep apnea. Common disorders that often rob people of living well include shift work disorders, narcolepsy,  and night time movement disorders.”

Renae Davis, EAMC Sleep Disorders Centers director, explains that the benefits of having a sleep study done far outweigh the inconvenience. “As a sleep apnea patient myself, I can personally say a diagnosis and CPAP machine make a huge difference,” Davis says. “Before I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I didn’t realize how tired I was throughout the day. Once I started wearing a CPAP, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. Typically you’re living with a sleep disorder for such a long time you think that the way you feel is normal.”

Davis says they are always looking for ways to improve patient experience and make having a sleep study a convenient process for patients. “Having Dr. Leuschke, a neurologist, who can diagnose the brain disorders associated with sleep disorders, and having pulmonologists (Dr. Dekich and Dr. Sharma), who can diagnose the lung functions and breathing disorders, is part of what makes our clinic unique,” Davis says. “In addition, we now have a CCSH (Certification in Clinical Sleep Health) certified employee, Tuesdi Watkins, who provides one-on-one consultations with patients and serves to educate them and answer any of their questions. We are the only sleep lab in the area that offers this service.”

“We offer expertise in neurology, pulmonology, and in addition, we have direct access to psychology and the rapid response team,” Dr. Leuschke explains. “Because the Sleep Disorders Center is located within the hospital, there is direct access to many different departments. We are a ‘full service’ sleep lab, not just a sleep apnea clinic. We also offer appropriate follow-up and instruction after a sleep study is performed. With the addition of Watkins, our certified clinical sleep health educator, and our experienced registered sleep personnel, there is always someone here to answer any questions you may have.”

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EAMC Welcomes Dr. Zarmeena Ali

Zarmeena Ali, M.D., joined East Alabama Rheumatology Center in February.  She is originally from Lahore, Pakistan and earned her medical degree from Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan. Dr. Ali completed a residency in internal medicine from the University of Connecticut, and her fellowship in rheumatology from Washington University in St. Louis. After completing her education, Dr. Ali worked at the St. Louis VA Medical Center and she also worked at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi where she helped to establish the rheumatology department there. She is a member of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Rheumatology. Dr. Ali’s husband, Adil, is an electrical engineering professor at Auburn and also conducts biomedical research. They have two children, Zain (15) and Maya (12.) Dr. Ali and her family are excited to be a part the EAMC family and the Auburn/Opelika community.

Dr. Ali practices at East Alabama Rheumatology Center, 2000 Pepperell Parkway, Opelika, AL. For an appointment, call 334-528-6610.

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