Sleep disorders take toll on body

SANDUSKY Diane Harder knew her snoring was keeping others awake, but she never imagined it was the c
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Diane Harder knew her snoring was keeping others awake, but she never imagined it was the culprit of her own restless nights.

Harder, 55, a licensed practical nurse and community outreach coordinator at Firelands Regional Medical Center, recalls waking up after eight hours of sleep and feeling more sluggish than when she went to bed.

"I was tired all the time," she said. "I would sit through meetings and actually fall asleep -- not just nod off, but be completely out."

Two years ago, the mother of two decided to check into the hospital's Center for Sleep Disorders. She discovered she had sleep apnea -- a disorder which causes people to repeatedly stop breathing during the night, sometimes hundreds of times and often for a minute or longer.

Trish Zakrajsek, director of the Center for Sleep Disorders, 1912 Hayes Ave., said more patients come to the center with sleep apnea than any other disorder. It is as common as adult diabetes, affecting more than 12 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Men over 40 years old and overweight are most susceptible, but it can strike anyone at any age.

"With childhood obesity becoming more common, we're seeing a lot more children being affected by sleep apnea," saidZakrajsek, a respiratory therapist who helped open the sleep center in 1997. Untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, as well as memory problems, weight gain, impotency and headaches. It can also cause job impairment and lead to motor vehicle crashes.

In a small laboratory, sleep center staff watch patients throughout the night on computer monitors that also track brain waves, respiration, heart rate and muscle activity.

Physicians review the results of monitoring and help to formulate a treatment plan, which can include medication, behavioral therapy or special equipment to allow for a better night's rest.

In Harder's case, results showed a high sleep apnea index -- meaning she had 208 respiratory episodes during the night and stopped breathing an average of 79 times per hour, Zakrajsek said.

"People with sleep apnea often snort or startle and wake themselves up, but they're not always aware of how often they're waking up," she said. "The body needs oxygen, but if you're not getting it, you never go into a deeper sleep -- so you never really get a normal night's sleep."

Patients like Harder are often treated with machines that provide constant or varying amounts of air pressure to keep the airway open.

Harder wears a mask around her nose and mouth each night.

"It took me about three months to get adjusted to it, but I'm definitely less tired and have more energy," she said.

"You just feel so much better...I wake up, and even if I only sleep six hours, it's a very deep sleep."

The mask and machine typically costs several thousands of dollars, but it is covered by most insurance companies, Zakrajsek said.

The sleep center also offerspayment plans and financialassistance for those who qualify.

Dr. Chris Avendano, one of three physicians at the sleep center, said more people are seeking treatment for disorders like sleep apnea because public awareness is greater.

"We see a lot of association of sleep apnea with other problems like heart failure, high blood pressure and diabetes," he said. "Now, even primary care physicians are much more attuned to it, and national studies are being done."

Other common Avendano treats include insomnia, which is fragmented or disrupted sleep that affects about 70 million Americans, narcolepsy and restless leg syndrome.