We’ve all had trouble sleeping at one time or another. But for many, getting a good night’s sleep would be a dream come true.
Sleep disorders are more common than you might think, affecting more than 50 million people in the United States. Problems range from disrupted sleep schedules to snoring, insomnia to sleep apnea and worse.
The public health consequences of sleep disorders are staggering as well. According to the American Sleep Association, for example, drowsy driving is responsible for more than 1,000 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries in the U.S. annually.
The more we learn, the more apparent it becomes that sleep is vital to our overall health. Sleepiness can severely impact a person’s ability to focus and achieve their full potential. And, it affects people of all ages, from babies to the elderly.
Humans are highly attuned to the Earth’s 24-hour daytime-nighttime rotation. Our daily cycle of physical, mental and behavioral changes are known as the “circadian” rhythm. Light induces wakefulness and darkness promotes sleep naturally. But in today’s modern society, artificial light, technology and busy schedules can interrupt this cycle, causing what doctors call circadian misalignment.
Teenagers are especially vulnerable, according to Helena Molero, MD, sleep medicine physician, who specializes in pediatrics, pulmonary and sleep medicine. Dr. Molero says the demands of school, sports, part-time jobs and social activities can be overwhelming for teens and young adults, especially for “night owls.” Coping with sleep problems “can be really tough for parents, too,” Dr. Molero adds.
Dr. Molero is one of University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians) experts at the M Health Fairview’s Sleep Medicine Clinic where hundreds of patients are finding treatments to help cope with their sleep disorders. The clinic fosters a multi-disciplinary approach to treating complex disorders and co-morbidities, including those related to chronic conditions such as obesity, pulmonary and cardiac diseases. What makes the clinic exceptional is their team approach, with M Physicians and M Health Fairview partnering to diagnose and provide treatment.
M Physicians’ Tips for Better Sleep
- Maintain regular wake-up times with no more than one hour difference each day. “It takes time for the body to adjust,” Dr. Molero says. A person who stays up late on the weekends can have “jet lag” on Monday, for example.
- Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening.
- Avoid electronic devices before bedtime. The “blue light” emitted from smartphones, pads and laptop computers stimulates the brain and can inhibit the ability to sleep. Do not allow kids to take their phones to bed.
- Get light exposure in the morning, which can be a challenge in northern climates during winter months. For some patients, Molero recommends “light boxes” to help with “winter blues,” although even just turning on lots of household lights can help.
- For parents of infants, babies should sleep on their backs. Don’t cover the baby’s face, don’t have the baby sleep in the same bed with parents and don’t expose babies to smoke.
The wide range of expertise and collaborative approach makes Dr. Molero and her team’s care state-of-art. Dr. Snigdha Pusalavidyasagar, University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians) sleep medicine physician, says M Physicians’ enables and encourages a collaborative approach, which is “always more robust.” She and Dr. Molero often partner with other M Physicians colleagues with expertise in neurology, dentistry, cardiovascular or behavioral medicine. This combination is a powerful advantage in treating patients with highly complicated disorders.
Dr. Pusalavidyasagar says she is “very passionate about the field of sleep medicine.” She sees adult patients with sleep disorders, including those with restless legs, sleep disorder breathing (e.g., obstructive sleep apnea), including in complex conditions, like congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation (a-fib).
“The importance of sleep is often neglected,” Dr. Pusalavidyasagar said. “People should be aware that sleep is essential for optimum health across all of our lifespans.” To increase awareness, Dr. Pusalavidyasagar gives lectures and seminars at conferences, schools and health fairs. She and Dr. Molero are members of the Minnesota Sleep Society and both work to advance the science of sleep medicine. Dr. Pusalavidyasagar is especially interested in researching connections between sleep and women’s health.
Both doctors say they get great satisfaction from helping people live healthier, happier lives. Dr. Molero, who has a young child, says she now knows from her own experience how important sleep is and how challenging it can be for young parents. “I was a doctor before I was a mom,” she said. “When you have a newborn that is sleeping soundly in your arms, there is nothing better.”
Sleep Awareness Week is March 8-14, 2020. To learn more, go to the National Sleep Foundation website.
To schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric sleep experts, call 612‑365‑6777