7 No. 4
of a Lullaby
In Emory's growing sleep
research program, scholars encounter mystery and paradox
breath and life
do have some very good people [in sleep research], and we’re
gaining a critical mass to do this kind of work.
Donald L. Bliwise, Professor of Neurology, Program Director, Sleep,
Aging and Chronobiology
think there are valuable things we can learn about how plastic or
mutable the circadian system is by looking at people who travel
abroad and contend with jet lag, or people from different cultures.
Hillary Rodman, Associate Professor of
Power of Sleep
Exploring disorder and disturbance
P. Parker, Edith F. Honeycutt Professor of Nursing
A Few Drinks Between Friends?
the ancient drinking party with students
Bing, Associate Professor of Classics
and Transformative Knowledge
Practicing what we profess
D. Scheib, Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Pastoral Theology
They stumble through their days in a daze, attributing their fate
to lack of sleep or maybe depression. But something far more insidious,
even deadly, may be at work.
Sleep apnea is among the most common and dangerous sleep-related
medical conditions. It is also under intense scrutiny by Emory researchers.
In sleep apnea, individuals stop breathing repeatedly, sometimes
for up to a minute at a time and, in serious cases, hundreds of
times a night. Yet sufferers are often unaware of these repeated
sleep disruptions. Over years, the collective oxygen deprivation
can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and early death, explains David
professor of medicine. Sleep apnea affects an estimated ten percent
of middle-age and older men, and about half as many women. “I
liken apnea to diabetes because it’s underdiagnosed,”
says Schulman. “It’s one of those diseases that when
left unattended leads to serious, even life-threatening consequences,
and it is not particularly glamorous.”
During an episode of sleep apnea, the airway narrows, either because
it partially collapses or is obstructed by fatty deposits. Drinking
alcohol also loosens up the muscles supporting the trachea, which
can lead to episodes of sleep apnea. Eventually, the brain realizes
it’s getting short-changed and jump starts breathing, Schulman
explains. But the repeated breathing interruptions take their toll.
“Folks with severe sleep apnea can spend thirty to forty minutes
each night at dangerously low oxygen levels,” he says. The
accumulated oxygen deficit can precipitate a host of serious health
“A lot of people with sleep apnea wake up feeling they haven’t
slept a whit,” says Schulman. “They may fall asleep
at work or while driving and are often moody. Most people don’t
sleep enough anyway. We work long hours and we want to spend our
free time with family and friends. The one thing we’re willing
to sacrifice is the amount of time we spend sleeping. So we learn
to live with that feeling of general fatigue.” Many patients
with sleep apnea become aware of their condition from partners,
who complain about snoring—a mild manifestation of sleep apnea.
But those who sleep alone may know only days of perpetual fatigue
and attribute their plight to lifestyle.
There are several treatments for sleep apnea, including weight loss,
surgery, and prosthetic devices designed to keep the airway open.
But the most effective remedy is a relatively simple device called
continuous positive airway pressure, which consists of a mask that
fits over the mouth and nose and through which pressurized air is
forced. “It’s considered the gold standard of treatment
for sleep apnea,” says Schulman. Unfortunately, the apparatus
is decidedly uncomfortable, and only about half of sleep apnea patients
can stand to wear it through the night. (The sensation resembles
what you’d feel if you stuck your head out of a car window
at 25 miles per hour.) “Trying to convince someone to keep
it on when they’re sleeping is not something most folks are
happy to sign on to,” Schulman adds, “even though it
will make them feel much better very quickly.”