Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louisans Waking Up to Sleep Disorders the Afflicted Can Nod off at Wheel - or Be Chronic Grouches and Wonder Why

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louisans Waking Up to Sleep Disorders the Afflicted Can Nod off at Wheel - or Be Chronic Grouches and Wonder Why

Article excerpt

Michael R. Feldman of University City is pleasant and outgoing - but over the last few years he became a world-class office crank.

Lori Feldman, his wife and partner in a direct-mail business, told him he wasn't sleeping well. He ignored her, so she put a toy tyrannosaurus rex on his desk to remind him of his personality change.

Last month, he suddenly fell asleep at the wheel of his car after he stopped for a traffic light. He ignored that, too.

He blamed clogged sinuses. His doctor thought otherwise and sent him to the new "sleep medicine" unit at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield.

There, Feldman spent the night hooked to lightweight sensors that traced his sleep patterns and recorded his vital signs. They showed that he was virtually sleepless.

Without knowing it, he had been waking up several hundred times a night - then quickly falling back to sleep.

A common breathing obstruction was causing sleep apnea, a life-threatening condition.

***** How Much Sleep Is Enough?

About 70 percent of patients at sleep medicine units have sleep apnea. A better known, though more unusual sleep disorder that such units treat is narcolepsy. Patients with it sleep well at night but can suddenly fall asleep at any time.

Dr. James K. Walsh, director of the hospital's Sleep Medicine and Research Center, is testing a drug that may help thousands of Americans who have narcolepsy.

Other sleep disorders include insomnia, often caused by clinical depression and severe anxiety. Depressed patients can take anti-depressant drugs to restore their sleep.

Most Americans don't know they need a fixed length of sleep to be alert and efficient while they're awake, Walsh said. They think that getting by with a few hours' sleep is a sign of strength and willpower.

"That's untrue because the need for sleep is genetically determined - some of us need 5 1/2 hours, others need nine hours."

Many Americans don't get enough sleep because they think it's a waste of time, he said. Often they steal two or three hours from their normal sleep time to study more or go to work early. Walsh said he tried it as a college student. …

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