U prescribes sleep

U sleep experts offer tips to maintain your “sleep hygiene.”

U prescribes sleep

Branden Largent

The University of Minnesota Medical School  has hired its first-ever surgeon specializing in the treatment of sleep disorders.

Jennifer Hsia will teach medical residents how to treat and manage disorders like sleep apnea — the repetitive collapse of a person’s airway while sleeping. For sufferers, these sleep disruptions can occur frequently in a given night.

Hsia said the University recruited her to start a sleep program that would treat sleep disorders in people throughout the state.

Lack of sleep is “an incredibly common complaint,” Hsia said. About 10 percent  of the U.S. population has sleep apnea, which Hsia calls a conservative estimate. Eighty to 90 percent of sleep apnea sufferers go undiagnosed, according to the American College of Physicians.

According to Hsia, surgery includes reconstructing narrow airways to increase their diameter so they’re less prone to
collapse.

People with obstructive sleep apnea are at risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, stroke and diabetes, which is why the disorder has become such a “hot button health issue,” Hsia said.

“Sleep apnea is the price we pay for being able to talk,” said Michael Howell, an assistant professor in the University’s Neurology Department, who specializes in the relationship between sleep and brain function.

Humans are the only primates capable of getting sleep apnea because they have airways pliable enough to talk, Howell said.

“It’s because of that loose scaffolding in the airway that it has a tendency to collapse,” Howell said.

Although sleep apnea occurs more frequently as people age, Hsia said college students can also face the disorder, particularly overweight males.

“I think it’s important that if someone is having significant symptoms that they be evaluated because sleep apnea is not something you want to [let] go untreated for a long period of time,” Hsia said.

Students who snore loudly, have been known to hold their breath or choke in their sleep and who suffer from excessive sleepiness should see a physician who specializes in sleep medicine, she said.