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Desert Exposure
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Authors-Online

Sawing Wood

The Las Cruces Sleep Center helps identify and
solve sleep problems.

 

Twenty-three across, six-letter word. Clue: "sound" sleeper. The tongue-in-cheek answer that springs to the mind of any crossword enthusiast is "snorer," of course. But snoring is actually often a sign of less-than-sound sleep. In fact, it may be a cause for alarm, a sign of a serious sleep disorder that robs the snorer of recuperative sleep stages and can even be life-threatening—the cumulative effects of sleep loss leading to hypertension, hormonal imbalances, diabetes and strokes.

Jana Wright of the Las Cruces Sleep Center in one of the center's four sleep-evaluation rooms. (Photo by Donna Clayton Lawder)

Therapist Jana Wright says that loud snoring quite often is the reason people get in the door of a sleep lab—and not because it disturbs the snorer, but because the snorer's bed partner can't get any sleep!

"Snoring actually brings a lot of people in the door," Wright says. "It's often the person's spouse who brings them in, saying 'I can't take it any more! I'm not getting any sleep because of this.'"

Wright is a psychiatric clinician and cognitive behavioral specialist at the Sleep Lab of Las Cruces Sleep Center, where she works with her partner, Dr. Paul Feil, and a staff of certified somnologists. Feil is a pulmonologist and diplomate in sleep medicine who had been performing sleep studies starting 10 years ago at the old Memorial Hospital in Las Cruces, before taking over the facility to establish his own free-standing center five years ago.

She and Feil have uniquely complementary backgrounds and training. Wright is a registered nurse and cognitive behavioral therapist with additional credits in education and a PhD in religion. Their combined credentials and experience allow them to treat patients from all angles, she says, using any combination of technology, pharmaceuticals, counseling and therapies to arrive at the most effective treatment.

The Las Cruces sleep lab is one of just a handful in the country to be nationally accredited, meaning that in addition to treating patients, the facility also is certified to perform sleep research and has an insomnia clinic. (In the Silver City area, the Gila Regional Medical Center has a two-bed sleep lab and performs polysomnograms to evaluate patients who experience sleepiness during the day for possible sleep disorders, referring patients to a local pulmonologist.) Wright and Feil also offer training sessions to medical doctors to help them identify sleep disorders in their patients and make referrals when indicated.

Wright says most insurance policies cover treatment for sleep disorders, but patients lacking insurance can pay up-front for a treatment package of several visits. Many of the Las Cruces facility's clients are self-referring, Wright says, but others come at the behest of their primary medical practitioner.

At the Las Cruces sleep lab, a new patient is first evaluated through an interview process, with a questionnaire to evaluate lifestyle and habits, including eating patterns. Wright says there are many causative factors of sleep disorders, and it is important to get a full picture of the patient's health and habits, not only to determine causes of sleep loss but also how best to treat.

 

Our bodies go through five stages of sleep. First are two stages of "getting into sleep," where we spend a large portion of our sleep time, followed by two stages of deeper sleep, also called slow-wave or delta sleep. After achieving deep sleep, we actually go back through the phases of lighter sleep and then begin REM sleep, named for the Rapid Eye Movements that accompany dreaming.

These sleep cycles repeat throughout the night and get longer as sleep continues. A person may complete five cycles in a typical night's sleep. Disruptions anywhere along the line—whether temporary or chronic—can add up to ill health.

Three main sleep disorders that interrupt the dreaming (REM) and restorative sleep phases are insomnia, sleep apnea and parasomnia, which also have subcategories within them. Wright says it is not uncommon for a person to have a combination of disorders.

Insomnia is the sleep disorder with which most laypersons are familiar. Tossing and turning, perhaps counting sheep by the hundreds, an insomniac can't get to sleep, can't stay asleep or wakes too early.

Apnea causes the sleeper to stop breathing, literally choking, awakening the sleeper repeatedly throughout the night. Loud snoring often is a sign of sleep apnea. The CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask is becoming increasingly popular to treat apnea. The device delivers a constant low-pressure stream of air in the nose and throat during sleep to maintain an open airway.

In parasomnia, which literally means "around sleep," the sleeper engages in activities that should not occur during sleep, such as sleepwalking and eating. Narcolepsy (falling asleep suddenly and without warning at inappropriate times) or disruptive night terrors (stronger and different from nightmares) are other types of parasomnia.

"It's possible for them (parasomniacs) to drive a car while asleep. They can get up and eat in the middle of the night, sound asleep," Wright says, adding that parasomniacs don't eat only food, but substances that can be quite harmful, like dirt from their houseplants and other foreign objects. Parasomnias often are precipitated or perpetuated by stress.

 

Wright warns against self-diagnosis and over-the-counter treatments. Though the CPAP mask has gained such wide acceptance and use that over-the-counter models are now available, she points out that the devices require fine-tuning adjustments for air level. And she adds that Benadryl, an over-the-counter allergy medicine often taken for its ability to promote general drowsiness, actually robs the user of the restorative phase of sleep and can dehydrate the body.

Although you'd naturally connect daytime sleepiness to problems getting enough rest at night, there are other symptoms that you might be surprised to learn are a sign of a sleep disorder. These include concentration difficulties, morning headaches, depression and memory problems. Research shows that some conditions such as migraines and fibromyalgia may actually stem from an undiagnosed sleep disorder.

Wright says people who think they may have a sleep disorder can take some simple measures to encourage healthy sleeping habits:

And if sleeping problems persist, she says, the patient will now be armed with more information—about what works for them and what doesn't—to assist the sleep lab practitioners in helping them find the route to a good night's rest.

—Donna Clayton Lawder

 

The Sleep Lab of Las Cruces Sleep Center is at 2437 S. Teleshor Dr. For The Insomnia Clinic and medical-practitioner training sessions, call 522-5683; for the Sleep Lab, 532-1731.

 

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