Putting sleep disorders to rest

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David Schulman, MD, MPH:
Putting sleep disorders to rest
November 11, 2009

Although an occasional sleepless night makes for an unpleasant day, a chronic lack of sleep can affect long-term health. Hypertension, stroke, and heart disease are common illnesses that affect those suffering with chronic sleep deprivation.

David Schulman, MD, MPH, medical director of Emory's Sleep Laboratory, treats a variety of disorders that interfere with sleep. "The sleep center is a multi-disciplinary group of individuals consisting of neurologists, gerontologists, and pulmonologists," says Schulman. "We also interface with otolaryngologists and have a dentist who works with our group. Our group is interested in advancing sleep, health, and well-being."

Schulman and his colleagues begin treatment by determining the underlying cause of patients' complaints. "We look to see if there's a precipitating event that set it off," says Schulman. "For example, there may be an underlying problem with depression or anxiety, which according to the literature occurs in about 40 percent of cases. However, if we can't identify anything in particular, we'll talk about behavior."

Although medication is commonly used to help induce sleep, Schulman is concerned about the use of drugs to treat sleeplessness. "I'm very much opposed to the use of hypnotic medication on an as-needed basis," says Schulman. "Most of these medications are not approved for long-term use. One takes them with the intention of trying to fall asleep, but they are often are used as a tool of convenience when one doesn't want to deal with the underlying problem."

To hear Schulman's own words about sleep disorders and their treatment, use the player at the top of this page or subscribe to the podcast.

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