A recent study found more that roughly 40 percent of police officers have a sleep disorder. Many weren’t even aware of it, and because of their profession, the effects of the lack of sleep are compromising their safety, and the safety of those around them.
Whatever your profession, getting a good night’s rest can make a huge difference in how you perform at work, at home and on the road the next day.
If you’re struggling to get a good night’s rest, you’re not alone. “Lack of sleep is a huge problem in our country,” says Dr. Jacques R. Conaway, Medical Director of the Sleep Center at Franklin Square Hospital Center. “We are overworked from job and family demands. Modern society has put sleep on the back burner for many.”
Poor sleep can affect daily activities in addition to your overall health. Excessive daytime sleepiness can make it difficult to concentrate at work. It may make people irritable and affect relationships. And driving while tired can cause fatal accidents. Obstructive sleep apnea, one of the most common sleep disorders, is linked to hypertension, heart disease and obesity.
An estimated 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders with another 20 million experiencing occasional problems sleeping. Some of the most common disorders include:
- insomnia, an inability to sleep or remain asleep
- obstructive sleep apnea, in which breathing stops during sleep
- restless legs syndrome, an uncontrollable urge to move the legs
- periodic limb movement disorder, jerks of the arms and legs during sleep
- narcolepsy, uncontrollable urges to sleep at inappropriate times
- shift-work sleep disorder, a condition found in people who work night shifts when their body is telling them it’s time to sleep.
Thankfully, these conditions can be managed effectively with the help of a sleep specialist. Medication may be used for narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome.
Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device—a mask with an attached air pump that keeps the upper airway open during sleep. Relaxation therapy can help those with insomnia by easing tension.
Insomnia also can be caused by poor sleep habits, and changes in behavior may help. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, Dr. Conaway recommends:
- Keeping a regular bedtime and wake-up time
- Avoiding caffeinated drinks after noon
- Not smoking
- Avoiding alcohol before bed
- Unwinding before bed by taking a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to music
- Exercising regularly, but avoiding exercise too close to bedtime
If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, ask yourself these questions:
- Have I had trouble sleeping at least three nights a week for a month or longer?
- Am I falling asleep while driving?
- Am I having problems with concentration or memory at work?
- Am I increasingly irritable or depressed?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, talk with your primary care physician or a sleep specialist. You may be referred for overnight testing – called a sleep study - at a Sleep Center.
“There’s no reason to suffer through sleepless nights and struggle throughout your days,” Dr. Conaway says. “A proper diagnosis and appropriate plan for treatment can help you get the rest you need. It can lead to a better quality of life you for you, and those around you.”