In November of 2013, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine announced that it was partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a new project titled the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project. The goal of the collaboration was to increase overall awareness of sleep illness, as well as to educate the public on the importance of getting enough sleep; the hope was that by spreading the word, measureable public behavior change could be achieved.
When the project was first announced, Janet B. Croft, PhD and CDC senior chronic disease epidemiologist said, “Sleep and sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, are increasingly recognized as vital to a wide variety of public health and chronic disease concerns, including obesity, hypertension, and cancer. The CDC is collaborating with the AASM to improve the health of people through diagnosis and treatment of sleep illness.” The project was slated to last five years, and now that it has almost reached its first year of operation the group has made some important announcements. Perhaps most striking is the overall message that public health and safety are being threatened by the rising number of patients with obstructive sleep apnea, with the number of adult sufferers now estimated to be at least 25 million. The group has assembled a number of studies that show exactly how damaging the condition, which has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2-diabetes and stroke, can be.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s president Dr. Timothy orgenthaler, who is also the national spokesperson for the Healthy Sleep Project, “Obstructive sleep apnea is destroying the health of millions of Americans, and the problem has only gotten worse over the last two decades. The effective treatment of sleep apnea is one of the keys to success as our nation attempts to reduce health care spending and improve chronic disease management.”
According to data published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, obstructive sleep apnea has become increasingly prevalent over the last two decades, with estimates putting the number of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 who have the disease at 25% of the population. It is thought that the increase in the number of cases being seen is linked to the national obesity epidemic. Sleep apnea has been linked to a number of negative health impacts. Here are just a few:
- Those who have severe obstructive sleep apnea have been found to have reduced white matter fiber integrity in several areas of their brains. This has been shown to impact mood, daytime alertness and cognition. When untreated sleep apnea was treated for a period of one year with CPAP therapy, the brain damage that had been observed was completely reversed.
- Changes in both function and anatomy have been found in the brainstem regions of those who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
- Surgical patients who have their sleep apnea diagnosed and treated prior to surgery show significant reductions in the number of postoperative cardiovascular complications.
- Patients who undergo CPAP therapy for the treatment of sleep apnea have been shown to undergo a favorable reduction in blood pressure.
- A study conducted in Brazil found that of patients who suffer from severe obstructive sleep apnea, 92% suffered nocturnal cardiac arrhythmias, while the same was true of only 53% of those without sleep apnea.
The detection of sleep apnea comes with recognition of the condition’s warning signs, which include snoring, choking sounds, gasping and long pauses without breathing during sleep. In most cases, the patients who are suffering from the condition are unaware of their nighttime struggles – they simply awake with unexplained fatigue. It is often their sleep partners who report the disruptive sleep patterns and insist that they undergo examination and testing for obstructive sleep apnea.
The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project has several important initiatives that it is hoping will make a real difference in the sleep health of the American public. One of its top campaigns is titled, “Stop the Snore”, and targets snoring as the chief warning sign for obstructive sleep apnea. The Stop the Sore campaign asks people to pledge to stop snoring by talking to their physician about the problem or encouraging their bed partner to do so. The group provides five key warning signs that mean the difference between simple disruptive snoring and the signs of a potentially dangerous sleep apnea condition. They are:
- Snoring that is loud
- Choking or gasping while asleep
- Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
- Obesity or a body mass index of thirty or higher
- High blood pressure
Unfortunately, snoring has traditionally been viewed as little more than a disruption to the peace of the bedroom or sleeping chamber, but researchers and physicians are now understanding that far too many cases of snoring that have been considered to be innocent are actually a sign of a potentially serious health condition. Snoring that is accompanied by any of the other symptoms listed here needs to be discussed immediately with a physician in order to ensure that sleep apnea, if present, can be diagnosed and treated.
The Healthy Sleep Awareness Project is also aimed at delivering the message that healthy sleep promotes overall well being, boosting both cognitive and physical performance, improving mood, reducing the chances of depression, and overall improving the quality of people’s lives and contributing to a healthy lifestyle. Sleep is being promoted as one of the three essential pillars of good health along with good nutrition and exercise. The campaign is aiming at educating people about the importance of sleep and the fact that it is not a luxury but a necessity. It is hoped that the campaign will teach the so that they learn healthy sleep basics and make it a priority for themselves to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night every night.