After moving from El Paso to Manhattan this past December, Lisa Blum was exhausted. And that was no big surprise. A stay-at-home mom with two young kids, Blum has a busy life.
But she knew her problems began even before the big move.
“I’d been very tired. It started back in 2008, when I gained some weight,” she said. “I knew I had sleep apnea, but I just kept thinking, ‘It will go away.’”
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder — the most common one there is. Simply put, it means an individual stops breathing for short periods of time, multiple times a night. Physicians say it can contribute to hypertension and other cardiac problems — as well as excessive tiredness and a decreased quality of life.
Blum was referred to Via Christi Sleep Services (aka “the Sleep Lab” at Mercy Regional Health Center) after developing heart problems.
Dr. Steven Short, the Sleep Lab’s medical director, sees patients like Blum every day.
“Theoretically, 26 percent of our population has sleep apnea, and many are not aware. Usually the spouse is more aware of it — mainly because of snoring, episodes where they stop breathing, falling asleep in the daytime,” Short said. “And anybody who’s had heart disease, high blood pressure, or stroke should be screened for sleep disorders.”
The National Sleep Foundation says that more than 18 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea. But many people, including Blum, go undiagnosed (and untreated) for years. The Sleep Lab is working to change that.
Located at Mercy’s Sunset Campus, the Sleep Lab is open seven nights a week, and runs 50 to 60 sleep studies a month. That comes out to more than 600 studies each year. The lab is led by Short; fellow pulmonologist Dr. Avinash Singh; neurologist Dr. Nanda Kumar; and Don Hedden, director.
So just what is a sleep study? It’s an easy, noninvasive test. All patients have to do is spend the night in one of the Sleep Lab’s private rooms, while sensors tell Mercy’s boardcertified sleep technologists what problems — if any — the patient is experiencing.
According to Mike Pomeroy, lead sleep technologist, it’s amazing how much information one study can reveal.
“A typical sleep study is between 800 and 900 pages in length,” Pomeroy said. “We look at brain waves, we monitor the heart. We monitor breathing and breathing effort. We watch oxygen levels, heart rate, leg movements, eye movements, and face muscles.”
Blum had a great experience during her sleep study.
“My sleep tech, Nicole, just made the whole experience really pleasant,” Blum said. “She explained everything, she told me what she was looking for, and she told me what was going to happen. It was an awesome experience.”
The good news is that most sleep disorders — especially sleep apnea — are very treatable.
The most common sleep apnea treatment is CPAP therapy, or continuous positive airway pressure.This device fits over the nose and mouth to keep airflow regulated during sleep. When CPAP therapy is followed properly, Pomeroy says it’s “pretty much 100-percent effective.”
That kind of treatment can change not only people’s sleep, but their lives.
“I remember a gentleman I studied,” Pomeroy said. “He would get up in the morning, go to work, then come home and go right to the recliner. We got him on a CPAP, and his wife told me that he started doing projects, working on their house, and cooking again. He had pretty much given those things up. The treatment changed his entire lifestyle.”
Blum, who had her study in January and started her CPAP therapy shortly after, says the difference is already “night and day.”
“Mercy and the Mercy team are just phenomenal. The first night with my CPAP, I had the best night’s sleep. I can already feel how much of an improvement it is,” she said. “It just works.”