Lori Miller knew she wasn't getting a really good night's sleep.
Though she slept for an appropriate amount of time, Miller, 47 of Claysburg, still felt tired during the day. So her family doctor suggested Miller go through a sleep study at the Sleep Center in Station Medical Center in Altoona, where she was diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Now, a mask she wears at night to correct the common sleep disorder is not only helping her feel more rested, but is also helping to save her life.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Lori Miller of Claysburg talks with Dr. Mehrdad Ghaffari, a specialist in pulmonology and sleep medicine at the Sleep Center in Station Medical Center in Altoona.?Below, Neurology/Sleep Lab technician Vicky Hanwell fits Miller for a mask for a CPAP?machine, which will help her breathe properly while she sleeps.
"You can really notice the difference," she said.
Miller is one of the many locals to undergo testing and treatment at the sleep center, run by Altoona Regional Health System. It opened about a year ago. With four beds and doctors, nurses and lab technicians conducting studies around the clock, the center sees about 30 patients a week.
Dr. Mehrdad Ghaffari, a specialist in Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, said sleep apnea - which is an obstruction of the airway that causes sufferers to stop breathing in deep sleep - is one of the most common sleep-related disorders they diagnose. It also has some of the most severe health consequences.
"Sleep apnea is quite a bad disease to live with," Ghaffari said, noting that it increases the chances of heart attack, stroke and hypertension. "[It] can be as bad as cancer in terms of mortality."
Those most at risk for sleep apnea are men under the age of 50 and postmenopausal women, Ghaffari said. There is also a significant correlation between sleep apnea and obesity, he added, and it is worsened by smoking.
The diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea is "quite critical," Ghaffari said, as well as easy. The mask Miller now wears to bed is called a CPAP machine, and distributes the correct amount of pressure to keep the airway opened throughout the night.
However, is is hard to know whether or not you have sleep apnea without going through a study. Ghaffari said most sufferers are prompted to go to a doctor upon the insistence or concern of a bed partner.
Insomnia, another common sleep disorder highlighted by a difficulty falling or staying asleep, is also highly underreported. Ghaffari said 70 percent of sufferers never talk about it to their primary doctors, adding that this may be due to the fact that sleep medicine is a new field that even some in the medical community aren't aware of the new advances.
"We should educate and make more awareness among the population that yes, these are the sleep problems that can be easily fixed, but you have to step up and talk to primary care doctors," Ghaffari said.
Dr. David Kuhlmann, a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said he believes there is a growing awareness about the different kinds of sleep disorders, but still a lot that people need to learn.
"People want to live longer and have a better quality of life," he said. "Getting good sleep is a huge part of that."
Kuhlmann said many people with sleep disorders don't realize that they don't have to work around being tired all the time, or deal with its impacts on mood, memory and health. But receiving the right treatment can change this perception.
"You may learn to find it is a bigger deal than you think, and makes a bigger impact than you think," he said.
Anther problem the Sleep Center treats is shift work disorder, which affects the 20 percent of workers who have trouble adjusting to their shift, Ghaffari said. Delayed sleep phase disorder also describes those who go to sleep very late and wake up late, which can affect performance during the waking hours.
Patients with any disorder that is treated at the Sleep Center are monitored very closely, with pre and post-study sessions with the doctor and three month, six month and one year follow-ups.
Though most patients are seen at the referral of a family doctor, Ghaffari said anyone with symptoms like snoring, pauses in breathing during sleep or sleepiness during the day should come in for a study instead of living with a possible sleep disorder.
"Sleep has a purpose," he said. "We spend one third of our life asleep... but that sleep has a significant affect on our body."
To contact the Sleep Center at Station Medical Center, call 889-4466.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.