TMH Living Well: Sleep disorders are common, especially as we age

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Are you noticing that you are not sleeping as well as when you were younger? Do you wake up during the night and have trouble falling back to sleep? Does your spouse’s snoring or snorting wake you up? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions you, or your spouse, might have a sleep disorder.

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Back row: Anessa Kopsa, Myndi Christopher, Katrina Geis (manager), Joe Huelskamp, James Adeyelu. Front row: Crystal Allred, Teren Wilkey, Fred Blakely.

Problems with sleep are very common, especially as we age. According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders, an estimated 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders.

“At the TMH sleep lab, we most frequently test for obstructive sleep apnea,” said Teren Wilkey, CRT, sleep technician.

At The Memorial Hospital, Wilkey conducts an average of three sleep studies a week, every night except Saturdays. During a sleep study, the patient is hooked up to several electrodes that measure obstructive and central events, which could cause an obstruction or cessation in airflow.

“A common phrase I hear patients say is: ‘My wife says I snore or that I stop breathing while I sleep.’ These are signs of sleep apnea,” Wilkey explained.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common of all sleep disorders. The airway collapses or is blocked during sleep, causing shallow breathing or a pause in breathing. Pauses can last a few seconds or minutes and can occur 30 or more times in one hour. The person starts breathing again, sometimes with a choking sound or loud snort. Because of interrupted sleep, they are left tired and drowsy during the day — often relying on stimulants like coffee or soda to stay awake. In addition, people commonly have headaches from the decrease in oxygen.

“Obstructive sleep apnea can occur from being overweight or having an anatomical anomaly such as a large tongue, extra tissue in the airway, enlarged soft palate, enlarged uvula, or deviated septum that closes off the airway. The chest might rise and fall, but there is no airflow,” Wilkey added.

Another type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea where the nerves from the brain do not properly signal the muscles in the airways to work. This is most often seen in patients with brain injury or stroke. Besides sleep apnea, other common sleep disorders include insomnia, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy.

Oftentimes, sleep apnea goes undiagnosed. Physicians can’t detect it during a routine office visit — and that’s where an order for a sleep study comes in.

“During a sleep study, we graph all four stages of sleep and I watch the patient sleep and record observations,” Wilkey said. Results are then read by a pulmonologist trained in sleep medicine.

With preapproval, private insurance usually covers a percentage of the cost of a sleep study, as does Medicaid. If you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder, discuss it with your physician.

The sleep lab at TMH is designed to be as close to a home setting as possible. “In our room dedicated to sleep studies we have a real bed, not a hospital bed—and a private bathroom as well,” Wilkey concluded.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.

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