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Six Surprising Links Between Sleep and Health

5 months ago

Healthy Smiles By Rita Tempel, DDS – This column was originally published in the Gettysburg Times, March 21, 2019

March is Sleep Awareness Month—that’s because as many as 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder. Sleep is an essential missing link in many of our healthy routines. For example, we just observed Daylight Saving Time, and how many of us had a hard time adjusting our sleep, school, or work routines?

You may be wondering why, as a dentist, I’m writing about sleep. Dental sleep medicine is a growing segment of dentistry that focuses on managing snoring and sleep apnea. It’s become a passion of mine, addressing sleep issues in patients and witnessing the transformation in their lives. Sleep is essential! Let’s take a look at six surprising ways sleep is linked to your health.

  1. Daytime drowsiness: If you’re not getting enough restful sleep, you’re going to be drowsy during the day. Do you find yourself dozing off during a meeting? Even more alarming, are you ever drowsy while driving? At least 20% of all motor vehicle accidents are caused by sleepy drivers. Not only is your life in your hands, but the lives of other motorists around you could be affected by drowsy driving
  2. Energy level: Without quality sleep, your productivity level and focus are diminished. Not only is drowsy driving a factor, but you’re at a greater risk of workplace accidents. Another ripple effect: You often don’t have the energy to exercise.
  3. Eating and weight: Studies show that if you receive less than four hours of sleep for just two days, your body produces a 28% increase in ghrelin, a hunger hormone that increases your appetite and can result in over-eating. And, your body produces 18% less leptin. This is a hormone that suppresses the appetite, so again, over-eating is often the end result. These hormonal changes wreak havoc on your body’s metabolism.
  4. Mental health: When you are not experiencing quality sleep, your brain has trouble with memory, plus you’re affected by irritability and moodiness. That’s because sleep apnea causes a lack of oxygen to your brain and organs, and upsets numerous hormones in the brain. Regular, restful sleep leaves you feeling refreshed and healthy, mentally and physically.
  5. Love life: If you or your partner snores, you may not be getting a restful night’s sleep, and it may be putting a damper on romance. Additionally, undiagnosed sleep apnea can cause decreased sex drive or impotence.
  6. Serious health issues such as heart failure: Characterized by loud and frequent snoring, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the tongue and soft palate collapse onto the back of the throat, blocking the upper airway. This obstruction causes you to stop breathing up to hundreds of times a night, for a few seconds at a time, or more than a minute per incidence. If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening disease that can increase the risk for serious health problems—congestive heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and depression, and many more.

So let’s focus on the underlying cause of many of these health issues: obstructive sleep apnea. If you’re not sleeping well, or if a partner says you snore, you may have sleep apnea. So how is it diagnosed? It requires a diagnosis from a physician, first. Then a sleep-qualified dentist such as myself can custom-fit patients with an oral appliance. An oral appliance is an effective alternative to the standard continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine and mask.

Simply put, quality of sleep enhances your health and life.

Dr. Rita Tempel is the owner and founder of Gettysburg Smiles, a cosmetic and family dental practice located at 2018 York Road (Route 30 East), Gettysburg. She is an Accreditation Candidate of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and an American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine Qualified Dentist. For more information, see GettysburgSmiles.com, follow Gettysburg Smiles on Facebook, or call 717-339-0033.

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