Doctors discuss sleep disorders at symposium

Dr Karine Scheuermaier speaking at the Sleep Health Symposium 2018.

Sleep problems can lead to hypertension, diabetes, weight gain, depression and lack of energy if they are not managed properly, says Dr Karine Scheuermaier.

At the Sleep Health Symposium 2018, held at the Sports Science Institute in Newlands, on Monday September 10, Dr Scheuermaier, from Wits University, said 80% of the population was using public health care while 20% was using private health care, so not many people got treated for sleep-related symptoms.

Sleep problems that need to be treated include sleep apnoea, when a person stops breathing, which results in them waking up; restless legs syndrome; periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS), which is jerky movements made by people trying to sleep; and primary insomnia, where a person has a problem sleeping, or wakes up in the middle of the night not being able to sleep.

Hypertension is an abnormally high blood pressure as a result of stress or psychological disorder and Dr Scheuermaier said there was a link between it and sleep apnoea, as 29% of people with non-hypertensiveness had a high risk of experiencing sleep apnoea while 59% of people with hypertensiveness had a much higher risk of experiencing sleep apnoea.

She said sleep apnoea should be followed up on as a potential
risk modifier for cardiovascular disease.

“Sleep influences many aspects of our lives: our mood, our ability to learn, but also many aspects of our body, blood pressure, our ability to use glucose, and our weight,” said Dr Scheuermaier.

Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea, PLMS and insomnia, had been associated with a higher risk of developing hypertension, she said.

If they were treated then it would help treat hypertension.

People who have sleep apnoea could use a continuous positive airway pressure(CPAP) mask to open their airways.

The CPAP mask also had other benefits, including a decrease in appetite, which could lead to weight loss. And because people were sleeping better they would exercise more, in turn, leading to more weight loss.

Professional medical treatment for PLMS and insomnia would alleviate sleep disruption which would return nocturnal blood pressure to the lower level which would decrease hypertension.

“So by treating sleep disorders, we reduce the risk of developing hypertension in those who don’t have it presently and we also help reduce blood pressure in those who have current hypertension,” said Dr Scheuermaier.