Is A Need For Sleep In Our Genes, Or In Breathing Patterns?

added on: March 31, 2022

We all have that family member who can, seemingly in a flash, fall asleep. Yours may nod off as soon as he sits down after Thanksgiving dinner. Or, a spouse may frequently (and quickly) fall asleep in front of the television.

While the pleasure of sleep occurs more easily for some than others, it’s a ’need’ and a ‘want’ of us all. Yet, lack of sufficient sleep rears its ugly head in more ways than feeling tired and run down the next day.

What is surprising, as studies are showing, is how the ‘quality’ of sleep is more important than the ‘quantity.’

Most of us grew up trying to adhere to the old adage, “get your eight hours of sleep” every night. In today’s world, most adults know that is hard to come by. The average American adult, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has lowered that to sleeping at least 7 hours (and that’s “at least”). Yet, only 1 in 3 are failing to get that.

I found it interesting that a recent study looked at the genes of people who seem to function well with only 4 to 6 hours of sleep per night. Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco noted that these “elite sleepers” also show “psychological resilience and resistance to neurodegenerative conditions.”

For over a decade, the researchers focused on those who prefer a sleep duration of 4 to 6 hours and are able to fully function fully on that amount. The study revealed 5 genes that play a role in having more “efficient sleep,” likely why it runs in families. These genes also enable these individuals to accomplish ‘sleep tasks’ in a shorter amount of time.

A common misconception is that the brain is in ‘rest mode’ during sleep. The brain is actually rather active during the hours of sleep, particularly during REM sleep. REM sleep occurs in cycles and provides the deep sleep state the brain needs to do its daily housekeeping tasks. For example, the brain uses sleeping hours to reset certain checks and balances so waking hours function properly.

While the researchers feel there are more than these 5 genes yet to be labeled, their pursuit goes beyond the goal of being productive with less down time, it opens a new avenue for dealing with diseases of the brain. Because sleep problems are common in neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease), their findings are another step in addressing (or minimizing) the challenges of declining brain function.

In the meantime, there are a number of challenges when it comes to quality of sleep, not just quantity. Weight gain is a common symptom of sleep apnea. This is a sleep disorder that interferes with the body’s ability to intake air. “Apnea” is a Greek word meaning “pause.”

Sleep apnea are actual pauses in breathing, which can occur up to a hundred times each night with some lasting up to a minute. Imagine holding your breath for these periods throughout your average daytime hours. You’d be exhausted! It’s no wonder that sleep apnea is such a challenging disorder that affects the entire body.

Back to the brain – and weight. There are hormones that help to regulate the messages sent to the brain. One of these hormones tells the brain when you are hungry. Another signals when you are sated. When lack of sleep throws these hormones off-kilter, you are hungry more often and it takes more to make you feel full.

Another challenge that has to do with the sleep-weight connection is feeling fatigued. The body is designed to function on oxygen taken in on a continual basis. We don’t need to think about breathing; it’s something the body is designed to do automatically. So, without a constant supply, the organs in the body operate at a reduced level.

When this causes you to feel tired during the day, you may also have reduced alertness and lack of motivation. Thus, the result of having less energy to be active and being less motivated to do so leads to a decrease in the number of calories burned.

Just as sleep apnea can contribute to weight gain, gaining weight can also increase the risk of sleep apnea. When the body relaxes during sleep, the muscles in airway passages also relax. As fat content increases, the additional weight can pull the muscles down further. This can increase the blockage of air flow, which is why “obstructive” sleep apnea (OSA) is the disorder’s most common form.

To treat sleep apnea, people are often prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. While an effective means of forcing air into the airway passages, the devices are not always used on a continual basis. Some people feel claustrophobic with the mask over their face; do not like the noise or feeling encumbered; unable to move around in bed freely; the inconvenience; and/or feelings of embarrassment having to wear the device.

For people who have severe sleep apnea, we urge them to be committed to the consistent use of their CPAP. For those who have mild to moderate levels, however, an alternative may be a more practical – and just as effective – means of restoring a good night’s sleep.

In our Shelby Township dental office, we are qualified to create FDA-approved oral devices that can adjust the bite and open up airway flow. These are small, comfortable mouth pieces that do not interfere with sleep. Best of all, they help to restore sleep apnea sufferers’ quality of sleep. Heavy snoring may also be greatly improved with these oral devices.

As a neuromuscular dentist, I have a specific understanding of the interactions of the muscles, joints and structures involved in breathing in and out. Additionally, our dental office uses advanced imaging and computerized technology that can zero in on where the obstruction(s) lies and its severity. This allows us to custom design each appliance to conform to unique oral contours and alignment needs. This provides our patients with comfort as well as an effective solution.

Our goal is to improve the lives of our patients, whether it’s from replacing teeth with dental implants or helping people who suffer with TMJ disorders overcome the debilitating symptoms. For those who are pulled down by the effects of sleep apnea, snore heavily, or struggle with the use of a CPAP, call us at 586-739-2155 for a free consultation, or tap here to begin.

You may also want to download our helpful sleep tips. Our Macomb County dental patients have found these to contribute to a good night’s sleep, even for those who do not suffer with sleep apnea. Go to: DrBarbat SleepTips

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Dr. Ban R. Barbat

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