It is also important to realize the huge scope and prevalence of sleep disorders. More than 85 sleep disorders are recognized by the American Sleep Disorders Association, affecting more than 70 million Americans.
Up to one-third of Americans have symptoms of insomnia - less than 10% of those are identified by primary-care physicians. Sleep-related breathing disorders represent a spectrum of abnormalities that range from simple snoring to sleep apnea (repeated episodes of cessation of breathing during sleep). As highly prevalent as they are, most cases remain undiagnosed and untreated.
- Chronic snoring, for example, is associated with an increased incidence of heart and brain-related diseases. It is present in about 40% of men and 30% of women, with up to half of those affected having sleep apnea.
- The prevalence of sleep apnea (at least 2%-4% of the population) is on par with diabetes and asthma.
- Sleep apnea is a primary risk factor for high blood pressure. As many as 40% of those people are undiagnosed and untreated for high blood pressure. Effective treatment of sleep apnea in patients with high blood pressure leads to a substantial reduction in stroke risk.
- Patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea perform as poorly as drunk drivers and have up to a 15-fold increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.
With the wealth of information and treatment options available for sleep deprivation, much of the suffering, illness from the many related diseases, increase in accident rates, and effects on productivity, performance, concentration, and memory can be avoided.
Increased awareness is the first step, for us individually and the healthcare community. Some researchers suggest that sleep deprivation should be recognized with the same seriousness that has been associated with the societal impact of alcohol.