Sometimes, no matter how much warm milk you drink and how many dozens of sheep you count, you still find yourself wide awake in the wee hours of the morning, struggling to get a decent night's sleep. Or, you may doze, but your snoring disrupts the sleep of others and leaves you exhausted in the morning. If either scenario is the case, your doctor – or your partner! - may decide you need a sleep study.
"A patient may complain that he can't fall asleep or stay asleep. His partner may complain that he's snoring or may see him stop breathing momentarily while asleep," says Stephen L. Matarese, DO, a pulmonolgist and medical director of the Sleep Lab at Kent Hospital.
The concern is more serious than feeling tired the next day, he notes. Poor sleep, particularly sleep apnea, can cause hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, increased probability for congestive heart failure and stroke.
In addition, while it's true that the rising prevalence of obesity in the United States has increased the prevalence of sleep apnea, abnormalities in sleep have been found to be associated with other medical disorders. Physicians are now screening patients for the possibility of parasomnias or sleep disorders associated such medical disorders as:
"Because of these connections, many physicians now ask important questions about sleep habits during regular office visits," Dr. Matarese says, noting that the goal is to determine if the patient is not going to bed early enough or has a medical condition affecting the quality and quantity of sleep. "Chronic sleep deprivation is a problem when it interferes with a person's daytime performance and interpersonal relationships."
Get some answers before your doctor's appointment by taking the sleep apnea assessment.
No medical intervention required
There are some simple ways to try and improve your sleep patterns if you are waking unrested after a full night. Dr. Matarese recommends:
- Setting a consistent bedtime and a consistent wake time
- Removing electronics from the bedroom to avoid sleep disruption
- Avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon and evening
- Exercising regularly
Finding the right mattress can also help, he adds. Each individual person needs to find a mattress they find comfortable, whether it's extra firm, firm, or soft.
"There are specialized mattresses for people with certain orthopedic conditions that may allow them to sleep in a preferred position to relieve discomfort," he explains.
Studying your sleep
If these basic tips don't help, a trip to the doctor's may be necessary. Your physician might assess your situation and health and refer you for a sleep study.
Sleep studies are conducted in special labs where you spend a night sleeping while staff monitors various body functions to determine what is disturbing your sleep. At The Sleep Lab at Kent Hospital, experienced and registered polysomnographic technologists will make you comfortable while hooking you up to various machines to complete the sleep study.
In your own private room, with the comfort of a television to distract you and a private bath with shower, the staff will monitor:
- Brain waves with surface electrodes placed on your head
- Heartbeats with surface electrodes on your chest
- Eye movement through surface electrodes above and below your eyes
- Muscle tension through surface electrodes on your chin
- Leg movement through surface electrodes on the lower legs
- Breathing via sensors attached to the skin near your nose and mouth
- Breathing effort and movements through narrow elastic belts around your chest and stomach
- Blood oxygen levels through a small sensor attached to a fingertip
"Many factors can affect a person's sleep, so we need to monitor several parameters help pinpoint the source," explains Jeanne Chretien, RPSGT, RST, CRT, a sleep lab technologist of The Sleep Lab at Kent.
"The study is reviewed for variations in regular patterns such as sleep initiation and maintenance, the amount of time spent in each stage of sleep, fluctuations in breathing patterns, changes in heart rate or rhythm, fluctuations in oxygen levels, and the presence and frequency of leg movements. All of this information is taken into account when the study is interpreted and a diagnosis is formed."
Some diagnoses – such as sleep apnea – require the patient return to the sleep lab for a night to test the equipment that the physician recommends as a solution.
"There is no one-size-fits-all setting on the device suggested for sleep apnea (continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP) because each patient responds differently," Chretien notes. "If a patient is diagnosed with sleep apnea and a CPAP is the treatment of choice, it is usually recommended that the patient return the lab to have a CPAP titration study to determine the optimal pressure setting."
More information about sleep studies at The Sleep Lab at Kent. Day-time studies can also be scheduled to accommodate the sleep schedule of third-shift workers.
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