Dangerously Sleepless in Seattle

More than the name of a movie; Puget Sound sleep medicine experts say it’s a serious epidemic.

In the city that gave birth to Starbucks and spawned an international coffee craze, caffeine is king and sleep is often an afterthought. Start asking friends about their sleep patterns, and it becomes apparent that lack of sleep is less of a complaint than an accepted—though regrettable—part of daily adult life for Seattleites. What many don’t realize is that, whether it’s due to too much work, play or both, this trend is more than just tiring...it’s dangerous.

According to the American Sleep Association, the minimum number of hours most adults need to sleep per night is seven to eight. Not even close? You aren’t alone; almost 75 percent of Americans aren’t hitting that lucky number, and Seattleites are likely more deprived than the average Joe. Dr. William DePaso, a board certified sleep medicine doctor for Virginia Mason Medical Center, thinks that’s a real possibility, even though there’s no concrete data. “I believe we might be more sleep deprived because of long commutes, bad traffic and a large population of high-tech workers who spend a lot of time on the computer at night,” says DePaso. The result is a city of zombies lumbering toward the nearest caffeine-loaded energy drink. Sleep-deprived individuals are prone to serious health problems such as weight gain, heart disease and mood disorders, to name just a few. Specifically, according to well-known surgeon and television host Dr. Mehmet Oz, women who get only five hours of sleep per night increase their risk of diabetes and the likelihood of obesity and heart problems by a staggering 50 percent.

Sleep-deprived individuals are prone to serious health problems such as weight gain, heart disease and mood disorders, to name just a few.

There are 81 different sleep disorders, ranging from sleep apnea to restless leg syndrome. Dr. Gina Chen, a board certified sleep medicine physician with The Polyclinic Sleep Medicine Center, thinks that sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome are the most common disorders in Seattle, and each has its own unique symptoms and health risks. Sleep apnea (a disorder in which breathing is interrupted during sleep), for example, causes high blood pressure and can lead to heart disease.

If you are sleep deprived, there are a number of excellent sleep medicine physicians and sleep centers in the Puget Sound region.With help from your primary care physician, you can find the facility and doctor that best fit your needs. Sleep medicine specialists practice in sleep disorder centers affiliated with major hospitals like Overlake Hospital Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center and Virginia Mason Medical Center; in clinics like The Polyclinic and Group Health; and in private practices.

Top Doctors for Sleep Medicine

Includes doctor’s name, clinic, hospital affiliation, medical school and year of graduation

Scott Bonvallet, M.D., Overlake Sleep Disorders Center, 1100 112th Ave. NE, Suite 320, Bellevue, 425.289.3000; oima.org; Overlake Hospital Medical Center; Medical College of Wisconsin, 1986

David Chang, M.D., The Polyclinic, 1001 Broadway, Suite 215, 206.860.4545; polyclinic.com; Swedish Medical Center; Indiana University, 1995

William J. DePaso, M.D., Virginia Mason Sleep Disorders Center, 925 Seneca St., 206.625.7180; virginiamason.org; University of Chicago, 1981

Ralph Pascualy, M.D., Sleep Medicine Associates, 550 17th Ave., Suite A20, 206.386.4744; gosleep.com; Swedish Medical Center, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center; University of New York at Stony Brook, 1978

Reprinted from Seattle magazine 2009

Dr. Teresa Jacobs, medical director of Creekside Sleep Medicine Center in Bellevue and board certified in sleep medicine, says that many patients are surprised to learn that the field of sleep medicine even exists. “When someone has put up with symptoms for a long time, they are relieved to find out that most sleep disorders are treatable,” says Jacobs. “Technology is evolving to create better, more efficient methods of treatment for sleep disorders.” 

For example, patients with sleep apnea often sleep with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device that uses a face or nasal mask to keep airways open, which can be a bit bulky or intrusive. Because of new developments in technology, CPAP machines and masks are becoming much smaller, quieter, lighter and more sophisticated, says DePaso.

Along with alternatives to CPAP, Jacobs is hopeful about developments in home-testing technology. Patients use devices at home and bring them to the lab so results can be downloaded, providing an alternative to sleep testing in clinical settings. There is also a new class of medication for insomnia currently in clinical trials, reports Chen.

There is a great deal of interest in the field in expanding research on the impact that inadequate or poor sleep has on health. “There have been a number of clinic studies correlating short sleep time or sleep deprivation with increased weight,” Chen says. “This has significant implications for future research looking at sleep’s effect on a number of diseases, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome.” ✚

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