We know driving or making other decisions while under the influence of alcohol is dangerous. Drowsiness can be just as detrimental. Inadequate sleep depresses motor skills, sharp thinking and concentration. Sleep deficiency is also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart failure, stroke, diabetes and hypertension. Indeed, the American Sleep Association reports that 50-70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder.
Today, hundreds of Certified PAs combat this health problem by treating sleep disorders, encouraging healthy sleeping habits, and educating patients on sleep's role in holistic wellness.
Certified PAs complete an intensive general medical education, pass rigorous certification and recertification exams, and earn substantial continuing education credits to prepare us to deliver the highest standards of care. We also work closely with collaborating physicians as we move into specialized areas.
I spent six weeks with a pulmonologist learning to treat patients for common sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia. At our sleep center, I consulted patients, ordered in-lab sleep studies, diagnosed patients, and managed treatment plans. On average, a full-time sleep medicine PA may see 60-75 patients each week.
Too often patients misjudge the severity of their symptoms or dismiss the importance of restful sleep altogether. The challenge for clinicians is to convince patients to take their sleep health seriously. We can do so by championing good sleeping habits in every practice setting and specialty and referring the appropriate patients to sleep medicine specialists.
Some common symptoms that brought patients to our sleep centers were:
• Excessive weight: A patient who is overweight and chronically tired should be screened for a sleep disorder. Patients who are tired tend to subsidize tiredness by eating more food, grabbing more caffeine and sugar, and creating a cycle of unhealthy eating habits. The extra weight is a common risk factor for sleep apnea which accounted for about 80 percent of my cases.
• Severe snoring: Snoring alone doesn't confirm one is suffering from a sleep disorder, but a sleep study can determine whether snoring is symptomatic of a more severe problem.
• Daytime drowsiness: I used the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to determine whether excessive sleepiness may be a health concern that warrants further diagnoses. This tool allows patients to self-assess their likelihood of falling asleep during eight normal, low activity situations.
• Witnessed gasping during sleep (observed apneas): Often the patient's partner is concerned because the patient is gasping for air while sleeping and/or having pauses in their breathing prior to the gasping.