Diagnosing dozing

Published 7:11 pm Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sleep center: Dr. Stephen Coleman, medical director of the sleep center at Sentara BelleHarbour Medical Complex, said it’s important for people to identify sleep disorders because they are sometimes a symptom of more serious health problems, such as heart disease.

Dr. Stephen Coleman and the team at Neurology Associates of Suffolk are in the business of getting you a better night’s sleep — and since about 70 million Americans report trouble sleeping, they have plenty of people to see.

The Neurology Associates of Suffolk work at sleep centers at Sentara BelleHarbour Medical Complex and Sentara Obici Hospital to study and diagnose sleep disorders.

Coleman, the medical director at the sleep centers, said the majority of patients they see are suffering from sleep apnea, a disorder that causes pauses in breathing during sleep, but they also diagnose insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy and shift work sleep disorders.

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For its facility and work, the sleep center at BelleHarbour, which opened in July 2008 recently gained national accreditation through the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

The center at Obici has been accredited for the past 10 years.

Coleman said the accreditation at BelleHarbour serves as a guarantee to patients of good service and nice facilities.

“It’s an assurance of not only high quality but lessened risk,” he said.

Coleman said he is especially proud of the technicians that work at the facility because they are the key to a high quality experience for patients.

“When someone comes in to spend the night, you want them to have a technician that they are comfortable with,” Coleman said.

BelleHarbour features six rooms in which patients stay overnight to be monitored by the sleep technicians.

Each room features a queen-sized bed, its own bathroom and a flat-screen TV to help patients feel more at home.

“We try to set it up to be as close to a normal bedroom as possible,” Coleman said. “We want people to come in, try to relax and be as comfortable as possible.”

When patients arrive at the center around 7:30 p.m., they are hooked up to several pieces of equipment to monitor their bodies before lights go out at 9 p.m.

As patients sleep, technicians monitor several body functions, including brain waves, eye movement and airflow.

Because it is so common, most of the time the techs are looking for one of the two types of sleep apnea.

The first type is central sleep apnea, which occurs if the part of your brain that controls breathing doesn’t send the proper signals to your muscles and causes pauses in breathing.

The second and most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which is usually caused when the airways become blocked during sleep, causing you to stop breathing.

These pauses can occur up to 150 times every hour and cause a person to wake up several times during the night.

Coleman said some people don’t realize they are waking up, but don’t feel well-rested during the day.

“Even though the person thinks he is asleep sometimes, it is causing sleep to be interrupted,” he said.

There are several risk factors for sleep apnea, including being male and old age, but it is most often linked to obesity. Because of this link, the occurrence of sleep apnea has increased during recent years.

Also, Coleman said, most sleep disorder doctors believe sleep apnea could affect 25 percent of adults in America, but only 10 percent of those cases have been diagnosed.

Coleman said it’s important for people to identify sleep disorders, especially to ensure they are not symptoms of something more serious, such as heart disease.

“(Sleep disorders) are factors for greater risks,” he said.

Coleman said knowing you have a sleep disorder can help you better monitor your overall health.

For more information, contact BelleHarbour sleep center at 983-0090 and Obici center at 934-4450.