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Have Trouble Sleeping? World Sleep Day Focuses on Medical, Behavioral Problems that Keep You Up

  A Syracuse Sleep Doctor is trying to make people more aware of the role a good night’s sleep plays in overall health.   World Sleep Day this past week focused attention on all the reasons you might be tired tomorrow.

We’ve probably all been there…tossing and turning in bed when you know you need a good night’s sleep.  Well it's more of a problem than just being tired the next day and Doctor Antonio Culebras says we never really learn about what he calls one of three pillars of health.

“They tell us everything about our diet and carbohydrates and lipids and proteins; there are gym classes where we exercise.  But no one goes to sleep class and it’s a shame because we should know how to sleep.”

Culebras is Neurology professor with the Upstate Sleep Center and co-chair of World Sleep Day.  

Inability to sleep isn’t just a nuisance – it’s a medical problem. Culebras says there are about 100 disorders, including insomnia and narcolepsy.  The most prevalent is Sleep Apnea…which can contribute to severe health problems.

“Sleep Apnea may increase the risk of stroke, of heart disease, it controls diabetes, and in recent publications there is some evidence that it contributes to dementia.”

Dr. Culebras elaborates on sleep disorders and the value of over-the-counter sleep aids.

He notes about 17-percent of men and 9 percent of women have the physical disorder.  If diagnosed, people might go to a sleep center overnight – and end up with a C-Pap machine that regulates air flow though a mask during sleep.  Of course Culebras sees other problems in patients …

Get up and stumble to the bathroom often at night?

“If they tell me they have to get up more than twice to urinate, I immediately go to look t their ankles and see if there is any swelling because the ankles are the reservoir of fluid during the day.  As soon as the patient gets recumbent, that water is reabsorbed and the kidneys eliminate it.”

And of course, we can be own worst enemies.

“Television sets, tablets, the telephone, at this time of year people take their income tax returns and look at them in bed.  This is a guarantee of poor sleep at night because it causes a major stimulation of the nervous system.  He adds eating or exercising right before bed as no-no’s." 

Dr. Culebras has some advice on some of the things that get in the way of a good night's sleep.

Culebras recommends order – the brain likes order – so getting up every day at the same time – even on weekends – will help.  And he says if sleep problems are persistent, affecting working or driving…it’s time to see a doctor about some disorder.  The good news is most are treatable.

Extent of the Epidemic

  • 35% of people do not feel they get enough sleep, impacting both their physical and mental health.21
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects approximately 4% of the adult population. 21 If not properly managed, OSA can have a significant impact on a person’s health and well-being.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome is a common disorder and occurs in between 3-10% of the population, although the number of people affected and the severity of the condition differs between countries.
  • People who have OSA stop breathing repeatedly during sleep. OSA is caused by a blockage of the upper airway. The collapse of the airway may be due to factors such as a large tongue, extra tissue or decreased muscle tone holding the airway open.
  • Each breathing pause can last from 10 seconds to more than a minute and is accompanied by a drop in oxygen associated with each event. The events may occur 5 to 50 times or more each hour. This puts a strain on the heart and can lead to a number of serious health conditions (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, NIH, 2009).

Known Consequences: Some Statistics

  • A US study has estimated the annual costs of insomnia to be between $92.5 billion and $107.5 billion.17
  • 71,000 people suffer injuries every year due to sleep-related accidents.16
  • 1,550 people die because of sleep-related accidents.16
  • 46% of individuals with frequent sleep disturbances report missing work or events, or making errors at work, compared to 15% of healthy sleepers.18

More information about sleep disorders and treatments is

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.