Sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia are serious and need to be treated by a medical professional, but too often people take treatment into their own hands.  Attempting to self-diagnose or self-treat a sleep disorder can have serious consequences as the recent news about Jason Weid from the Green Bay Packers football organization, demonstrates.  For Mr. Weid, the long term consequences were addiction and the loss of his career.  For others, the consequences can be even more devastating.

Sleep apnea affects more than 18 million Americans according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) and can be life threatening.  During sleep, people with this condition stop breathing for periods of time that can last from several seconds to several minutes.  These periods of time are called apneas and can occur as many as 30 times an hour.  People with sleep apnea can sleep for hours and wake up tired because the pauses in breathing diminish the quality of sleep they are getting.  Those with sleep apnea are at increased risk for hypertension, heart disease, memory problems, mood disorders, drowsy driving, and even sudden death.

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in America and the NSF’s Sleep in America poll shows that more than 80% of respondents had some difficulty getting the sleep they need a few nights each week.  People with sleep apnea can also experience periods of insomnia.  This can be dangerous if not treated appropriately; common medications for treating insomnia should not be used by people with sleep apnea.  This only further highlights how important it is for anyone who is having trouble sleeping to talk to a doctor rather than trying to treat the symptoms themselves.

This is where people like Mr. Weid get into trouble.  Treatment for sleep disorders can be highly effective when it is prescribed and overseen by a physician.  But self-treating sleep disorders, especially when it involves self-medicating, can be very dangerous.  Dosing is an important consideration as over the counter (OTC) sleep aids can have serious side effects if not taken correctly.  Most people don’t realize that the majority of over the counter sleep aids contain antihistamines, which act as a sleep inducer. However, people can quickly develop a tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines when taken frequently, so the longer you take them, the less likely they are to make you sleepy.

The NSF advises that OTC sleep aids and herbal remedies should also be taken under the care of a physician as they are not subjected to the same degree of testing as pharmaceuticals and can cause complications with other medical conditions.

The first step to an effective treatment plan is accurate diagnosis.  For sleep apnea, the NSF  says the most common diagnostic tool is a sleep study.  This type of test, which is performed at a sleep center and generally requires an overnight stay, can also be effective at diagnosing the underlying cause of insomnia.  Once diagnosis is confirmed, an appropriate treatment plan can be established and the effectiveness of the treatment, including monitoring any side effects, can be gauged by the physician.

Don’t make a rookie mistake.  If you are struggling with sleep, see your doctor before reaching for a pill or bottle that promises a good night sleep.

About Valley Sleep Center:

Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients.  Their Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists consist of experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice across a multitude of sleep related disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hypertension, sleepwalking, and pediatric sleep problems.  They accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare.  For more information contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900;