Living Well: Chronic sleep problems? You might benefit from a sleep study at Memorial Regional Health | CraigDailyPress.com

Living Well: Chronic sleep problems? You might benefit from a sleep study at Memorial Regional Health

Memorial Regional Health/For Craig Press

Does your partner complain that you snore loudly? Do you awake abruptly during the night gasping for air? Do you wake up feeling tired? If so, you might suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes stops and starts in breathing, often waking you on and off throughout the night.

"The way the body solves pauses in breathing is with a hypnic jerk (an involuntary sleep switch or start) which causes an arousal and starts up breathing again. Multiple arousals during the night leads to a poor night’s sleep," said Selena Hernandez, MRH's polysomnographic technologist. Hernandez is about to complete her studies to become a certified sleep study technologist for MRH.

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 as they gasp for air. Because of interrupted sleep, they are left tired and drowsy during the day — often relying on stimulants such as coffee or soda to stay awake. Sometimes, with sleep apnea, people have no energy, so they don't want to do anything, and their doctors mistakenly treat them for depression. In addition, people commonly have morning headaches from the decrease in oxygen.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed with a sleep study. While Memorial Regional Health recently relied on a mobile unit for sleep studies, the health system now provides on-site sleep studies nearly every night of the week. Sleep studies are also available during the day for people who work unconventional shifts.

"People are often surprised when they enter our sleep studies room, because it's not a hospital room; it's like a bedroom in a home. We are working on getting a second bedroom ready, so we can provide even more sleep studies," Hernandez said.

What's great about a sleep study is that Hernandez often has a strong idea within a few hours if you have sleep apnea. If she sees strong signs of sleep apnea, she fits you for a CPAP machine and mask to see if it helps that same night. Your results are then read by a pulmonologist to confirm sleep apnea the next day.

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"We place bio tabs on patients, and then, I watch the computer screen for events. I mark movements, respiratory events, arousals, brain activity and sleep states. If I record a high number of episodes in the first few hours that indicate sleep apnea, I set up the CPAP machine and find the ideal pressure to stop the apnea through the night. When we get it right, people wake up feeling refreshed," Hernandez said.

CPAP and BiPAP machines are common solutions for sleep apnea, because they help keep airways open. The machine, about the size of a toaster, has a tube with a mask attached, and it is relatively quiet. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you will likely receive a prescription for a CPAP or BiPAP machine to help regulate your breathing. The machine sits by your bed, and you wear a mask all night. It sounds strange, but people get used to it quickly. The tradeoff of good sleep is well worth it.

"Needing a good night's sleep is not for the weak. It's just as important as eating a good diet and getting the right amount of exercise. People really need to value getting a good night's sleep," Hernandez said.

Besides sleep apnea, sleep studies at MRH help diagnose restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy, other somewhat common sleep disorders. To learn more about sleep studies at MRH, visit memorialregional.com or call MRH cardiopulmonary services at 970-826-2211.