Insomnia causes, symptoms, and treatments: a discussion with Dr. Michael Uzelac, founder of Sleep Airway Solutions

Insomnia causes, symptoms, and treatments: a discussion with Dr. Michael Uzelac, founder of Sleep Airway Solutions

One of the most important factors of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is creating good sleep habits.

Dr. Michael Uzelac is a dentist who has been practicing for over 40 years. After seeing many patients struggle with their sleep, Dr. Michael Uzelac became board certified in Dental Sleep Apnea training and founded Sleep Airways solutions to bring oral appliances to patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, or when one’s airways are cut off by their lower jaw during sleep.

In Dr. Michael Uzelac’s ongoing research, he continues to research more about insomnia and works to advocate and educate his patients about insomnia, its causes, and its treatments. His passion to continue learning and educating about insomnia stems from it being so common.

“There are three components of insomnia: predisposition, precipitating, and perpetuating,” said Dr. Michael Uzelac.

Insomnia has many causes ranging from being predisposed or being more likely to have problems sleeping or stress to an event that precipitates or causes sleep abnormalities to a perpetual or continual belief that one will never get a good night’s sleep. Much of Dr. Michael Uzelac’s research, including the model of three components to insomnia, comes from the late Dr. Arthur Spielman, a well-known figure to sleep researchers.

“One factor of insomnia is trouble sleeping, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, or just feeling non-refreshed in the morning like you didn't sleep well,” said Dr. Michael Uzelac.

Simply having a few bouts of unrestful nights of sleep isn’t enough to qualify for insomnia, though. Additionally, a patient cannot claim to be an insomniac if they haven’t attempted to dedicate an appropriate amount of time to sleep.

“You can't say you have insomnia if you haven't tried to give eight hours of your day to sleep. Not giving enough time to it can cause issues as well,” said Dr. Michael Uzelac.

A diagnosis of insomnia also comes with recognizing that the lack of sleep the patient experiences is affecting their life negatively.

“A patient with insomnia must experience some kind of dysfunction during the day. It could be a mental dysfunction, irritability, trouble thinking, depression, daytime sleepiness, a problem going to sleep or staying asleep, or can't stay asleep long enough,” said Dr. Michael Uzelac.

In experiencing insomnia and the dysfunctions that follow, many people experience adverse side effects to lacking sleep.

“There are different daytime issues that insomnia can cause,” said Dr. Michael Uzelac. “Those can be anything from just fatigue, attention and concentration problems, job or school problems, problems with mood, daytime sleepiness behavior, and problems with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and aggression. Those kinds of things come from lack of sleep, and often result in reduced motivation or energy, accidents at work, accidents in a car, and more.”

When diagnosing insomnia, it is paramount that the patients have proof to give to a doctor so that they can help their patients. In the Spielman model of insomnia discussed previously, a patient must experience predisposition, precipitating, and perpetuating factors to be diagnosed with insomnia. The first two factors rely much on patient medical history and significant stressors in life. The third component, perpetuating, is behavioral and often a focus of sleep professions to assist patients in coping with insomnia.

Perpetuation of insomnia occurs when a patient believes they won’t ever get a good night’s rest. The constant belief that one won’t get good sleep tends to manifest bad sleep. In addition, those that believe they won’t get proper sleep can often experience enabling family, friends, or employers making accommodations that do not prompt the patient to seek help to solve their sleep issues.

Not looking to solve sleep issues only continues the cycle of bad sleep. This third key component is important to the diagnosis of insomnia and it is also important in taking steps toward treating insomnia.

 “The problem though is you can't really treat somebody's predisposition to insomnia, which means that they believe it’s genetics. You can hardly treat a stressful environment, too. Who has a stress-free life?” said Dr. Michael Uzelac. “But the one thing we do try to treat is the perpetuating part. The belief that ‘I can't sleep or I don't get any sleep’.”

To successfully treat the perpetuating part of insomnia, sleep professionals often turn to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Sometimes doctors prescribe medicine, but often the medicine doesn’t get to the root of the issue alone, and CBT helps patients find ways to help get a better night's sleep through creating good sleep habits and hygiene.

"If people read in bed, watch TV in bed, or play video games in bed, they stop thinking of their bed as a place to sleep," said Dr. Michael Uzelac. “CBT is basically sleep counseling. It teaches you how to have what's called sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the process where you make your bedroom or your bed just for sleeping. You make your bedroom so dark and so quiet. You make the darkest, most comfortable, most quiet place in the world your bedroom. You create an environment that makes you sleep."

CBT also asks patients to take inventory of their habits prior to going to bed, such as having caffeinated drinks or using blue-light devices like cell phones and tablets late in the day. Even reading, talking on the phone, or watching television in bed can lead a patient to disassociate their bedroom as a place to sleep, which continues to perpetuate the issue. Not having a proper sleeping schedule, taking naps throughout the day, or working out right before bed can also disturb one’s sleep in the evening.

“Some patients are remarkably uninformed about the effects of these behaviors on their sleep. Insomnia is one of the biggest sleep disorders, but it's also one that's more often caused by the patient and their activities,” said Dr. Michael Uzelac.

He also reflects on how our culture impacts our sleep.  

“We don't revere sleep anymore. We think we're tough if we only get three hours of sleep and can still function. Getting three hours of sleep is basically killing you. Killing you slowly, but it's killing you. Our modern lifestyle and stress often lead to this very common sleep disorder,” said Dr. Michael Uzelac.

Because insomnia is so common and often derives from one’s daily habits, Dr. Michael Uzelac hopes to continue to inform Region residents of the causes of the sleep disorder and educate his patients how to get a better night’s sleep.

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