Learning your ABZ’s

CNJ Staff Photo: Andy DeLisle
Sleep therapist Bryan Ellis says sleeping disorders are underdiagnosed.

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

By Marlena Hartz
He swings the door open to reveal an immaculate room. Not a crumb on the carpet, not a stain on the nightstand, not a wrinkle on the floral bedspread.
Makes sense. After all, this is a laboratory.
Bryan Ellis is a registered sleep therapist. He is also the owner of the High Plains Sleep Disorder Center.
He points to the corner of the room, where a tiny camera is suspended from the ceiling. Monday through Sunday, restless patients check into his center to spend a night under watchful eyes.
Sleep technicians monitor patients throughout the night, charting their heart rates, brain waves, eye movements and breathing as they snooze … or try to.
“Sleeping disorders are one of the most underdiagnosed problems,” Ellis said.
“In my opinion, (sleep) is one of the most understated, important things that take place. If your brain doesn’t get mental rest, if your body doesn’t get physical rest, it can inhibit your health in a number of ways.”
Research has linked sleep problems with a litany of other health problems: heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, Ellis said.
The study of sleep, however, has been unlocked and given credence only recently, Ellis said.
In America, sleep disorders are rising, along with diabetes and obesity, Ellis said.
About 70 million Americans are plagued by sleep problems, according to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. Among those 70 million, nearly 60 percent have a chronic disorder, according to the research center.
“Each year, sleep disorders, sleep deprivation, and sleepiness add an estimated $15.9 billion to the national health care bill,” reads the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research Web site.
Ellis sees patients daily whose lives are severely interrupted by sleep disorders, he said.
“I have met couples who haven’t slept in the same bed for years,” he said.
A seemingly simple sleep problem, such as snoring, can be indicative of a serious sleep disorder, according to Ellis.
Common disorders include sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder. Often, Ellis’ patients are not even aware they have disorders, he said.
Sleeping partners are often the only witnesses to disorders. Patients with sleep apnea, for instance, frequently stop breathing for intervals of up to 20 seconds.
“When you sleep,” Ellis said, “there is a disconnect between your environment and your ability to respond to your environment.”
All of Ellis’ patients are referred to him through physicians, he said. His job — aided by two separate, camera-rigged bedrooms — is to pinpoint the type of sleeping disorder that plagues them and educate them on their disorder, he said.
Treatment for disorders depends on the disorder, he said. Breathing machines and certain medicines can bring ZZZs to patients.
Everyone experiences trouble sleeping, or short periods of insomnia, Ellis said. But if sleeping problems inhibit relationships or work, and last for more than 10 to 14 consecutive days, Ellis advises help be sought.

Common sleep disorders
• Sleep apnea: A narrowing of the upper airway or a collapse of the upper airway that limits oxygen consumption.
• Restless legs syndrome: Occurs 30 to 60 minutes before you fall asleep. Patients usually have fitful leg movements, and complain of tingling and numbing in their limbs.
• Periodic limb movement disorder: Legs and arms move while you are asleep.
• Narcolepsy: A frequent or uncontrollable desire for sleep.

Sleep disorder symptoms:
• Daytime sleepiness
• Feeling unrefreshed after sleep
• Getting up frequently to go to the bathroom during the night
• Falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow — “It should take about five to 15 minutes to fall asleep,” Ellis said. “If you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, that is not normal.”
• Snoring
• Intervals where breathing stops or is labored.
• Normal activities, such as walking, make you sleepy

Tips for ZZZs:
• Cut caffeine consumption. End caffeine consumption about six hours before you plan to head to bed, Ellis advised.
• Take a warm bath. This helps some people unwind, Ellis said.
• Don’t exercise near bedtime. Refrain from exercising within three hours of your bedtime, Ellis said.
• Leave TVs out of the bedroom. Some people claim the white noise of television helps them go to sleep, Ellis said. Many, however, lie awake for three to four hours watching TV in bed, making the tube a far more common sleep inhibitor, he said.
• Write a to-do list for the next day. People commonly complain they have too much on their minds to fall asleep. Writing it down can help clear your mind, Ellis said.
• Read. If you are lying restlessly in bed for more than 30 minutes, Ellis suggests getting up, sitting in a chair and reading.
• Strip your bedroom of distractions. “The bedroom should be for two things,” Ellis said, “sleeping and sex.”