Tell your patients: Losing just 16 minutes of sleep is bad

It is important for our patients to know that even just losing a little bit of sleep at night can affect how productive you are at work. In fact, losing just 16 minutes of sleep is bad. It can play a negative role in your patient’s daily life.

A study from researchers at the University of South Florida looked at 130 employees who work in information technology and have at least one child in school. Over the course of eight days, participants logged how much they slept and answer a series of questions.

What the results showed

Questions in the survey focused on how often participants experienced off-task or distracting thoughts during the day on a scale of zero to four. The results showed that participants who lost as little as 16 minutes of sleep on a  nightly basis had more distracting thoughts. This made it more difficult for them to finish their tasks at work.

For adults older than 18 years old, it is important to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, though, about one-third of Americans are not getting that required amount of sleep per night.

We need to make sure our patients are getting an appropriate amount of sleep each night to ensure their health and well-being.

What is the burden of sleep apnea?

It is estimated that more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep loss and sleep apnea affect an individual’s performance, safety and quality of life. Almost 20 percent of all serious car crash injuries in the general population are associated with sleepy drivers, independent of alcohol impact. Sleep loss and sleep disorders can also play a large role on the economy. This adds to the burden of sleep apnea. When we take a look at the high estimated costs to society if sleep apnea is left untreated, it costs far more than what would be incurred by delivering adequate treatments.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on direct medical costs associated with doctor visits, hospital services, prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. When compared to healthy individuals, those who suffer from sleep loss and sleep disorders are less productive. These individuals also experience an increased healthcare utilization and an increased likelihood of accidents.

The Effects of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Despite clear signs and symptoms, many patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) go undiagnosed. In return, patients who finally get diagnosed with OSA might have had obvious symptoms of the disorder for an average of seven years. During those seven years, patients report visiting their family physician about 17 times and a sub-specialist about nine times. With repeated visits, these patients are not receiving the treatment they need to lead healthy, happy lives.

Patients can also experience a number of health conditions associated with untreated sleep apnea, including:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Disease
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Acid Reflux
  • Obesity

With these negative effects of untreated sleep apnea, it is vital that we as dentists take charge of our services so that we can offer patients the best care possible—and that includes adding specialty practices in the area of dental sleep medicine.

Air pollution might increase the risk of sleep apnea

We already struggle with global warming and air pollution harming our environment and the animals that live in it. But, what is making matters even worse is that air pollution is also increasing our patients’ risk of sleep apnea. So, what do we do with this? Hold your breath? No, that is never a good solution.

According to new research published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, the ill effects of air pollution may be causing some people to lose sleep. Martha E. Billings, MD, MSc, and co-authors of “The Association of Ambient Air Pollution with Sleep Apnea: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis,” there is a link between obstructive sleep apnea and increases in two of the most common air pollutants: fine particulate pollution, known as PM2.5, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a traffic-related pollutant.

Odds of sleep apnea increase

Given that air pollution causes airway irritation, swelling and congestion, it appears that it was detrimental to sleep. It also might affect the parts of the brain and central nervous system that control breathing patterns and sleep.

Researchers used air pollution measurements gathered from hundreds of MESA Air and Environmental Protection Agency monitoring sites in six U.S. cities, plus local environment features and sophisticated tools. In doing this, they were able to estimate air pollution exposures at each participant’s home.

After conducting this study, the researchers found that a participant’s odds of having sleep apnea increased by:

  • 60 percent for each 5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) increase in yearly PM5 exposure.
  • 39 percent for each 10 parts per billion increase in yearly NO2.

To summarize the study, air quality improvements may have an unrecognized benefit: better sleep health. Understanding the risk of sleep apnea and air pollution is important to helping your patients.

Less than 6 hours of sleep can hurt blood vessels

If our patients are not getting enough sleep, it can lead to health problems. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, there is a potential link between getting 6 hours of sleep a night and atherosclerotic lesions–the buildup of cholesterol in the wall of your blood vessel–in different blood vessels of the body.

This buildup can keep growing larger, progressively narrowing the vessel. Picture reducing a four lane highway to three, two, one or even no lanes. That is what happens to blood vessels when patients get 6 hours of sleep or less a night.

What happens to the blood vessel?

When the blood vessel gets too narrow, it can no longer provide enough blood and oxygen to whatever parts of the body depend on the blood vessel. This might be your heart, your brain, your kidney or any other part of your body. Plaque can also break off and travel through your bloodstream, which can continue to cause further harm to your health and well-being.

There is a growing body of evidence that less and worse sleep could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. When you sleep, that is the time for your body to heal and restore itself, which can include fixing the damage in your blood vessel walls.

How this factors in with sleep

The researchers used statistical analysis to determine if there was an association between sleep length or quality, and the presence of atherosclerotic lesions. The results were not good for those individuals who only sleep for a short period of time.

For those who got less than six hours of sleep a night were 27 percent more likely to have atherosclerotic lesions in various arteries than those who got seven to eight hours of sleep a night. The 20 percent with the worst quality of sleep were those who woke up the most and had the most movement in their sleep. These individuals were 34 percent more likely to have atherosclerosis compared to others who got better sleep.

It is important that we help our patients get a better night’s sleep to ensure their overall health and well-being.