Imagine that as you are reading this article, someone interrupts you every few sentences. It probably would limit your ability to get a lot out of the piece as well as being disruptive in general.
This is what sleep apnea does to a person’s ability to get a solid, refreshing sleep. Apnea causes a person to stop breathing, which in turn causes arousal from sleep, making sleep very fragmented and less restful. This results in a deleterious effect on the brain and many systems of the body.
While Holyoke Medical Center has long been treating patients suffering from this all-too-common disorder, now the hospital is doubling its efforts with the addition of two new rooms in a totally renovated Diagnostic Sleep Center. The expansion will allow a growing number of individuals who need diagnosis for sleep apnea to be treated even more quickly.
“We are often booked well in advance and this will help us meet the needs of the community even better,” said Dr. Mohammad Bajwa, who manages the sleep lab at Holyoke Medical Center.
Bajwa said that early diagnosis is important because apnea is not just a sleep issue. The resultant lack of restful sleep can lead to all types of secondary problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes, mood disorders, poor performance, and functional capacity.
“The need for sleep studies is getting more important as we discover that sleep disorders in general, especially sleep apnea, disturb sleep and adversely affect other systems of the body and general health,” he explained. “The good news is that people are becoming more aware of this problem, and physicians are inquiring about sleep issues on a regular basis.”
The mechanics behind the most common type of this disorder are fairly simple: The soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep so that airflow is eliminated or substantially reduced. This then causes the oxygen level in the blood to drop, and the brain, sensing danger, arouses the person ever so slightly from a deeper sleep, thus resulting in fragmented sleep.
It is estimated by The American Sleep Apnea Assoc. that sleep apnea affects more than 12 million Americans. Along with hypertension and diabetes, other problems that can stem from sleep apnea include memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches. At its most basic level, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle accidents.
The sleep lab at Holyoke Medical Center now features four welcoming rooms where patients can sleep while undergoing observation. The lab measures such body functions as heart and respiratory rates, brain waves and snoring. Many patients found to suffer from sleep apnea use what is known as a continuous positive airway pressure device, which keeps airflow moving and the brain from waking the person.
Thanks to the restructuring of the sleep center, it is also now completely private and separated from any nearby distractions.
Don McDonough, a respiratory therapist who works at the sleep center, said during the new lab’s first night open that people were enjoying it. “They love it. It’s like being home — or better,” he said with a laugh.
The control room is also newly refurbished and much larger, McDonough added, but the main focus is on the comfortable rooms where patients spend the night. “The bedrooms are very tempting,” said Bajwa. “You’ll definitely want to spend the night there because of the pleasant ambience.”
Bajwa added that expansion is another way Holyoke Medical Center is reaching out to meet the needs of the community. “The need will always be the same, but now people who should be screened in our community will get in much more quickly,” he said. “We want to accommodate our community with state-of-the-art equipment right here at their home base and the new sleep clinic is a way of doing that.”
To contact the Diagnostic Sleep Center, call (413) 534-2556.