Tired? Your Sleep May Not Be What You Think 

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Perhaps you spend a good eight hours in bed every night, yet you feel inexplicably sleepy the next day. How can this be? Surely, you should feel refreshed and vibrant after a full night’s sleep.

It’s possible that your sleep isn’t the renewing break you think it is. That’s because not all sleep is created equal. “A good, deep sleep in which your brain cycles through the various sleep states, allowing for the natural progression of brain waves, is what the body needs,” said Nikhat Salamat, MD, a pulmonologist at SSM Health DePaul Hospital who specializes in sleep medicine.

Many people are unaware that they have sleep disorders, which compromise their amount or quality of sleep. “Because you may not wake fully, as is often the case with sleep apnea, you don’t realize that your sleep is disrupted. You feel tired the next day, and you don’t know why,” said Salamat.

Fatigue, especially if it affects your life for more than a couple of weeks, can be a symptom of many medical conditions – from a simple virus to a serious illness. Unremitting or crushing fatigue should be assessed by your primary-care physician. In some cases, especially if you exhibit additional symptoms of a potential sleep disorder, your doctor may recommend seeing a sleep specialist or having a sleep study.

“Sometimes sleep apnea, in which the patient stops breathing repeatedly during sleep, is most evident to the individual’s bed partner who notices the common pattern of snoring followed by a short period of silence, and then a gasp or snorting sound as the patient resumes breathing,” said Salamat. “The fragmented sleep that results can cause abnormal daytime sleepiness, problems with memory and attention, high blood pressure, weight gain and headaches.”

Fortunately, once identified, sleep apnea, like most other sleep disorders, is treatable. Diagnosis is made after reviewing data collected during an overnight sleep study at the hospital’s Sleep Center in which the patient’s sleep patterns, oxygen levels and body movements are monitored. If a patient exhibits frequent episodes of apnea during the sleep study, a technician may intervene with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), adjusting the pressure as needed until the patient is able to breathe continuously while asleep.

“A lot of people are afraid of CPAP, but it’s not what most people think,” said Salamat. “The air typically comes through a small nasal apparatus, which most tolerate just fine. For the majority of people, the payoff of finally sleeping well and feeling better is definitely worth it.”

If you think you may have sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, insomnia or other types of sleep disruptions, talk with your doctor and consider seeing a sleep specialist, who may recommend a sleep study. It could be the best night you’ve had in a long time.

Nikhat Salamat, MD
Nikhat Salamat, MD, is board certified in pulmonary disease, sleep medicine and critical care medicine. She is welcoming new patients at her office on the campus of SSM Health DePaul Hospital and can be reached at 314-209-5180.