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The truth about sleep


Published: May 07, 2013

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During the transition from childhood to adulthood we have heard a number of old wives’ tales — for instance, if the palm of your right hand is itchy, money will be coming your way. As odd as it seems, there are many people who believe in these tales and they are still being passed on from generation to generation. Are they true? We will leave it up to you to decide, but there are many myths about sleep and misleading information could cause catastrophic or even fatal events.


Snoring: Everyone knows someone that snores and the perception is, snoring is normal. The truth is although snoring can be harmless, it can be life-threatening if associated with a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is characterized by brief pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a serious medical condition that occurs when the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. These episodes may occur 20 or more times per hour and may disrupt the quality of sleep. Eventually the individual is roused gasping for air and normal breathing resumes with a loud snort or choking sound. Persons who are overweight mostly suffer from OSA. Former health minister Dr. Hubert Minnis in 2011 reported that, 70 percent of the Bahamian population was overweight. This suggests that most of our population may be suffering from OSA and not being treated, because most persons believe snoring is normal. OSA does not only affect persons who are overweight, but individuals with small airways as well.

A sleep problem is not harmful: The problem is that the majority of persons consult with their physicians when they experience some pain or discomfort not when they are experiencing sleep complications. According to the National Sleep Foundation 40 million people suffer from chronic sleep disorders in the U.S. The National Department of Transportation reports that there is annual total of 1,550 motor vehicle fatalities and 40,000 traffic accidents that occur as a result of persons falling asleep at the wheel. Additionally, sleep disorders are now being linked to a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, depression and other chronic illnesses. With the overwhelming number of persons who suffer from sleep disorders and because they are linked to so many life threatening diseases, sleep disorders should be taken more seriously.

Dropsy: It is assumed that if a person is falling asleep at work or school, they are not getting enough sleep. In actuality he or she may be suffering from narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. One of the main features of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).

EDS is a disorder in which an individual feels drowsy or has the urge to fall asleep when he or she should be alert. EDS is also a symptom of insomnia in which a person has difficulty falling, staying asleep or sleeping longer than usual and periodic limb movement syndrome (PLMS) in which a person exhibits restless sleep, including kicking or jerking of the legs, movements of the arms and body or excessive rolling that interrupts sleep. Although a person may be falling asleep at inappropriate times, it does not mean they are not getting adequate sleep. It may be because of an underlying sleep disorder.

At some point in our life we all have difficulties with either falling asleep or staying asleep due to stress, pain, illnesses or anxiety. This is normal as long as it is not a chronic factor. If a sleep problem is negatively impacting someone’s daily life they may have a sleep disorder. A disturbance of a person’s normal sleep pattern can result in a loss of energy, emotional imbalance and critical or fatal health issues. You can determine if you should consult a physician by answering the following questions. Do you:

• Show signs of sexual dysfunction?

• Snore, gasp or choke while sleeping?

• Feel you’re performing below your full potential at work, school or in sports?

• Feel drowsy or fall asleep while driving, watching television or reading?

• Experience excessive daytime fatigue or require caffeinated beverages to stay awake?

• Have problems falling asleep or staying asleep at night?

If you answered yes to any of the questions listed you should consider speaking with your physician who may refer you for a sleep study.

A sleep study is an overnight painless procedure. A sleep technologist will connect recording electrodes to your body in an effort to sample various biological functions which include brain waves and muscle activity, heart rate, oxygen saturation and eye movement. The sleep study is scored by a sleep specialist and then the interpretation is done by the physician. It is recommended to practice good sleep hygiene, however if this fails you should consult a physician or a sleep specialist. When a sleep disorder is diagnosed and treated, persons usually report they have increased energy, healthier relationships and improvement in their overall quality of life.

A myth exists in almost every culture. We can only speculate about the origin of some old wives’ tales or why we cling to them when we live in a world filled with science and medical expertise. Though some old wives’ tales are not true, the few described here can be dangerous if taken lightly.


• Renaldo Clarke has been a neurodiagnostic technologist for six years. He received USA accreditation in sleep studies in July 2008 and then in EEG in 2011, becoming the first Bahamian to obtain double-boarded certification in the field of Neurodiagnostic Technology. He works at the Bahamas Neurological Center (BNC) a comprehensive neurodiagnostic facility which performs sleep studies, EEGs, evoked potentials and EMG/NCS. BNC was the first to introduce a number of these studies in The Bahamas including the first sleep study in 2000.

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