Sleep Lab & Sleep Medicine
If you often find yourself wide awake in the wee hours, you're not alone. Nearly two-thirds of American adults experience regular sleep disruptions. But insomnia need not be a life sentence. An overnight stay at Virginia Hospital Center's Sleep Lab could pinpoint what ails you.
Many disorders can be diagnosed with overnight sleep study, or polysomnograms, according to Lawrence Stein, MD, Director of the Hospital's Sleep Lab which is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Doctors can simultaneously record a patient's brainwaves, muscle activity, heart rhythms, belly and chest wall effort, air flow to the nose and mouth, snoring patterns, blood oxygen levels and nerve impulses to the eye. These factors can help identify the onset of REM (rapid eye movement), dream states and possible impediments to sound sleep.
Sleep apnea, a condition affecting some 15 million Americans, is among the most common disorders diagnosed at the Lab. Those affected experience repetitive, involuntary breathing pauses throughout the night due to absent or impaired air flow through the back of the throat. "This results in an adrenaline surge, which, in turn, causes an elevation in respiratory effort, blood pressure, lung circulatory pressures and heart rate," Dr. Stein explains. "The outcome is sleep disruption, loud, irregular snoring, carryover fatigue and headaches." Recent studies have also shown sleep apnea to be a risk factor for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Men are twice as likely as women to suffer from sleep apnea. Commonly associated with obesity and large neck size, the condition can be exacerbated by alcohol, tobacco and sedative use. Once diagnosed, however, it can be easily treated with a bedside device, roughly the size of a toaster, called Nasal CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). A mask attached to the machine blows a constant stream of air into the nose and mouth, acting as a pneumatic splint to prevent the throat from collapsing.
Another common sleep disorder affecting 3-5% of U.S. adults is restless leg syndrome (RLS). Individuals with RLS often experience a pins-and-needles sensation in their legs and feel an irresistible urge to move, making sleep initiation difficult. RLS is often associated with anemia, pregnancy, kidney problems and back problems, says Dr. Stein. Although it can affect individuals of all ages, it is most often seen in older adults. Fortunately, RLS can be treated with a range of therapies, from muscle rubs to iron or magnesium tablets. Severe cases are sometimes controlled with the same drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease.