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May 14, 2008 > Women's Center Evening Lecture: Have You Been Having Trouble Sleeping?

Women's Center Evening Lecture: Have You Been Having Trouble Sleeping?

Are you unable to get a good night's sleep because you wake up frequently during the night? Are you tired during the day or feel excessively sleepy? Have members of your family complained about your loud snoring? If so, it's possible you have a common disorder called sleep apnea.

"People who have sleep apnea have pauses in their breathing while they sleep," says Dr. Jason Van Tassel, an otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) physician with Washington Township Medical Group who treats many patients with sleep apnea. "The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are loud snoring, frequent awakenings and daytime fatigue. Other signs of sleep apnea might include morning headaches and dry throat, an inability to concentrate and feelings of irritability or depression."

If you think you or someone in your family may be suffering from sleep apnea, plan on attending a free evening lecture by Dr. Van Tassel on Tuesday, May 20 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Washington Women's Center.

The most common type of sleep apnea is "obstructive" sleep apnea, in which the airway collapses or is blocked during sleep. Any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause the loud snoring. Since sleep apnea occurs only during sleep, most people who have the condition aren't aware of it. It's often the case that a family member or bed partner is the first person to note the loud snoring that can be a sign of sleep apnea.

"Women often ask their male partners to see a doctor to do something about their snoring, because it disrupts the women's sleep, too," Dr. Van Tassel says. "Sleep apnea, in fact, is more prevalent among men, but a significant proportion of women suffer from sleep apnea, too - although they often don't like to admit that they are snoring."

Even children can have sleep apnea, especially if they have large tonsils and adenoids that block air flow. In adults, the most common cause of sleep apnea is obesity because the extra soft fat tissue can thicken the wall of the windpipe, but it can also be caused by structural problems with the nose, throat or base of the tongue.

In addition to resulting in daytime fatigue, untreated sleep apnea can lead to more serious complications, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and irregular heartbeats. It also can increase your risk for obesity and diabetes.

Because there are no blood tests or other simple means of diagnosing sleep apnea, it usually requires a sleep study, including a polysomnogram (PSG) that electronically transmits and records specific physical activities while you sleep.

"People who are diagnosed with mild cases of sleep apnea can sometimes solve the problem by making some lifestyle changes such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, stopping smoking and avoiding sleeping on their backs," Dr. Van Tassel notes.

"Some other people may be helped by using a special nighttime mouthpiece that adjusts the lower jaw and tongue to help keep the airway open while they sleep," he adds. "The most common treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask that fits over the nose or the nose and mouth and gently blows air into the throat. Unfortunately, many patients find the CPAP mask too uncomfortable or too noisy to wear. In those cases, surgery may be required."

Dr. Van Tassel evaluates the benefits of various surgical options for his patients on a case-by-case basis.

"Years ago, the surgical treatments for sleep apnea worked only about half of the time," he says. "There have been some dramatic improvements in surgical techniques lately, however, and we now have procedures that work very effectively. For example, we can perform surgery on the base of the tongue to prevent it from collapsing into the throat. We also can trim back excess tissue at the back of the soft palate, which increases the width of the airway at the throat opening."

Dr. Van Tassel also performs a new procedure called the Pillar Palatal Implant, which reduces the movement or vibration of the soft palate with implants that stiffen it. "Many people are opting for the implant procedure because they don't want to live with using a CPAP mask indefinitely."

To register for the "Have You Been Having Trouble Sleeping?" seminar or to obtain more information about the Women's Center programs and support groups, call (510) 608-1356. The Washington Women's Center is located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, across the street from Washington Hospital. For more info on the Women's Center, visit the Washington Hospital website at, click on the link for Women's Health under "Programs and Services," and then click the link for Wellness Classes and Services.

Seminar: Have You Been Having Trouble Sleeping?
Location: Washington Women's Conference Room, First Floor
Date: Tuesday, May 20
Time: 6:30 to 7 p.m. - A time to share, network and trade tips for living well.
7 to 8 pm. - Guest speaker: Dr. Jason Van Tassel

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