Quality Sleep Doesn’t Just Mean Counting Sheep

Salt Lake City, UT — (ReleaseWire) — 03/15/2022 — In theory, sleep should be just be a matter of closing the eyes and nodding off. But for many, this isn’t the case. Falling asleep is more difficult, and once asleep, getting a full night of truly restorative sleep can be even more difficult.

One of the culprits behind the lack of restorative sleep is obstructive sleep apnea.

“It is by far the top sleep disorder we see in our clinic,” said Dr. Kirk Watkins, medical director of the Intermountain Healthcare St. George Sleep Center. “It makes up 90 percent of what we do.”

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder marked by pauses in breathing of 10 seconds or more, and is often brought to the attention of a physician by the spouse of the patient who is tired of dealing with their partner’s snoring.

“The classic patient comes in as a result of the spouse complaining about snoring and has even witnessed the patient stop breathing during the night,” Dr. Watkins said. “The patient generally does not wake up feeling refreshed and struggles with daytime sleepiness and fatigue. They just don’t feel good.”

For some, those symptoms are enough to seek out a treatment, while other patients may believe the problem is exaggerated or imagined, offering such explanations like, “I’ve just never been a morning person,” or “I don’t fall asleep during the day if I keep moving.”

“None of us want to have something wrong with us,” Dr. Watkins said. “If we are get diagnosed with a sleep disorder then the doctor is going to suggest we do something uncomfortable, like use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) at night. As a result, patients often delay testing until they feel terrible enough to want a solution.”

But the potential health risks are more than just feeling a little sleepy during the day.

“There are long-term consequences to untreated sleep apnea,” Dr. Watkins said. “Mostly vascular issues, but it impacts everything. The only organ that is not affected by sleep apnea is the one that doesn’t require blood supply, and they all need blood supply.”

One of the main goals for Dr. Watkins and his colleagues at the St. George Sleep Center is to educate the public on the benefits of treatment and how to work through the difficulties associated with treatment. The result should be better quality sleep and improved daytime wakefulness.

“If a patient comes in and doesn’t learn something from us, they didn’t get what they paid for,” Dr. Watkins said. “That’s a different mindset for people. Normally when you think of going to a doctor you just get a prescription, but when it comes to sleep there is so much people don’t know. They need more information to make better decisions.”

Conversations with a sleep specialist like Dr. Watkins might include everything from the causes of sleep apnea to the consequences and the possible treatments. One thing he tends to emphasize is that the treatments have come a long way in terms of comfort and efficacy.

“CPAP is much better than it used to be,” Dr. Watkins said. “Oral appliance therapy is also covered by many insurance companies and it can be effective for many patients, though generally not as likely to be fully therapeutic compared to CPAP.”

Even patients who have experienced success with oral appliance therapy for several years may begin to notice a decrease in its effectiveness over time.

“Often it’s just a consequence of having too many birthdays,” Dr. Watkins said, noting that the older the patient, and also the heavier the patient, the less effective oral appliance therapy will be.

Diagnosing sleep apnea is generally done via a sleep test, either performed in a sleep center or during an at-home monitored test. Each option comes with its own set of pros and cons.

“The most popular option with insurance companies is the home test, because it costs less,” Dr. Watkins said. “It is generally more palatable for people to be tested at home as well, but you can get a false negative from a home test. We talk about all the possibilities before sending a patient home with the test.”

For more information on overcoming sleep disorders, see Intermountain Sleep Centers or consult a primary care physician. From there, options including an appointment with a sleep specialist can be pursued.

Kirk G. Watkins, MD, is a practicing physician specializing in Sleep Medicine in St. George, UT, and a member of the Intermountain Medical Group.

About Intermountain Healthcare
Located in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 25 hospitals, 225 clinics, the Intermountain Medical Group with some 2,700 employed physicians and advanced care practitioners, a health plans division called SelectHealth, Homecare, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information, see Intermountain Healthcare or the Intermountain Healthcare Blog.

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Media Relations Contact

Erin Go
Media Relations
Intermountain Healthcare
Telephone: 1-801-507-7455
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Web: https://intermountainhealthcare.org/services/sleep-medicine/intermountain-sleep-disorders-center/