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Wake Up! Sleep Problems Increase Risk for Chronic Illness

July 17, 2015
About 117 million Americans have some form of chronic illness or disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The National Sleep Foundation also reports that 37 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea, which occurs when a person’s breathing is disrupted during sleep. These statistics are noteworthy because sleep deprivation and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can increase the risk for some chronic illnesses. Additionally, sleep disorders can worsen the outcome of a chronic illness.

Dr. Raya Wehbeh
Raya Wehbeh, MD, a physician with GBMC’s Sleep Medicine practice and Sleep Center, specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who suffer from sleep disorders. “Research has linked insufficient sleep to an increased risk for developing chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity,” says Dr. Wehbeh, who is board-certified in Neurology and Sleep Medicine. “Controlling a sleep disorder like sleep apnea may help to prevent a person from developing a more serious chronic illness later in life,” she explains. Patients who have already been diagnosed with a chronic illness and are also experiencing symptoms of poor sleep should speak with their primary care physicians as well. “Improving a patient’s quality of sleep often has a positive impact on his or her chronic illness,” notes Dr. Wehbeh.

Fortunately, primary care physicians can refer patients with sleep problems to specialists like Dr. Wehbeh, who perform sleep studies to monitor a patient’s brain waves, breathing patterns, limb movements and snoring. Sleep studies are painless tests that require an overnight stay at GBMC. A technician attaches wires with electrodes to the patient and monitors the resulting activity as the patient sleeps. After interpreting the results, the physician will make a diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment.

People who frequently have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or who are excessively tired throughout the day should speak with a primary care physician about those symptoms instead of ignoring them.
“In addition to speaking with a primary care physician about their symptoms, there are several things that patients can do at home if they’re having difficulty sleeping,” says Dr. Wehbeh. “Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule with a standard bedtime routine, avoid looking at television, computer or phone screens about a half hour before going to bed and allow yourself enough time to get seven or eight hours of sleep each night, which is the recommended amount for most adults.”

Speak with a primary care physician about whether a sleep study or consultation could be beneficial for you or a loved one. If you do not have a primary care physician, visit or call 443-849-GBMC (4262) to find one who is right for you.
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