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Losing Sleep: How Sleep Disorders Affect Your Health

Constant fatigue can signal an underlying sleep disorder, left untreated it can stress the body.
Chronic sleep deprivation can negatively impact your health, putting you
at risk for weight gain and impaired cognitive function among other

With the frantic pace of today’s lifestyle, a good night’s sleep may be hard to come by. But if you find yourself avoiding cozy couches for fear of dozing off or suffering from bout after bout of forgetfulness, your lack of sleep could be affecting your health.

Constant fatigue can signal an underlying sleep disorder, which left untreated can stress the body and lead to a variety of physical problems. Sanford H. Auerbach, MD, director of Boston Medical Center’s Sleep Disorders Center, explains.

“For a normal person sleep depravation can impair cognitive function, cause shifts in metabolic processes and weaken the immune system. Sufferers of sleep apnea (interrupted breathing during sleep) can experience even more serious health issues such as high blood pressure and related illnesses such as heart failure and stroke.”

A poll by the National Sleep Foundation cited “the majority of American adults (63%) do not get the recommended 8 hours of sleep for good health, safety and optimum performance.” Yet diagnosing a sleep disorder solely on sleep hours can be tricky. The amount of sleep a person requires to function normally can vary greatly between individuals.


“Among the population there seems to be a bell curve of sleep. Some people can function well with less than seven hours of sleep, while others require a bit more,” observes Dr. Auerbach. “It is also important to consider the quality of a person’s sleep, which can be impacted by a range of physical issues.”

BMC’s Sleep Disorders Center is well-equipped to diagnose and treat a variety of adult and pediatric sleep-related issues, including chronic insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, parasomnia (sleepwalking behaviors) and circadian rhythm disorders. Three board-certified sleep specialists consult with patients during a weekly clinic and sometimes refer cases to BMC’s Sleep Laboratory for an overnight sleep evaluation. The newly expanded six-bed facility allows sleep technicians to monitor patients during a full night’s sleep to better diagnose neurologic, breathing or movement disorders.

“Most people are not good at gauging how well they sleep and that is where sleep lab data can be extremely useful. I have had patients that apologize to me that they never fell asleep during their sleep study, when in fact, the data shows they did experience sleep,” explains Dr. Auerbach.

Once the cause of a sleep disorder is determined, BMC patients can benefit from the expertise of specialists throughout the hospital.

“Most sleep disorders can be treated with medicine, cognitive behavior therapy, surgery or weight and nutrition management. Our multidisciplinary approach means our sleep specialists work closely with physicians in neurology, pulmonary, otolaryngology, psychiatry, pediatrics and oral medicine to best treat our patients,” said Dr. Auerbach.

For four decades, BMC’s Sleep Disorders Center has been diagnosing and treating patients with all types of sleep problems. BMC’s state-of-the-art Sleep Laboratory is open 7 days a week, 360 days a year, with two rooms designed specifically for polysomnography for children. A new BMC-affiliated Sleep Laboratory is now open in the offices of Boston University Medical Group on Commonwealth Avenue.