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The benefits of a good night's sleep

We spend nearly one third of our lives sleeping and it’s highly important for overall health and wellness that this is quality time.

“If you just think about it from a big picture perspective, we generally spend about eight hours sleeping. So that’s almost a third of our lives. If you have issues with that third of your life, it’s going to spill out to so many different facets of what we do,” said Dr. Nikhil Samtani, Sleep Medicine provider and Medical Director at the Skagit Regional Health Center for Sleep Disorders.

Overall health, mental health, ability to focus and other health issues can develop if a person is not sleeping well. Sleep deprivation can impact cardiovascular health in particular, he said. Fortunately, Dr. Samtani notes that Sleep Medicine and research continue to yield new information on the importance of sleep and how to improve the quality of sleep.

The benefits of a good night's sleep

“Compared to a lot of other specialties that have had decades and decades of research, sleep is still a relatively new field. So, every single year, we learn more about the importance of sleep and how it impacts certain organ systems,” said Dr. Samtani. “When we think about what happens when we sleep, we go into these lighter stages of sleep. We go into deep sleep. We go into REM sleep. Anyone with any sort of a Fitbit or sleep tracker will have these terms that are familiar. But what our body generally does is it slows down.”

Dr. Samtani provided details on the various states of sleep, noting:

  • In light stages of sleep, the heart rate and breathing slows.
  • During deeper stages of sleep, the body experiences tissue repair and growth, cell regeneration and strengthening of the immune system.
  • REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which normally happens every 90 minutes as part of the sleep cycle, is essential to cognitive function, memory, learning and creativity.

One way to diagnose the quality of sleep in a patient is a sleep study, which can be a simple at-home sleep test where the patient takes a device home, sleeps with it and returns it the next day. These studies mainly look at breathing.

Or, the patient may need an overnight sleep study at a facility such as the Center for Sleep Disorders.

“If you’re having snoring or sleep apnea type disorders, the home study is a good snippet into what’s happening during that one night of sleep,” Dr. Samtani said. “But, if you’re looking for a little bit more information about sleep stages, movements at night and heart function, we get a lot more signals and information when we do it in the sleep lab.”

Dr. Samtani describes the difference between “harmless” snoring and more serious sleep apnea.

“There can be this benign or harmless snoring when the muscles relax when you’re sleeping and it can cause some vibrations which result in the noise of snoring. But as long as you’re still getting air and you’re getting your oxygen, that’s OK. We call that benign or harmless snoring. It may be annoying people around you, but not necessarily harming yourself,” Dr. Samtani said.

“If this snoring is causing collapses of your airway, and, as a result, you’re having these dips in oxygen or your body is responding by releasing adrenaline, they’re trying to wake you up, then it’s not a benign thing anymore,” he said. “And that’s when you fall under this whole sleep apnea side of the spectrum. It puts a strain on the heart, puts a strain on the brain and so many different organ systems.”

Dr. Samtani notes that caffeine plays a role in sleep quality.

“Most studies that have evaluated this, they state that caffeine stays in your system for between nine to 14 hours. So, the general consensus in the field is to just cut off the caffeine around noon, so it doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep at night,” he said. “We have some patients, yes, who can fall asleep even with the caffeine. But with the caffeine in the system, it affects a lot of sleep fragmentation. And, it inhibits those sleep cycles from occurring the way they should. So, even though it might not affect the ability to fall asleep, it affects their ability to stay asleep and have those critical functions occurring at night the way they’re supposed to.”

New developments in technology are creating new options for patients with sleep disorders.

“I personally think that there’s so much technological incorporation with Sleep Medicine, which I find fascinating. When you think about the common ways to treat disorders such as sleep apnea, it involves c-PAP therapy, which is sort of this breathing machine that blows air into you,” he said. “There are so many technological advancements that occur on a yearly basis. We have these nerve stimulators now that are out in the market where you get a surgically implanted pacemaker that stimulates your airway muscles while you’re sleeping to keep the airway open and prevent those sleep apnea disturbances from occurring.”

For a sleep medicine appointment, call 360-428-2550.