Droopy eyelids

Have you ever suspected that some of your employees were asleep on the job? Far from being paranoid, you could be right.

An estimated 70 percent of all Americans suffer from sleep problems that not only leave them tired, but also can lead to serious medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

And fatigue from lack of quality sleep contributes to more than 100,000 police-reported highway crashes each year and innumerable workplace accidents.

The National Institutes of Health Center for Sleep Disorders Research estimates that more than 70 million Americans suffer from serious disorders of sleep and wakefulness, adding $15.9 billion to the national health care bill. Sleep disorder symptoms include trouble falling or staying asleep, daytime sleepiness, heavy snoring, unexplained morning headaches, restless legs at night or other unusual sleep behavior.

The importance of getting a good night of sleep is more than just an old wives’ tale. Appropriate amounts of sleep lead to strong cognitive function, high energy levels and better overall health, important factors to staying competitive in today’s fast-paced business world. Physical health, work performance, social relations and even mental health are all directly influenced by the amount and quality of sleep.

Quality sleep helps the body in several ways. Both REM (rapid-eye movement) and NREM (nonrapid eye movement) stages are important to experiencing restful and restorative sleep. The NREM phase is the deepest sleep, providing the most restoration. During this stage, the body’s blood pressure drops, breathing slows, hormones are released and energy is restored.

REM sleep relaxes the body but keeps the brain active. Both states are essential to experiencing quality sleep. Getting the right mix and amount of both REM and NREM sleep will help you maintain your natural sleep architecture and have restful and restorative sleep.

Research has shown strong relationships between the quantity and quality of sleep and many health problems. For example, a lack of sleep may slow growth hormone secretion and increase obesity. As growth hormone secretions decrease, the chance for weight gain increases.

While blood pressure usually falls during the sleep cycle, interrupted sleep can alter this pattern, potentially leading to hypertension and related cardiovascular issues. Data also show that a sleep deficiency can impair the body’s ability to use insulin, which could lead to the beginning of diabetes.

So how do you know if you have a problem that could warrant a sleep test? Use a sleep diary to track your activities. Make every effort to give yourself the best possible sleep by reducing the amounts of caffeine, alcohol, fluids and heavy meals close to bedtime. Nicotine and late-day exercise can also reduce your body’s ability to sleep. Relaxing routines such as a bath or reading before bedtime can help.

Indicators of a possible sleep disorder include the following.

* Trouble falling or staying asleep

* Daytime sleepiness and fatigue

* Heavy snoring

* Obesity

* Unexplained morning headaches

* Frequent urination at night

* Depression or other mood disorders

* Leg kicks or body jerks

* High blood pressure, heart disease, or strokes.

If you suspect you or an employee has a sleeping disorder, it’s important to seek expert assistance. Most sleep specialists will recommend a sleep study that requires an overnight stay in a private sleep-study bedroom.

While you sleep, specialists will observe your sleep patterns from another room and monitor your brain activity, breathing patterns, muscle activity and heart rhythm. All test results are shared with the referring physician, and the specialists will work with you and your physician on treatment options.

When selecting a sleep study center, choose one that provides access to a complete array of specialists including neurologists and pulmonologists, and all specialists should be board-certified.

Sanjiv Tewari, M.D., is medical director of the Montrose Sleep Center at the Akron General Health & Wellness Center. Reach him at (330) 384-6751 or agmc.org.