Sleep disorders prevalent in Hampton Roads, experts say

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One 2013 study that appeared in Applied Ergonomics found that “exposure to light from self-luminous displays may be linked to increased risk for sleep disorders.” (file photo)

Failing to get a good night’s rest can have more of a lasting impact than simply leaving you red-eyed and groggy the next morning.

In fact, sleep disorders can harm an individual’s long term health — and even deflate the national economy in the process.

According to a study from the RAND Corporation, 1.2 million working days are lost in the United States annually due to lack of sleep. And anywhere from 50 to 70 million American adults suffer from a chronic sleep disorder, according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Sleep disorders are a health issue that might hit the Hampton Roads region particularly hard, says Dr. Fred Lindsay, who is the Medical Director of the Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center’s Sleep Center.

According to Sentara Spokesperson Liz Vandendriessche, the Sleep Center sees as many as 70 to 80 patients dealing with sleep disorders every month.

“In Hampton Roads, we’re a 24-hour society,” said Lindsay. “Because of our shipping ports, Navy installations, the shipyards, and other supporting industrial areas, there are lots of second and third shift folks that don’t work nine-to-five jobs.”

“We have more people like watermen and truckers and the military and shipyard workers,” he added. “All of those folks are probably at a slightly higher risk of developing a sleep disorder, just because of the nature of shift work.”

Lindsay also notes that a proliferation of technological distractions is keeping people awake at night. One 2013 study that appeared in Applied Ergonomics found that “exposure to light from self-luminous displays may be linked to increased risk for sleep disorders.”

“It used to be that, if you lived in New York, it was the city that never sleeps,” Lindsay says. “Well, now every city doesn’t sleep.”

Lindsay said that, aside from Sentara’s Sleep Center, there are numerous other sleep centers in the area, including facilities at Sentara Careplex Hospital, Riverside Sleep Centers in Williamsburg and Newport News, and the Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group’s Sleep Health Clinic.

In his practice, Lindsay says he frequently comes into contact with patients that have obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. The Sleep Foundation estimates that 18 million American adults have sleep apnea.

Sentara Sleep Center patient and Williamsburg resident Robert Zornetzer is one such American. By 2011, he found that he could not sleep for more than two to three hours at a time.

“I would be severely tired and lethargic during the day,” Zornetzer says. “I became more irritable. Little things would bother me more. I was not as alert or aware of my surroundings at all times. I was gaining weight, and that is never good. I was not getting a good night’s sleep and that was affecting my life.”

Zornetzer sought out treatment at the Sleep Center, where he was diagnosed with sleep apnea on his first visit.

He says that when he used the center’s Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BPAP) machine, which is designed to deliver pressurized air through a mask into a patient’s airways, he slept for eight hours. It was the first time he’d had a full night’s sleep in several years.

“I just recently was approved for a newer design machine that I have been using for seven months now,” he says. “It literally has changed my life.”

The new machine automatically sends Zornetzer’s sleep results to a server that keeps track of his condition. It allows both Zornetzer and his sleep doctor to review his progress.

“This sleep machine is ultra-quiet,” he said. “I no longer snore so my wife is once again a happy partner.”

Lindsay says that many sleep disorders are underdiagnosed, as people are able to overcompensate and acclimate to certain symptoms. However, issues with sleep can be extremely damaging to an individual’s health, leading to chronic health problems like heart disease, depression, and weight gain, according to Healthline.

Deteriorating health, in turn, can have an impact on personal financial security.

“What we know is that poor sleep equals poor overall health,” Lindsay said. “When you start talking about poor health, every study shows that you miss work and your productivity goes down.”

Áine Cain graduated from the College of William & Mary. She lives in New York.