What's Being Done To Help America Sleep?

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Why is it so hard for us to get a good night’s sleep? And is there anything new being done about a health issue that the American Sleep Association (ASA) contends affects up to 70 million American adults?

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Everyone agrees there’s a problem. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says insomnia is the most common sleep problem in adults age 60 and older. The ASA says deep sleep is important for memory consolidation, yet as human beings enter into middle age, the quantity of deep (or slow wave) sleep they achieve is known to decrease significantly.

If you suffer from them, you know. Sleep troubles can be brutal. They can last for days, months and even years; and they can mean a lot more than just having trouble falling asleep. They can mean you: take a long time to fall asleep, wake up many times in the night, wake up early and are unable to get back to sleep, wake up tired, and feel sleepy during the day. The NIH just confirms what the sleep-deprived already know: Often, “being unable to sleep becomes a habit. Some people worry about not sleeping even before they get into bed.” This too may exacerbate an already exhausting situation and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

So sleep seekers try reading, meditation and prayer, darkening their rooms, and even weighted blankets. Before they know it they’re wondering bleary-eyed along the sleep aid aisle in their local pharmacy or department store for over-the-counter medications. Some finally resort to calling the doctor and stepping up their medication game to a prescription sleep aid or better yet: scheduling a sleep study.

Many people desperate for better sleep think that the method and the outcome of a sleep study are pretty straightforward—and limited. Either they have sleep apnea, and are thus prescribed a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) system—the leading therapy for sleep apnea—to keep them breathing during sleep, or they don’t have sleep apnea, and, well, it’s start over with the list above.

But while there are still tens of thousands of people seeking better sleep in the United States, there are also many physicians and scientists trying to help them. And they’re getting better at it all the time.

There’s information on yoga and music and meditation. There are over-the-counter pills, therapeutic oils and gadgets you stick to your nose. There are studies on causes and effects and drugs. The National Sleep Foundation even offers information on mouth exercises to help you breath better and thus sleep better at night:

  • Push the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and slide the tongue backward. Repeat 20 times.
  • Suck your tongue upward so that the entire tongue lies against the roof of your mouth. Repeat 20 times.
  • Force the back of your tongue downward against the floor of your mouth while keeping the tip of your tongue in contact with your bottom front teeth.

In scientific circles, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recently compiled a list of the 10 most-viewed sleep research papers published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (JCSM) in the last year. That is, articles that captured the attention of the scientific and medical communities, as well as the media and the general public. These are the papers on the JCSM website—published by AASM—that received the most pageviews. They include information on what is being done and who is doing it.

They included:

  • Guidelines for physicians for evidence-based analyses of sleep aids.
  • Guidelines and recommendations for diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea in adults.
  • Study results on the actual melatonin content of natural health products and supplements versus what is often listed on labels.
  • A new position statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) on beginning the school day at 8:30 a.m. or later for middle school and high school students.
  • The first study to link binge-watching in young adults with poorer sleep quality, more fatigue and increased insomnia.
  • Updates to the AASM Scoring Manual for Scoring of Sleep and Associated Events.
  • The AASM’s position statement on the use of Home Sleep Apnea Tests (HSAT). These devices are diagnostic medical tools that help physicians provide high quality, sleep tests at home for select adult patients.
  • Information on the possibility of stronger levels of recommendations by the AASM regarding sedative-hypnotic drug use in the management of chronic insomnia.
  • Advice for the field of sleep medicine, including challenges and necessary changes and advances in sleep medicine.
  • The AASM’s Sleep and Transportation Safety Awareness Task Force response to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Federal Railroad Administration Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and request for public comments regarding the evaluation of safety-sensitive personnel for moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

The Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, Maryland recently posted what the organization sees for the future of sleep clinical care and research, even calling this future “revolutionary.”