Charity Lecture Educates Community on Sleep Issues, Disorders

Free session presented by Women’s Leadership Council

It’s probably not news to you that most of us aren’t sleeping enough. Doctors recommend getting eight hours every night, but the average person gets seven or fewer. The reasons why are complicated and varied, from workaholics who choose to burn the midnight oil, to people with actual neurological disorders, Lahey neurologist Paul Gross, MD, told the crowd during a recent public lecture presented by the Women’s Leadership Council. 

The key to getting a good night’s sleep is good “sleep hygiene,” said Dr. Gross, founder and director of Lahey’s Sleep Disorders Centers. He recommends keeping a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and smoking, and using the bed only for sleeping and sex. Exercising before bed can also make it difficult to fall  asleep, as can prolonged exposure to light, such as the light from a cell phone. Sleep aids such as melatonin can be helpful, he says, but he recommends starting with smaller doses of non-addictive medicines, like melatonin, with minimal side effects and increasing dosage as necessary.

Types of sleep disorders

There are several types of sleep disorders, all with different risk factors, Dr. Gross explained as he presented three cases to illustrate the most common issues people face.

Case #1:

A 37-year-old Navy officer couldn’t figure out why he would have so many sleepy spells every day. Getting emotional would cause him to become physically weak, and he sometimes experienced hallucinations. He dealt with these symptoms for 18 years before seeing a doctor, who diagnosed him with narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a condition that often doesn’t present until a patient reaches his/her teenage years. A chemical deficiency causes the patient to become weak and sleepy throughout the day.

Case #2:

Sleep disorders can make you a danger to yourself and others. An overweight, 34-year-old cafeteria worker felt tired every day. He even dozed off while driving. At night, the man snored so loudly his entire family could hear it throughout the house. His doctor found he had sleep apnea, a condition where his airway became obstructed and he stopped breathing during the night, causing his sleep to be interrupted. This man had three risk factors for sleep apnea: his age, his obesity and the fact that he was a man.  

Case #3:

Stress and trauma can also cause people to have difficulty falling asleep (insomnia) or abnormal behaviors while sleeping, such as night terrors, dream anxiety attacks, or REM sleep behavior disorder, where the patient acts out his or her dream. Dr. Gross recounted the story of a 48-year-old patient who suddenly found herself unable to fall asleep at night. It turned out that she worked at a stressful job, took care of teenage children and spent a year caring for her dying father. Her insomnia was induced by stress and trauma.

About the Women’s Leadership Council 

Free public lectures by Lahey experts are just part of the Women’s Leadership Council’s work. The group also raises money for programs at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center and works to educate and engage women as advocates for their families’ health, themselves and the community.

“Education is a key component to good health,” said Liz Sacco, who is on the Council’s Education Committee. “Providing these lectures is a resource for those in the community to take advantage of the experience of our physicians here at Lahey.”

Providing this kind of accurate and current information on women’s health and family health issues is critical to improving preventive care in our communities,” said Carol Wilson, president of NorthBridge Insurance, the lecture series’ sponsor. “As a small business owner, I  think we can serve an important role in connecting our clients, employees and other business associates with valuable community resources.”