Some disorders, however, require medications.
Suvorexant, which the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved, is a sleeping pill that researchers say will have fewer side effects than Ambien or Lunesta. Suvorexant works by blocking the chemical orexin produced in the brain’s hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates the nervous system, including sleep cycles. Orexins are the chemicals that keep people awake.
“Sleep is like the new frontier of medicine,” said Grant, the Baptist sleep physician and neurologist. “You can really improve not just people’s quality of life and sleep but you can also prevent all these other symptoms, like blood pressure.”
Indirectly, sleep disorders like sleep apnea may also lead to weight gain. Such was the case with Veloz, a patient at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine UHealth Sleep Program.
Veloz had been diagnosed with a mild sleep apnea, as she had breathing halts 11 times per hour. But she left her condition untreated over the years, which led to more serious health problems.
“I had no energy. I was always sleepy or tired. I could not play with my children,” said Veloz, of Homestead.
Things were at their worst five years ago. She weighed about 252 pounds, got fired from her job at a Miami factory for falling asleep on her shift, and her systolic blood pressure was as high as 220.
Gaining more weight has been linked to worsening sleep apnea because of the extra fat deposits in the neck and cheeks that obstruct air passage.
“You wake up in the morning and you are tired,” said Dr. Alexandre Abreu, with the UHealth Sleep Program and Veloz’s physician. “You can’t have the regular activity with the family. You become depressed and some anti-depressants cause obesity. It’s a never-ending cycle.”
Recently Veloz began using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine during sleep. The machine pushes air through her nostrils, opening up the airway to the trachea.
Abreu calls CPAP “the gold standard” of sleep apnea treatment.
Said Veloz: “Now, I’ll be able to go to the beach and exercise. I have regrets about not using it [CPAP)] before because now I have heart problems.”