Monday Medical: Studying sleep at home sweet home | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: Studying sleep at home sweet home

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

Editor's note: This article is the second in a two-part series on sleep apnea. Part one covered sleep apnea signs and symptoms.

If you think you might be one of the 22 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea but aren't eager to undergo a sleep study for diagnosis, you can put your worries to rest.

With recent improvements in home sleep studies, it's easier than ever to diagnose mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea, all in the comfort of your own home.

"What doctors found by doing years of in-laboratory studies was about 80 percent of all people with sleep disorders suffered from obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA," said William Moore, director of Yampa Valley Medical Center's Respiratory Care Services and Sleep Study Center, "and they found that OSA could be diagnosed out of the lab with a lot fewer parameters than in-laboratory studies."

Northwest Colorado's more rural residents will be happy to know that, now, getting a home sleep study kit is very convenient.

"We really want to get this test out into the rural communities," Moore said. "So if someone is examined by their physician, and a home sleep test is appropriate, we can do an admission over the phone, then mail the kit with instructions to folks. A person in a rural community doesn't have to leave their home again to pick up or drop off the test."

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During a home sleep study, a patient wears a nasal cannula, or a thin tube under the nose, which senses flow of air through the mouth and nose, and a chest strap, which tracks breathing. That data helps physicians pinpoint apneas, or times when someone makes an effort to breathe without getting flow at the airway.

The chest strap also records sleep position, while a fingertip pulse oximeter tracks heart rate and the amount of oxygen in the blood. Snoring is also detected.

YVMC's Sleep Study Center recently updated its home sleep study equipment.

"This newer equipment is much more intuitive and has a lot fewer connections," Moore said. "It makes it easier for the patient."

For more severe sleep disorders, an in-lab sleep study is needed, so stages of sleep can be accurately tracked. When it comes to in-lab sleep studies, comfort is top priority.

"We want you to mimic your habits at home," Moore said. "If you have a favorite pillow or a favorite blanket, bring it. If you like to watch movies before bed, do that."

Since altitude can impact sleep apnea, patients should be tested close to home.

"It's very important that people get tested where they live," Moore said. "For instance, if you lived in Vail, it wouldn't be wise to go down to Denver to get a sleep study."

When sleep apnea is diagnosed, it can be successfully treated. The treatment of choice is using a continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP, to help keep airways open.

If a patient can't tolerate a CPAP, doctors recommend a mandibular advance device, or MAD, a custom mouthpiece that can help lessen many cases of mild to moderate sleep apnea.

For mild cases, positional therapies, such as sewing tennis balls onto the back of a sleep shirt so the person doesn't sleep on their back, may also help.

Moore hopes the ease of access to home sleep studies will lead to successful diagnoses and, ultimately, treatment.

"Sleep apnea can be treated," Moore said. "But the first step is knowing that you have it. We hope these home sleep studies make it easier for people to get properly diagnosed."

For more information about home sleep studies, call YVMC's Sleep Study Center at 970-871-2342.

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.