Sleep disorders focus of Science Cafe

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August 7th, 2013

Omaha, NE — There’s more to a good night’s sleep than counting sheep.
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Sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome are a few of the topics touched on during the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s  Science Café at The Slowdown Tuesday night.

Dr. Michael Summers, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at UNMC said people may be surprised to know that waking up at the same time every morning is more important than going to bed at the same time every night.

“The most important thing you can do for your sleep in general is establish a routine,” he said. “It’s when you get out of a routine that you tend to have problems with your sleep.”

Summers said that sleep medicine is arguably the youngest field in the discipline of medicine. Most research about sleep has been discovered within the last 50 years.

“REM sleep was discovered in 1953, so there are people who have been alive longer than when we knew REM sleep even existed,” Summers said. “A lot of what we know is relatively new and what we know about sleep is very little.”

Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to a number of medical issues including strokes, hypertension, heart attacks and even death. There is an increased risk of sleep apnea as a person ages and men are also more likely to suffer with the disorder than women. Summers says the biggest controllable factor associated with sleep apnea is weight.

While there are factors that can prevent or eliminate sleep apnea, everyone is predisposed to insomnia. Summers said there is usually a major life event such as the birth of a child, divorce or stress that triggers the development of the disorder. Depression and anxiety are the two most common factors in developing insomnia, according to Summers.

“Insomnia is a major problem,” he said. “It’s a very difficult thing to get to the bottom of. Usually there is a reason why someone has insomnia. No one is born with insomnia, but everyone has variability of where they are and when they are going to have systems.”

Summers said treatment options vary for each disorder, but there are a few things people can do on their own to relieve symptoms. He said eliminating naps, not eating before bed and regular exercise are key to a good nights sleep.

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