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Technically sleeping

In my case, I wanted to dispel some misconceptions, and maybe find a way to ease not only my reservations and apprehension, but those of others as well. And so, one Monday evening, with my photographer/co-worker Emily at my side, promising to not take too many embarrassing photos, I prepared for my first sleep study.

During a sleep study, a patient’s sleep patterns are observed and monitored for possible sleep problems.

Things like excessive daytime sleepiness, loud or disruptive snoring and gasping or choking during sleep are a few of the more common symptoms associated with a disorder called sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is caused by the airway closing and preventing the flow of air into the lungs. Because of this, patients can experience pauses in their breathing, which can occur 30 times or more in an hour.

Without treatment, sleep apnea can cause serious health conditions that may lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke or heart attack.

While my reason for doing the study had little to do with health, I hoped the end result would help those whose reasons were.

Walking into the room, I was pleasantly surprised to see that instead of the sterile, hospital-like room I was expecting it was instead much more akin to a hotel room, complete with a private bathroom, coffee maker and television.

A couple of differences between a hotel room and the sleep study room are the camera on the ceiling and the large piece of equipment sitting next to the bed, to which 24 electrode wires are hooked.

These small, colorful wires are laid out on the bed when I entered, causing some apparent apprehension to cross my face. This look, in turn, caused Lakewood Health System sleep technician Emma Howe, who had also just entered the room from the adjacent observation room, to give me a small laugh and an understanding look.

Having worked at Lakewood for about six years, Emma has done hundreds of studies, and has pretty much seen it all.

Her experience and knowledge are obvious in the way she answers questions, talks you through the study and is able to put at ease whatever apprehension, fear or curiosity a patient may be experiencing.

As one would imagine, the idea of being hooked up to wires and other equipment while sleeping in a strange room, knowing someone in the next room is watching don’t exactly scream “FUN!”

However, I immediately felt more comfortable as Emma began to explain the process; though the clicking of Emily’s camera reminded me that in my case, whatever happens here, will not stay here…

Though my study was a shortened (three hours) version of the normally 10 hour study, I experienced everything an average patient would, except the eight hours of sleep.

After I changed into my pajamas, I was seated on a chair by the bed while Emma explained the next step: attaching the electrodes.

As she attached each electrode, she explained what information it will monitor and why it’s important to have that information recorded.

In total, I ended up with six electrodes on my face, to track eye and chin movement; two on each leg to monitor leg movement; two on my collar bone and four on my torso, all to monitor my heart; eight on my head to monitor brain waves, and a sensor on my finger to monitor my heart rate.

By the time I was fully hooked up and in bed, I also had a cannula in my nose to monitor my breath temperature. Each electrode is painlessly attached with a temporary adhesive, which is easily removed after the study.

A disclaimer for those with hair: while water soluble and easily removed when washing your hair, the adhesive pomade used to attach electrodes to your head is a little sticky, so if you’re going out in public immediately following your study, perhaps have someone check you over first. I may have learned that the hard way.

After being hooked up, I got in bed while Emma attached all the wires to the monitoring device next to the bed.

With a few final instructions from Emma, and a few more pictures taken by Emily, they turned off the light and left the room. Surprisingly quiet and dark, it took me a few minutes to adjust and get my bearings, all while being very aware of the camera on the ceiling, aimed at me.

Through a speaker next to the bed, Emma administered a quick test of ‘do this’, ‘move that’, ‘snore louder’ in order to make sure everything was working and hooked up correctly. With that being done, I was on my own.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think, especially with my shortened study, I’d fall asleep. There were a lot of thoughts going through my head, I knew two people were watching me in the next room and I was hooked up to a machine with 24 wires.

All that being said, I slept for about an hour. The wires were surprisingly non-obtrusive and really did move with you, as Emma had predicted they would. On occasion an electrode may become detached and it will need to be reattached, during which time the sleep technician may need to wake you up.

After I woke up, to give me the full experience, Emma had me put on the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask.

This mask is the top treatment for those with sleep apnea, and if, during a patient’s first sleep study, they are found to have symptoms of the disorder, they are brought back for a second study, which is conducted while they wear the mask.

It helps to open the airway, ensuring patients are able to breathe properly while they sleep.

When all was said and done, I sat on the bed while Emma removed all the electrodes and answered the barrage of questions Emily and I were firing at her. Then I got the behind-the-scenes tour of what goes on in the observation room during the study.

I was able to see the information the electrodes collected and sent, what all the squiggly lines on the screen meant (to those who know what they’re doing anyway) and what exactly it is Emma does with the information.

In an average study, the sleep technician goes through the eight hours of a patient’s sleep study and makes note of events, or disruptions, in the sleep patterns that may indicate sleep apnea.

Once those events are noted, the information is sent to a board-certified sleep physician who will review it and determine next steps. If sleep apnea is diagnosed, the patient will meet with their physician to discuss treatment options.

Among the many things I learned during my study were some interesting facts, like the average age of a sleep study patient is between 55 and 60, more studies are done on women than men and studies can be done on patients as young as 13.

While perhaps not the most glamorous three hours of my life, it was an experience I’ll not soon forget. Like many, I’d often wondered about the mysterious sleep study and it’s oh, so many wires. And now I know far more than I’d ever have thought.

My misconceptions and apprehensions erased, I would recommend the sleep study program to anyone who may have symptoms, or just feel they would benefit from a study. But I suggest leaving the photographer at home.

If you think you could benefit from a sleep study, talk to your provider. For more information about sleep studies call 218-894-8291 to speak with either of Lakewood’s sleep techs, Emma Howe or Amanda Shaw.