If you think one is the loneliest number, try sleeplessly staring at the clock at two, three and four in the morning. Insomnia , defined as the inability to fall and/or stay asleep, is a common medical complaint. So common, in fact, that one in three adult Americans experiences it.
Dr. Christopher Manfredi, a pulmonary specialist and director of Norwalk Hospital's sleep disorder center , suggests insomnia itself can be a primary diagnosis. But it can also be a sign of other issues, most commonly, sleep apnea. It can also cause lapses in concentration, general fatigue, reduced energy levels, blurred vision, irritability and even hallucinations, chronic insomnia has also been linked to weight gain, high blood pressure , strokes and heart attacks.
"But most patients, eighty percent in fact, come to the center for sleep apnea," Dr. Manfredi says. Apnea occurs when excess fatty tissue in the throat periodically interrupts airflow. It's often reported, he adds, because of its eye-opening effect on spouses and significant others: "Snoring. It motivates people to seek help," he says.
Before they are admitted to the center for an overnight stay, patients are first evaluated by specialists to determine whether a patient's issues are treatable through other means. With behavioral therapy, for instance, patients learn to modify sleep habits and tend to their "sleep hygiene," as Dr. Manfredi explains sleep-related rituals. If overnight monitoring is necessary, the patient will check in to the center, which is decidedly more luxury hotel than hospital laboratory.
Some 1,200 patients per year spend the night here, where they are attached to a fully integrated computer system that records and measures a spectrum of brain activity and physiological data during sleep. "It's a lot less intrusive than it looks though," says Dr. Manfredi. "Most patients sleep fairly well, even if they don't think they did." In addition to electrodes patients are monitored with an infrared camera so that their sleep patterns are visually recorded.
Patients seeking treatment at the center are generally sleep-deprived and, in an ironic twist, often sleep quite well there as a result. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the average adult sleep seven to eight hours per night. But don't lose any sleep about not being able to sleep. Instead, get some treatment.
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