Americans are having a hard time sleeping, causing a significant rise in those who need sleep care. In fact—according to a recent survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)—more than half of Americans say they have experienced an increase in sleep disturbances since the beginning of the pandemic, sometimes referred to as “COVID-somnia.” Yet, only 20% of people indicated that they would contact a sleep center to address a sleep disorder.
“Sleep is essential for overall health, well-being, and safety, and there are many options for patients to receive sleep care safely,” says Indira Gurubhagavatula, MD, MPH, chair of the AASM COVID-19 Task Force and associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in a release. “I urge patients to avoid delaying care for sleep disorders, which can lead to more serious health problems if ignored or left untreated.”
From financial to safety concerns, there are many factors preventing patients from getting the help they need. According to the recent AASM survey, 38% of respondents say financial concerns are a main factor in preventing them from visiting a sleep center, while 37% expressed safety concerns due to COVID-19. It’s important for those with sleep problems to contact an accredited sleep center for help, as the negative effects of sleep loss build over time.
When left untreated, sleep disorders can lead to negative health consequences and increased medical and safety risks, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, depression, and even traffic accidents related to drowsy driving. However, effective treatments can help patients improve their quality of life by restoring healthy sleep, improving daytime alertness and concentration, increasing physical energy, and boosting mood.
“Since the pandemic started more than a year ago, we’ve learned a lot about the transmission of the coronavirus and how to manage sleep care safely and with minimal risk,” Gurubhagavatula says. “A sleep study is safe, and accredited sleep centers provide comfortable accommodations for patients.”
Sleep centers continue to follow the recommendations of the CDC and guidance from the AASM. Some of the evidence-based strategies include:
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): Using PPE—such as N95 masks, gloves, and face shields—as directed by the CDC.
- Pre-screening: Pre-screening for symptoms by instructing patients to call ahead when making appointments for routine care and conducting temperature checks before entry into clinical spaces.
- Sanitization: Increasing the frequency of sanitization practices and surface cleaning by disinfecting equipment, rooms and high-touch areas, using EPA-registered, hospital grade disinfectants, and relying on more disposable equipment and accessories.
- Social distancing: Adding plexiglass dividers when appropriate and removing extra tables and chairs to help reduce maximum room occupancy for social distancing.
- Air purification: Improving air quality by increasing ventilation and filtration systems for air purification.
- Telemedicine: Advising patients to use telemedicine with appropriate phone or video visits in addition to monitoring and fitting medical equipment remotely when possible.
Sleep centers provide comfortable accommodations for patients, including private bedrooms for sleep studies. In addition, convenient options such as home sleep apnea tests may be available for some patients to make it easy to have a socially distanced experience and still get the help they need.
The AASM’s online survey, conducted by Atomik Research, of 2,006 adults in the United States took place from March 11-15, 2021. The margin of error fell within +/- 2 percentage points with a confidence interval of 95%.