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April 3, 2012 > Chasing Sheep at Night?

Chasing Sheep at Night?

Don't Let Sleep Problems Get the Better of You

It's easy to think of sleep as an unproductive time when we're not getting anything done - and also to play down the negative impact impaired sleeping habits can have on our daily lives. However, undiagnosed sleep problems eventually can start to take their toll on our waking hours, making them hard to ignore.

An estimated 50 to 70 million adults in the United States have chronic sleep or wakefulness disorders, and the percentage of adults who report averaging less than seven hours of sleep per night has increased by about one third since the 1980s, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Furthermore, bad sleep can be downright dangerous. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths.

Washington Township Medical Foundation (WTMF) sleep disorders specialist Nitun Verma, M.D., says getting to the root cause of the problem is the first step toward restful sleep.

"There are 101 reasons that people are not sleeping, and it's important to figure out the correct diagnosis and treatment for each individual," he says.

Dr. Verma - who is Medical Director of Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders and board-certified in adult and pediatric sleep medicine - is quick to mention that the fact that patients play a key role in getting help.

"You are the only person that can decide if sleep problems are impacting your quality of life," he explains. "If you're frequently tired during the day, you have a hard time falling asleep at night, or you wake frequently during the night, it may be time to get professional help.

"Our center offers free online quizzes to help patients determine if they need to see the doctor. The quizzes are scientifically valid and can tell patients if they are at low risk or high risk for a sleep disorder."

Dr. Verma advises patients to do their research prior to seeking help, pointing out that Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders is one of only two accredited sleep centers in the Bay Area, and there are many facilities without accreditation. He also recommends that both those who live locally and those outside the area to use the Center's Web site as a resource.

There are many different types of sleep disorders, including: insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome (RLS), sleep-related eating disorder, daytime sleepiness, teeth grinding during sleep, narcolepsy, sleepwalking, and others. However, one of the most frequent and serious diagnoses that Dr. Verma sees is snoring or pausing in breathing during the night - also known as sleep apnea.

"It's a difficult diagnosis because there are some people with sleep apnea that don't snore and, conversely, a lot of patients that do snore and don't have sleep apnea," he explains. "Snoring is sometimes just an annoyance, but if you're actually pausing in breathing during the night, it's serious. Think of it this way - if someone pinches your nose, are you going to wake up calmly like nothing is wrong? No, you're not."

Dr. Verma likens it to waking up feeling as you would during an emergency situation - panicked and out of breath. And strangely enough, he says these events are most often not remembered the next morning, which means you may not even know there's a problem.

"Your pulse is up, and you're breathing hard," he says. "It's this fight or flight response that can lead to serious health problems. If you have a choice between sleep and stress, you obviously want to choose sleep."

Perhaps most significantly, sleep apnea can put a strain on the cardiovascular system because of the sudden drops in blood oxygen levels, increasing the chances of high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and other vascular conditions. The good news is that the center's staff focuses on finding the right treatment options for each individual patient.

"We're not rigid about treatment options; we help our patients find the right treatment for their lifestyle," Dr. Verma says.

For those who suffer from sleep apnea and other sleep-related disorders, as well as users of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, Dr. Verma facilitates a regular support group at Washington Hospital called AWAKE.

The group meets the fourth Wednesday of each month from 11 a.m. to noon. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 27, in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Room A, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont across the street from the main hospital.

To learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders at Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders, visit or call (510) 744-6726 or (510) 744-1129 after hours.

Your health care, your way

For more information about Washington Township Medical Foundation and its more than 60 board-certified physicians with expertise in a broad range of medical specialties - from neurosurgery to pediatrics - visit

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