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HMC Lab Provides Sleep-Related Data to Treat Serious Health Issues

            You have no trouble falling asleep and don’t remember tossing and turning in the night. But most mornings you wake up feeling like you could sleep another few hours or you find yourself nodding off during the day.

            Or, you lie awake, have trouble staying asleep, and someone has told you that you snore.

            If either scenario hits home, you may be a prime candidate for the Holyoke Medical Center Sleep Lab.

            The Sleep Lab opened in 1998 in response to a growing awareness of sleep apnea, a disorder that prevents individuals from achieving restful and restorative sleep. The lab is set up to monitor patients while they sleep, helps technicians gather information about the quality of sleep, heart rate, breathing, and oxygen levels. That information provides a physician with data necessary for an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan.

SL2            “If you end up in a sleep lab, there’s a chance something is going on. It’s our job to see what it is,” said Don McDonough, registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) at Holyoke Medical Center Sleep Lab.

            Since its inception, the Sleep Lab has grown in use, been renovated, and its hours expanded. This is all in response to the needs of the community, said Dr. Mohammad S. Bajwa, pulmonary disease specialist who manages the Holyoke Medical Center Sleep Lab. “If there is need, we will expand our hours again,” Bajwa said.

            Tiredness is only a surface problem triggered by a sleep disorder. Poor sleep affects congestive heart failure, heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and diabetes, Bajwa said. “It’s important, because unless we diagnose and treat the sleep apnea, those medical problems cannot be addressed as effectively,” he said.

            Sleep disorders have public health implications as well, Bajwa said. More frequent motor vehicle accidents, lower work productivity, and increased rates of industrial accidents can result from inadequate sleep. Students who suffer from a sleep disorder can function less effectively.

            Testing is done overnight in the quiet, home-like lab. Patients are hooked up to sensors, and most have no trouble getting to sleep. If patients feel they will have trouble, their doctor can prescribe a sleep aid, which doesn’t affect the test.

            Over the years, sleep lab equipment has progressed. “Back in the day, the machine put out a rolling sheet of paper. Now it’s all digital, computerized,” McDonough said. The equipment monitors in 30-second intervals important health factors such as heart rate, brain waves, and oxygen levels. It indicates when a patient is snoring.

            Snoring is one indicator of sleep apnea. It occurs when there is a partial obstruction of an airway. In sleep apnea, the partial obstruction becomes complete, and all airflow is stopped. The brain senses the drop in oxygen levels and fully or partially wakes the individual, who may not even know he or she awakens. That seesaw between waking and sleeping plays havoc with restful sleep.

SL1            Bajwa said people may sleep seven or eight hours in a night, but the quality of sleep may be the equivalent of four hours.

            In a perfect night’s sleep, 25 percent of the night is passed in Rapid Eye Movement sleep, the “top” of the sleep ladder. It is in REM sleep that our bodies benefit most. With sleep apnea, the sleeper tries to climb to the top but is knocked back down repeatedly. “So instead of 25 percent, they get 10 percent, 5 percent, or no REM sleep at all,” McDonough said. “People are exhausted, not because they didn’t get enough sleep; they didn’t get the right kind of sleep.”

            Sleep apnea is only one of several sleep disorders, which also includes narcolepsy (the body’s inability to control sleep cycles), parasomnia (sleep walking and the like), and panic attacks during sleep. The lab is able to assist physicians in diagnosis, and determine which specialized treatment can help, Bajwa said. 

            The Sleep Lab accommodates four patients a night, four nights a week. It is solidly booked four to six weeks in advance and requires a doctor’s orders for undergoing the test.

            For more information on the Sleep Lab at Holyoke Medical Center, call 534-2557.

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