Neurology and Men's Health: Sleep Disorders

Sleep is critical to all areas of health. Sleep disorders and other problems associated with poor sleep contribute to heart disease, eye conditions, poor mood, cancer, and other conditions. Yet many of us, men and women alike, aren’t getting enough sleep. In our final entry in our “Neurology and Men’s Health” series, sleep specialist Andrew Spector, MD, talks about how sleep disorders affect men’s health, and how men or women can recognize the signs of troubled sleep. He also discusses what can be done to help people with sleep disorders get a good night’s rest.

How do sleep disorders and poor sleeping habits affect men’s health and quality of life?
Sleep disorders have been associated with a higher risk of many health and quality of life problems, including the following (not a comprehensive list): cognitive impairment, vocational impairment, social impairment, mood disturbances, accidents, cardiovascular disease, strokes, atrial fibrillation, glaucoma, kidney failure, acid reflux, erectile dysfunction, and cancer.

What can be done to treat sleep disorders?
The most common sleep disorders all have very successful, established treatments. For sleep apnea, CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) can work for almost everyone. Insomnia is treated best with cognitive-behavioral therapy. And there are a variety of medications available for restless legs syndrome.

How can men without sleep disorders improve their sleep?
Typically, the biggest problem facing men without a sleep disorder is inadequate sleep time. This requires a commitment to prioritize sleep.

How can men tell if they’re having sleep problems, and what should men or women do if they think they have one?
The way to know if you have a sleep problem is first to listen to your body. Are you sleepy during the day? Do you wake up and feel rested or do you have to hit the snooze button 3 times? Wearable devices like Fitbits are not necessary for this. You don't need technology to know if you feel good or not. Also, if you have a bed partner, do they complain about you being too loud or moving around restlessly in bed? If your bed partner is worried about you, that's a good clue you should be concerned.

What’s one common misconception about sleep disorders that you encounter among your patients?
The biggest misconception I see is that people assume CPAP is awful and no one ever uses it. It's not true. The majority of my patients do great on CPAP and feel much better for using it.