The Herald Bulletin

April 1, 2013

Dream on

Take-home study offers easy, lower-cost way to a better night’s sleep

By Baylee Pulliam
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Malana Brown used to get about two hours of sleep a night.

That little bit of rest was barely enough for Malana to power through her full-time job, school work and caring for her two kids.

“Let’s just say I was exhausted,” said Malana, 39, of Alexandria. “I lived on coffee.”

But Malana’s busy schedule wasn’t the only thing keeping her from her nightly shut-eye.

She also has sleep apnea — pauses in breathing or shallow breaths, that would sometimes startle her awake or drag her out of her deep, recharging slumber and into a lighter, less effective one.

But Malana’s sleep-deprived, coffee-fueled days are now a thing of the past, thanks to the new, take-home sleep study kits offered by St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital.

“They’re great for busy people,” said registered sleep technician Connie Brown. “You don’t have to stay (in the hospital) overnight, like you would with a lab study.”

And it’s much cheaper — about one-sixth the cost in a lab — and more comfortable, she said, since patients can sleep in their own beds.

The kits are simple: a stretchy headband, outfitted with a blue data-recorder box that stickers to the forehead. There’s a little drop-down tube that wraps around the head and fits up the patient’s nose.

To show how the kits work, Connie strapped the box to her head and laid on a couch in the sleep lab’s break room.

“They’re pretty user-friendly,” she said, as a woman’s voice came out of the blue box, instructing her to lay still. “See, it even tells you what to do. It guides you through it.”

While the patient sleeps, the headband gathers data on breathing patterns, air flow and snoring, via a decibel reader. The results, which are stored in the headband and later assembled into a chart, are available in as little as 24 hours — several days less than ones from the sleep lab.

That’s partly because the data sets gathered by the take-home kits aren’t nearly as in-depth. Among other things, they don’t monitor heart rate or brain activity.

“But it’s better than nothing,” Connie said, adding the data can usually help doctors diagnose less complex sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea.

That’s good, because sleep apnea is sometimes difficult to catch. There’s no blood test, and it’s tough for doctors to observe during routine visits since it only happens during sleep.  

And coffee, although good for a quick pick-me-up, isn’t a cure-all for exhausted sleep apnea sufferers.

According to the National Institutes of Health, all those hours of missed shut-eye can lead to other problems, such as an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes. It can also increase the risk of heart failure, arrhythmias and work-related accidents.

Malana was fortunate. Following the take-home study, she was outfitted with a CPAP machine that helps regulate her breathing.

“Now I get five to six hours a night,” she said.

While it’s not the roughly eight hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation, “it’s definitely better than two,” she said.

The take-home kits aren’t for everyone, Connie said. For example, a person with lung disease should probably go for the full, hospital-based study.

“But for someone who’s fairly healthy,” she said, “this can really help. It can really improve their quality of life.”

Find Baylee Pulliam on Facebook and @BayleeNPulliam on Twitter, or call 648-4250.