Counting sheep not the only way to get some sleep

It's time to get your ZZZs -- especially during May's observance of Better Sleep Month. For some of you, there's no better way to do that than to get a better understanding of sleep apnea.

Many of us take a good night's sleep for granted and tend to wake up restless. Also, many people fail to recognize that sleeping disorders can affect the quality of your life and others around you. Sleep apnea affects more than 20 million people, but most people don't recognize or associate any sleeping difficulties with sleep apnea.

Key signs and symptoms of the condition may include morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, changes in moods or behaviors, loud or disruptive snoring, gasping or choking during naps or sleep, restless sleep, constant exhaustion, drowsiness while driving, difficulty staying alert, showing signs of memory loss, obesity, weight gain, high blood pressure, waking up with dry mouth, job impairment, motor vehicle crashes, experiencing decreased muscle tone, and having an oversized tongue or extra tissue in the airway.

Mental confusion, poor work performances and difficulty in functioning at work or adjusting to a work shift also can be signs of sleep apnea. Dramatic accidents pertaining to lack of sleep have been cited as a significant cause of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, nuclear incidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, and the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. Sleep disorders and disturbances are widespread and can have detrimental affects to our society.

Unfortunately, sleep apnea can affect a person of any age, even children. If left untreated, it can lead to other associated health risks like high blood pressure, obesity, confusion and depression. You should always talk to your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms of a sleep disorder. Your physician may ask you to go have a sleep study. Sleep studies can reveal which type of sleep apnea you may have, which may lead to recommended equipment devices that can help you sleep better.

Blount Memorial Home Equipment Services is an option for up-to-date sleep apnea equipment including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), bi-level positive airway pressure (BI-LEVEL), and auto pap devices and supplies. Our on-staff respiratory therapists will assist you and your family with instructions on the use, care, operation and ongoing maintenance of your equipment.

The staff provides mask fittings, and can offer the latest technology in nasal pillows, nasal masks and full-face masks. Our respiratory therapy staff communicates directly with your physician your performance with the recommended therapy, and we are able to estimate future needs. A supply replacement program can be beneficial in replacing your face masks, nasal pillows or cushions, head gear, chin straps, humidifier chambers and heaters, tubing, and disposable and non-disposable filters.

Receiving treatment for sleep apnea can have many benefits. Obtaining the best quality sleep can lead to you having a more active, fulfilling life. It also can bring an increase in your energy level or effectiveness at home or work, and a reduction to the amount of morning headaches and the severity of irritability. If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. Getting an early start with treatment not only improves the condition, but also your quality of sleep.

Susie Hawkins is a certified respiratory therapist with Blount Memorial Home Equipment Services.

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