Sleep Disordered Breathing Associated with Sickle Cell

If you have sickle cell disease, there are many health risks you are likely aware of relating to your condition. While it is highly common for people with sickle cell disease to experience fatigue and feeling tired, experiencing this may also be a sign of having a sleep disorder. In a recent study released in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 44 percent of adults that have sickle cell disease that have trouble sleeping actually have a sleep disorder or condition.

For people with sickle cell, it is especially detrimental to have problems that leave you without adequate oxygen supply. When cells in the body do not get enough oxygen in a person with sickle cell, it actually promotes sickling of red blood cells. This, of course, leads to severe pain.

One of the sleep disorders that people with sickle cell regularly exhibit signs of is sleep apnea. Because it is not uncommon for people with this disease to feel pain and exhibit signs of fatigue, they may never know that sleep apnea is present. The lead author of the study conducted at Thomas Jefferson University, Dr. Sunil Sharma, reports that, “The diagnosis of sleep disordered breathing could be missing in this population…daytime sleepiness is attributed to the pain medications necessary to treat symptoms of the disease.”

This study discovered a connection between people with sickle cell and the incidence of sleep disorders. Dr. Sharma says, “We wanted to examine the reasons for the sleep disturbances as it can have a strong impact on our patients’ quality of life and overall health. We discovered a high incidence of sleep disordered breathing in patients with sickle cell disease, who also report trouble with sleep.”

The results of this study are influential enough to propose changes to the way patients with sickle cell are treated. The researchers suggested a fairly simple fix involving questioning the patient about their sleep habits and identifying any abnormalities. If the patient’s doctor sees anything strange in the patient’s sleep habits, the doctor may recommend a sleep assessment.