Is Getting too Little Sleep Making You Sick?

Published Fall 2012 in Broward Health Magazine

Do you wake up with morning headaches or have high blood pressure? Do you have difficulty with acid reflux? Has your child been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? If so, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) may be to blame.

OSA is the most common sleep disorder. It begins with a blockage in the upper airway that interferes with breathing normally when asleep. The blockage leads to loud snoring, followed by silence, then choking or gasping for air, causing one to arouse momentarily from sleep or to wake up completely.

The most recognized symptoms are daytime sleepiness, fatigue, memory loss, mood swings, trouble concentrating and poor academic performance in children.

OSA is a serious condition, because quality sleep influences the regulation of body weight and metabolism, and insufficient sleep can lead to obesity and contribute to medical problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. In fact, less than seven hours of sleep may alter hormone levels that regulate the appetite, which can lead to overeating. Furthering the problem is that OSA reduces daytime energy, which results in decreased physical activity and, ultimately, weight gain.

In addition to weight problems, OSA can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes and is associated with insulin resistance and a rise in insulin secretion to maintain normal glucose tolerance.

Lack of sleep is also linked to more aggressive breast cancers and may raise the risk of cancer recurrence in older women. Data on over 400 breast cancer patients revealed women who averaged less than six hours of sleep a night before their diagnoses had more aggressive tumors than women who slept longer.

Adults aren’t the only ones who can suffer from OSA. In children, there has been an increased association between ADHD and sleep apnea. OSA can cause mild inattention or hyperactivity. Sleep disordered breathing may contribute to some mild ADHD-like symptoms, including decreased attention span and learning problems.

If you are exhibiting OSA symptoms, a simple overnight sleep study can be conducted to diagnose sleep apnea. A sleep study should also be considered before starting long-term drug treatment for ADHD.

Sleep studies can be performed at Broward Health Coral Springs or Broward Health Medical Center and involve monitoring breathing patterns, as well as brain wave activity to determine light or deep sleep, blood oxygen levels, heart rhythm, legmovements and snoring.

For more information about sleep disorders, visit

Melissa Brooks, MBA, RPSGT, CRT, is the clinical coordinator of the Sleep Disorders Center at Broward Health Coral Springs.


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