About 70 million Americans endure chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the resulting sleep deprivation leads to problems at work, at home and with their health.
One of those Americans is Dean Camlin, of Westminster.
"They say everybody should get eight hours of sleep a night, and I probably get four or five," he said. "I have gotten in the habit of taking an afternoon nap on the weekends. Well, it won't be long before I start to rely on that during weekdays, too."
After having a sleep study done at the Carroll Hospital Sleep Disorders Center, Camlin discovered he had sleep apnea, a condition in which a person stops breathing during sleep as the airway is closed off by soft tissue. Because he had been having problems with his continuous positive air pressure, or CPAP, machine — a device that uses gentle air pressure to keep the airway open — he came to the annual Carroll Hospital Sleep Awareness Day on Wednesday to see some alternate mask designs.
"My father has a CPAP machine also that he swears by; he's 85," Camlin said. "He says it really helps him sleep. It wasn't something that was exotic to me."
The importance of good sleep is often taken for granted, said Dr. Emerson Wickwire, director of the insomnia program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who was interviewed over the phone.
"The average American adult spends roughly 25 years of his or her life asleep, but most folks haven't spent too much time thinking about sleep," he said. "It's sort of like a car — you don't pay much attention to it until it goes wrong."
Many things can go wrong, from sleep apnea to insomnia disorder to simply not getting enough sleep. Whatever the case, Wickwire said that getting enough quality sleep — quality often being more important than total quantity — is vital to health because sleep is important for every organ system in the body.
"If you are having trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep, particularly if you wake up frequently during the night, or if it feels like you have shallow sleep, these are warning signs … that your sleep isn't as deep and restorative as it could be," he said. "The most important marker for a good night's sleep is waking up feeling refreshed, centered and ready for the adventure of a new day."
Good sleep hygiene can help those who are not getting enough quality rest but might not have a clinically defined sleep disorder.
"If you want to get a good night's sleep, first develop a sacred sleep environment: Your bedroom should be cool, dark, quiet and uncluttered," Wickwire said. "Next, work backward and develop a soothing pre-sleep ritual to enter that space each night."
There's also the activity, or lack thereof, that a person engages in during the daytime that can affect the quality of sleep, said Caitlin Cross, a personal trainer with the Central Maryland Rehabilitation Center in Westminster. She came to the event in Carroll to answer questions on the intersection of sleep and fitness.
"We want to educate people on how exercise is important for sleep. Just 15 to 35 minutes a day can help you sleep so much better, not wake up as much during the night," she said. "A lot of people are missing that aspect. They have the diet, they're working all day, but they're not exercising."
Wickwire summed up good sleep hygiene with a simple formula.
"Move more, eat less and spend time with your friends," he said.
Good sleep hygiene can't fix everything, however, and there are some sleep disorders that can require treatment. The most common of these, Wickwire said, is insomnia disorder, which typically means a person is taking 30 minutes or more to fall asleep or is awake for 30 minutes or more during the night.
Insomnia worsens in people as they age, affecting women more than men, although it can affect people of any gender and at any age, Wickwire said, and although there are medications available for insomnia, he said the best treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy.
"The easiest way to understand [cognitive behavioral therapy] for insomnia is that an expert helps you identify the specific causes of your sleep problem and then retrains your body to sleep," he said. "No pill can teach your body to sleep."
Other than not getting enough sleep, the most costly — and potentially deadly — sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea, Wickwire said.
"Apnea comes from the Greek, which means literally, 'no air,' or, 'no breath,' and patients with [obstructive sleep apnea] begin to suffocate over and over throughout the night — but they do not know it," he said. "In fact, most patients with sleep apnea believe they are sleeping just fine."
Treatment for sleep apnea can include weight loss, CPAP machines to keep the airway open, oral appliances and, in a last resort, surgery, Wickwire said.
Unfortunately for people who might be suffering from a sleep disorder, very few primary-care doctors have any training in sleep medicine, Wickwire said.
"It's not their fault that they are so busy," he said, "But patients frequently fall through the cracks or sleep complaints are missed altogether."
Resources such as Carroll Hospital's Sleep Disorders Center exist for those people who think they might have a sleep disorder and would like to dig deeper. And that's something Camlin, for one, would recommend highly.
"I would encourage anybody who [thinks] that sleep problems are embarrassing … to realize that there are many more people than they might be aware of who are being helped," he said. "It's worth investigating."
For more information on sleep disorders and their treatments, go to the Carroll Hospital Sleep Disorders Center website at http://www.carrollhospitalcenter.org/sleep-disorders-center.