Sleep Disorders Can Cause High Blood Pressure, Strokes, Other Problems

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For the roughly 40 million Americans suffering from sleep disorders, nights spent tossing and turning can become days full of irritability and melancholy.

Polysomnography, or sleep testing, can help diagnose a person with one of the roughly 80 known sleep disorders, which include sleep apnea, insomnia and narcolepsy.

The sleep test results in a 1,000-page report that sleep specialists at Payson Sleep Services, or any other sleep lab, send to a doctor for evaluation.

“We don’t do the diagnosis,” said Jan McGee, a registered polysomnographic technologist, who co-owns Payson Sleep Services with her husband, Rick. “Sleep testing keeps us pretty busy.”

Patients arrive for sleep testing around eight in the evening. If a person works at night, however, day sleep tests are also available. It takes roughly 45 minutes for the sleep technicians to attach all the sensors and monitors to track oxygen levels, body movements and sleep levels throughout the six-hour test.

Patients are placed in private rooms with adjustable beds, pillow-top mattresses and a television. Sleep technicians monitor patients throughout the night on computers down the hall. Patients traditionally leave around 6 a.m., and can expect results in three or four days.

McGee said she mostly works with sleep apnea sufferers. The disorder occurs when a person stops and starts breathing repeatedly throughout the night. According to Payson Sleep Services, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, heart problems or stroke, which can turn fatal.

Anywhere from 4 to 10 percent of the population has sleep apnea, McGee said.

She tests roughly half women and half men, but also works with children older than 5.

“Usually with the kids, it’s the tonsils that are the problem,” McGee said. “The tonsils get so big that they get in the child’s airway so they have trouble breathing at night.”

People experiencing sleep problems should first go to their doctor. Sleep testing is like any other medical test — an x-ray for instance.

Nearly all insurance plans have coverage for sleep studies, though some require pre-authorization which the sleep center helps receive.

Treatment is life-long. “It’s not a cure,” McGee said. Behavioral therapies can help patients manage insomnia, and certain masks can help with other disorders.

Snoring, though it can indicate sleep apnea, is not necessarily a certain symptom. “If everybody that snored had sleep apnea, then we wouldn’t need sleep labs,” said McGee.

“If they only snore a couple times a month, that’s not very indicative.”

In 2007, Payson Sleep Services saw about 40 patients each month, although that number has since cut in half.

Sleep deprivation and disorders are estimated to cost Americans over $100 million annually in lost productivity, medical expenses, sick leave, and property damage, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

McGee said a shortage of sleep makes it impossible to lose weight, makes people irritable and affects a person’s overall health.

“There’s so much research right now in sleep. They’re just learning new things all the time,” McGee said.

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