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Methodist center diagnoses sleep disorders


  Kamita Harris, a technician at Methodist Mansfield (Texas) Medical Center’s sleep diagnostic clinic, attaches monitoring equipment to Kurt Howse. UMNS photos by John Gordon.

A UMNS Feature
By John Gordon*

Jan. 26, 2009 | MANSFIELD, Texas (UMNS)

For Kurt Howse, nodding off during the day was more than a nuisance.

“After lunch or later in the day, I would be getting sleepy, or if I wasn’t really engaged in something, I started to get a little bit drowsy again driving,” he says. “Sometimes I drive a lot for work, so I was very concerned with that.”

Howse, 39, sought treatment in the sleep diagnostic center at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center near Dallas. Methodist Mansfield opened the clinic last year, against a backdrop of new studies linking sleep disorders with obesity and other health problems.


Howse's sleep patterns are monitored as he slumbers in one of the center’s comfortable rooms.
 

Howse, the manager of a medical-diagnostics company, is among an estimated 70 million Americans with sleep disorders. He was first treated for a sleep disorder a year and a half earlier and came to Methodist Mansfield when he began noticing the symptoms again.

“My initial study before I was treated, I couldn’t stay awake even at my doctors’ appointments,” Howse says. “I really shouldn’t have been driving sometimes. Any time that there was not something engaging me, I was falling asleep.”

Sleep apnea is the most common problem seen by the clinic’s medical director, Dr. Robert McMichael.

“Sleep apnea is a disorder in which you quit breathing repeatedly during the night,” McMichael says. “Your sleep is not restful, and you feel drowsy in the daytime. Another thing that it does is it causes your blood pressure to go up every time you have an apnea, and it increases the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.”

Sleep lab like home

Methodist Mansfield’s sleep diagnostic center includes two rooms that, by design, bear little resemblance to standard hospital rooms.

“They look like bedrooms that you would see at someone’s home,” says Laura Irvine, the hospital’s president. “It’s designed that way so that the patient can have a good night’s sleep, just like they would sleep at home.”

Patients spend the night attached to dozens of sensors used to monitor their snoring, breathing, heart rate and the brain-wave patterns that show when they are dreaming.

“The sleep lab is important because there’s a lot of people, not just nationwide but locally, that are affected by sleep disorders,” Irvine says.

While patients slumber at the clinic, registered sleep technician Kamita Harris is working — watching computer monitors and recording sleep patterns.

“I do believe that we live in a world where patients or people are very sleep-deprived,” Harris says. “It can make a big difference in how you function (and in) day-to-day life.”

Risk factors

Age and weight gain can contribute to sleep problems.


Harris monitors a patient’s snoring, breathing, heart rate and brain-wave patterns.
 

“As we get older, especially about age 50, the muscles in the upper airway lose some of their tone, and they may not keep the airway open at night,” McMichael says.

“The other risk factor that’s prevalent is being overweight. Our society has been getting heavier over the last 20 or 30 years. And the people who get the larger size in their neck because of body fat will have some compromise of the airway and be at somewhat increased risk as well.”

McMichael says adults need six to nine hours of sleep each night.

“If you get less than six hours of sleep, it means you’re getting too little sleep most of the time, either because you’re too busy and don’t have enough time to get enough sleep, or perhaps because you have an illness that makes it harder to sleep,” he says.

Howse noticed symptoms of a sleep disorder returning after he gained about 45 pounds.

“I see me and my friends getting older and a little bit heavier and thicker in the neck,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of people who may not notice that they do have problems.”

And Howse can feel the difference when he gets a good night’s sleep.

“It’s a world of good,” he says.

More information on sleep disorders from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available at http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Sleep/.

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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