Demographics means a higher level of sleep disorders in Wilmington

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WILMINGTON — Failing to get a good night’s rest can have more of a lasting impact than simply leaving you red-eyed and groggy the next morning. Sleep disorders can harm an individual’s long term health — and even deflate the national economy in the process.

According to a study from the RAND Corporation, 1.2 million working days are lost in the United States annually due to lack of sleep. And anywhere from 50 to 70 million American adults suffer from a chronic sleep disorder, according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Sleep disorders may affect the area around Wilmington, NC somewhat more than average due to the town’s high number of older residents, said Dr. Brian Legere of NHRMC Physician Group – Coastal Pulmonary Medicine.

In the United States, 16.2% of the population is 60 years old and over; in Wilmington, that number jumps to 19.18%.

“We are a destination for retirees,” Legere said. ”We might have a slightly higher instance of sleep disorder than some place like Denver, where people are more fit with lower body mass indexes and a lower age range. I don’t think we’re particularly far off the mark here compared to the rest of the country.”

Legere said that the rise in obesity rates also tie into the prevalence of sleeping disorders like obstructive sleep apnea.

“Obesity is the number one risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea,” he said. “As the U.S. population has gotten heavier, we see a lot more sleep apnea.”

In his practice, Legere said he most frequently comes into contact with patients who have obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. The Sleep Foundation estimates that 18 million American adults have sleep apnea.

“The most common is obstructive sleep apnea,” Legere said. “Basically, when the extra fatty tissue in the upper airway flops back and blocks the airway when you’re sleeping. That disrupts your sleep and it also presents a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. That’s probably the vast majority of what we see on a day to day basis. It’s the most common sleep disorder in the states.”

Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, trouble breathing, exhaustion during the day, and headaches in the morning, according to Legere.

He told Port City Daily that Coastal Pulmonary Medicine runs as many as 130 sleep studies per month on average. They also encounter patients with narcolepsy, insomnia, parasomnias, and restless leg syndrome.

Regardless of the specific sleep disorder, issues with sleep can be extremely damaging to an individual’s health, leading to chronic health problems like heart disease, depression and weight gain, according to Healthline.

Deteriorating health, in turn, can have an impact on personal financial security.

Legere pointed out one particular career path where sleep issues can pose a serious problem: drivers.

“It’s a risk factor for car accidents,” he said. “We’ll see people who get referred when they have their Department of Transportation physicals. Examining physicians might worry that they have sleep apnea and might be sleepy on the road. That’s certainly an issue. If people are getting sleepy driving, they need to get that looked at.”

Áine Cain graduated from the College of William & Mary. She lives in New York.