Restful sleep eludes many |

Restful sleep eludes many

Susan Wood

When it comes to sleeping disorders, America needs a wake-up call.

A National Sleep Foundation study found that only a third of Americans are getting the recommended eight hours a day and about 40 percent say they have trouble staying awake on the job.

Some are deprived due to a sleep disorder.

Both Rudy Knudsen of Soda Springs and Jerry Howard of South Lake Tahoe said the daylight-saving time change of last week demonstrates little change in their sleeping patterns.

The Sierra residents suffer from sleep apnea, a medical condition that means the absence of breathing. When this happens, the person eventually awakens from a deeper to a lighter stage of sleep, gasps for air, and then falls back asleep.

It’s very disruptive to someone trying to sleep through the night and work through the day.

The condition comes with misconceptions.

“Workers get a bad rap with this. They’re dubbed as lazy because they’re not getting the rest they need. The need is very real,” Tahoe-Truckee Sleep Disorder Center Polysomnogram Technologist Jeff Funk said.

Traditionally, those who have sleep apnea snore often and hardly ever dream, which requires a deeper stage of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

Moreover, sleep apnea is a tremendous strain on the heart.

“People die from this,” he said Tuesday morning as he disassembled the electrodes from Knudsen’s head.

The clinic located in the Incline Village Community Hospital is part of The Sleep Network of Toledo, Ohio, which includes the Northern Nevada Sleep Disorder Center in Sparks and a small operation in Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe.

The 69-year-old Knudsen, who is a contractor, came in for a diagnostic test at the Incline Village facility Monday at the urging of his doctor and his wife, Anne.

“It’s gotten so bad, she doesn’t get any sleep,” he said.

Apparently, Knudsen snores loudly as did his father.

But it’s the health hazard that brought Knudsen in for a polysomnogram. Among other measurements, it involves an electro-oculogram (EOG) and – encephalogram (EEG) – which measure what stage of sleep the patient is in – and an electrocardiogram (EKG) – which signifies heart abnormalities.

Knudsen was told he, at one time, had a heart attack, but he couldn’t recall when.

“I don’t sleep well at night. I’m up often and tired,” he said. “What sleep I do get, things don’t bother me.”

He averages about six hours a night but is often jolted awake by his breathing. The disruption tires him and by the following afternoon he often requires a nap.

“Some days, if I don’t get an afternoon nap, I’m dead,” Knudsen said.

Funk countered.

“Sometimes a nap helps, but it’s debatable how long the nap should be,” he said.

While Knudsen slept through the night in the lab, Funk watched his patient’s chest for breathing abnormalities and for restless leg movements through a sophisticated computer system and a surveillance camera. The system is tied between his unit office and the patient’s sleeping room.

“For most people sent here, I suspect apnea. One guy who came in didn’t get 10 minutes of sleep,” Funk said. He said he was forced to give the patient a sleeping pill to conduct the study.

More than 70 percent of the subjects he sees are male, but sleep deprivation affects many people.

“It’s something that’s on the rise,” Funk said.

There’s at least a two-month waiting list for a night at the clinic, he said.

Once a diagnostic test is performed, a hospital analyst and the patient’s doctor review the information before making recommendations.

There are two basic solutions to sleep apnea – surgical and a CPAP machine. This stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It essentially keeps the airflow consistent.

Most insurance companies cover the CPAP machine and the diagnostic test that can run a patient $1,500, Funk said.

And that’s what Howard, 47, thinks of the machine he set up by his bed four months ago.

“It’s excellent. It’s changed my whole life,” the South Shore man said. “The first time I used it, I couldn’t believe how good it felt.”

He now sleeps through the night and dreams because he’s entering REM sleep.

Prior to Howard’s new tool that has literally given him a new lease on life, he was awakened about every 30 seconds, he said. His snoring was labeled “heroic,” sending people who slept nearby out of the area.

The active man thought he was doing OK, yet he was slowly killing himself, he said.

It took a while to get used to a virtual octopus on his face. But once he did, using the CPAP mask was worth it, he insisted.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize they have (sleep apnea),” he said. “I was pushing the envelope as a truck driver.”

Howard, who is no longer a truck driver, said he could have dozed off at any time from being overtired at odd hours.

“It’s under recognized in terms of physical problems,” said Dr. Greg Tirdel, the sleep center’s medical director. “It can also lead to a lot of accidents.”

California Highway Patrol Sgt. James Laginha said it’s hard to distinguish sleepy drivers from drunken motorists.

Recent studies and reports have indicated the sleep-deprived drivers could be as dangerous behind the wheel as the drunks.

“It’s an important issue. That’s why there are restrictions with commercial and long-haul drivers,” he said.

The Truckee station sergeant admits that although accident reports provide a checkbox for drowsy drivers, the statistics could be misleading.

“We probably don’t have an accurate picture of this problem,” he said.

If the CHP determines the person has a medical condition, that individual could be referred to a Department of Motor Vehicles safety officer for an evaluation of whether driving is advisable.

He witnessed and experienced many cases of sleepy drivers on long stretches of freeway, when he worked out of the Barstow station.

“Sleep debt builds. If we deprive ourselves, (situations like these are) the price to be paid,” Sleep Network Vice President of Operations John Freeman said.

The problem may be compounded even in these days with advanced technology that was intended to free up our convenience-oriented society. The truth is, we could be busier than ever.

The sleep foundation pointed out that Americans are living to work, instead of working to live – suggesting a profound impact on personal lives that may equate to long work hours as well as less sexual and leisure activity.

“My suspicion is certainly our lives are more complex. We see soccer families with both spouses working. All this scurrying going on in our lives, I believe, has an impact on people trying to fit all those things in our lives. They don’t subjectively feel the sleep debt building,” he said.

Nearly 7 out of 10 people who responded to the National Sleep Foundation study experienced frequent sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the night, feeling unrefreshed.

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