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At-home studies help diagnose sleep problems

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For years, Rachel West, a Sedalia native, felt tired all the time. Going through the motions every day, she felt like a zombie. West’s husband complained about her loud snoring keeping him awake at night, which was becoming more of an issue each day.

At first, she blamed her job and the typical stresses in life as reasons for her extreme fatigue, until her tiredness got out of control and made her utterly miserable. Seeking answers, West took it upon herself to go to the Bothwell Sleep Center and talk to Dr. David Kuhlmann. 

Kuhlmann said he suspected West had obstructive sleep apnea and suggested a home sleep apnea test. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops involuntarily for brief periods of time during sleep due to upper airway obstruction. Symptoms include snoring, morning headaches, dry mouth and daytime sleepiness. Obstructive sleep apnea is different from central sleep apnea, which occurs when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. 

“Obstructive sleep apnea is the only diagnosis that home sleep apnea testing can diagnose,” Kuhlmann said. “The advantages to the home test are that they are cheaper, have fewer wires and can be performed at home.”

The test is a device attached to a belt that goes around the chest. There also is an abdominal belt, an oximeter, which measures oxygen levels, a sensor placed around the leg, and a sensor under the nose. The home tests are a simple procedure and allow patients to sleep in the comfort of their own homes. A Sleep Center technologist explains to patients how the procedure works.

“Patients will sleep with the equipment, and then bring it back the next day,” Kuhlmann said.  “Within two weeks we will discuss the results with them either in the Sleep Clinic or over the phone if they prefer.”

After being diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and being prescribed an auto-adjusting CPAP machine that helps her breathe more easily while sleeping, West said she felt a difference within the first few weeks of using it. 

“At first, I didn’t want to sleep with that stuff on my face,” West said. “The machine isn’t the most attractive thing, but I would definitely recommend it.”

Her results revealed that although she was getting less sleep with the sleep apnea device, she was getting better sleep.

“Prior to the study, I wanted to nap all the time, even after a full night of sleep,” she said. “But after going through this process, I only need five hours of good sleep.”

Other sleep disorders can be tested for and treated in the Sleep Center and evaluated in the sleep lab including narcolepsy, sleep-related movement disorders such as REM sleep behavior disorder, restless leg syndrome and problems with insomnia. During an in-lab sleep study, patients spend the night in a private room. The rooms are designed to feel like home, complete with a television and a full-sized bathroom with a shower. A specially trained technologist monitors brain waves, heart rate, oxygen levels, rapid eye movements and more while the patient sleeps.

“I should have gone to the Sleep Center three or four years earlier,” West said. “It was a great experience and all of my questions were answered. They did a wonderful job of helping me set up the machine, teaching me how to use it, clean it and change the filters.” 

Thanks to the home sleep apnea test, West is able to feel more alive and enjoy good, healthy sleep.

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