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January 28, 2009 > Do You Wake Up Feeling Rested or Like You Ran a Marathon?

Do You Wake Up Feeling Rested or Like You Ran a Marathon?

Washington Hospital Seminar Focuses on Sleep Apnea

Do you wake up in the morning feeling tired? Do you snore? If so, you could have sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that keeps you from getting a good night's rest.

Lack of sleep can seriously impact your health. Yet millions of Americans walk around each day half asleep or worse - suffering from chronic illnesses - because they aren't getting enough sleep.

"Sleep apnea is a common problem, but unfortunately it often goes undiagnosed and untreated," said Dr. Nitun Verma, who specializes in sleep medicine at Washington Hospital. "Only one in 10 people with obstructive sleep apnea get help. There are a lot of people suffering from depression, high blood pressure, diabetes and other health problems that are really being caused, or at least exacerbated, by lack of sleep."

Verma will present an upcoming seminar at Washington Hospital, titled "Sleep Disturbances and Sleep Apnea." The seminar is scheduled for Tuesday, February 3, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, MD Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register, call (800) 963-7070.

Apnea is a Greek word that means "without breath." People with sleep apnea actually stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, in some cases hundreds of times a night. A common symptom of sleep apnea is snoring.

"We used to think some people just snore," Verma said. "Spouses would joke about it. But now we know it's no laughing matter. It's not very common that people snore and don't have sleep apnea."

Anyone can have sleep apnea, including children. Untreated sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency and headaches.

"If you are a restless sleeper, tired during the day or snore, or have chronic health problems, you should attend this seminar," said Verma, who will explain how the airways work and what causes sleep apnea, as well as the subtle signs to look for in sleep and during waking hours. "I am a fan of teaching people how their bodies work. That way they can tell when it's not working properly."

Anyone who thinks they could have sleep apnea should take Washington Hospital's quiz at The one-of-a-kind quiz was created by experts and can accurately assess your chances of having sleep apnea.
Getting a Good Night Sleep

While sleep is necessary for good health, scientists still don't know exactly why we sleep.

"We used to think sleep is a way for the brain to rest," Verma said. "But as we do more research, we find the brain is very active during sleep."

Sleep apnea occurs when the airways become blocked during sleep. The brain kicks the body into the "fight or flight" mode so the body will take a breath. That means people with sleep apnea are being startled awake sometimes hundreds of times a night, making a restful night's sleep impossible.

"Blood pressure and heart rate are supposed to drop when we sleep, but they don't for people with sleep apnea," Verma said. "That can really take a toll on the body."

He will also talk about treatments for sleep apnea, which include dental devices that help prevent obstructions, surgery to remove obstructions and open the airways, and the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, which gently blows pressurized room air through the airways.

Because sleep apnea so often goes undiagnosed, it's important to see a sleep specialist like Verma if you think you may have a sleep disorder. Washington Hospital will open its new sleep clinic at the end of January to better diagnose and treat those who may have sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. The sleep clinic will allow doctors to actually monitor patients while they sleep to determine how their brain and other body functions act during sleep.

In fact, Verma himself went for years with undiagnosed sleep apnea. The doctor wasn't diagnosed with the disorder until he decided to specialize in sleep medicine and was monitored in a sleep lab as part of his training.

"So when you consider that with all my medical training up until that point, I still didn't recognize it in myself until I actually had the testing done, you can see why so many cases go undetected," he said. "If there is any possibility your fatigue or health problems are due to lack of sleep, you should get tested for a sleep disorder."

To take the online sleep apnea quiz or to learn more about sleep services offered at Washington Hospital, visit

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