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There’s More to Sleep than Meets the Eyes

We spend almost one third of our life asleep. Despite this, for centuries, sleep has been mysterious and one of the most poorly understood normal and healthy functioning states. Scientific advances in the last few decades or so have provided better insight and important physiological functions of sleep. Sleep is no longer considered as a passive state of the body. In fact, sleep state is now regarded as an active and dynamic process evident by the increased number of brain neurons working to join together with other vital functions in the body to maintain balance. Both wakefulness and sleepiness are controlled by chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain. A fine balance exists between these two opposing chemicals to maintain equilibrium and determine awake or asleep state.

The importance of this area is now widely recognized to an extent that sleep medicine has developed into an independent, and one of the most rapidly advancing, medical fields. Sleep disorders such as sleep-related breathing disorders, insomnias, hypersomnias, parasomnias, circadian sleep disorders, sleep deprivation, sleep related movement disorders, etc. can affect all ages, sexes, ethnicities and socio economic groups. The harmful effects of bad sleep can accumulate over time (night by night, week by week, months by months) and over the years can affect daytime functioning, body systems and organs in an individual. The overall effects of sleep disorders can affect not only individuals in terms of influence on family life, disease control, life style, but also the nation as a whole causing an economic burden. Just as “one shoe does not fit all,” the sleep pattern and time spent asleep varies from individual to individual. Finding the right balance and maintaining healthy sleep is quite important.

Without doubt, a good night and right sleep improves quality and life span of an individual. Good night sleep can be worth a million dollars. Having said that, there are now avenues to diagnose and quantify the sleep problems. A correct diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference in the quality of an individual’s life. Correction of sleep problems in some instances can help to better manage disease states such as hypertension, diabetes, depression. Relief from sleep trouble can even avoid dangerous conditions like heart attacks, strokes, sleep-related accidents, loss of productivity, jobs and prevent loss of one’s life. Sleep problems can also interface with several other medical subspecialties like neurology, cardiology, pulmonary medicine, endocrinology, rheumatology, dentistry, ENT, behavioral & psychiatry, etc. Management of sleep problems can also be affected in both ways.

Given the known negative impact of sleep disorders and the positive impact it can have on the body with treatment, one cannot ignore the management of sleep problems. For this reason, I am a strong proponent of evaluating or addressing sleep problems as part of preventive care. If you or your loved one suspect sleep problems, please do not hesitate to discuss it with your doctor. With great enthusiasm, I look forward to serving and promoting good, quality sleep in the community.