Many reach for a coffee, an energy drink, or soda when they skip out on a full night’s rest.
But the Centers for Disease Control estimate that for 50 to 70 million Americans, sleeping properly is simply impossible.
For Cortez resident Jim Perry, sleeping at night meant gasping for air sometimes 13 times an hour because his brain would fail to prompt his lungs to breathe.
Many others, including Felix Monteagudo, the technical director of the Sleep Center at Southwest Memorial Hospital, struggle to breathe when their tongues and throats relax during the night, cutting off their air.
These cases exemplify two forms of sleep apnea, and as many as 10 percent of adults in the United States suffer from this disorder, said Dr. Ed Razma, the medical director of the Sleep Center.
As the medical understanding of the connection between sleep and other health factors including blood pressure and weight has grown, so has the ability to study and treat it in Cortez.
The sleep center in Cortez became a permanent fixture at the hospital four years ago, where about 200 patients are seen a year. When Monteagudo joined the staff as a technical director in 2012, the facilities were improved and expanded.
“We need to create more of a home environment,” he recalled telling the staff at the time.
To be diagnosed, a patient’s head, face, chest and other areas must be covered with sensors to monitor breathing, heart rate, body movement and other indicators.
Monteagudo made it a priority to improve the two bedrooms used for the study by installing showers, televisions and taking steps to reduce noise and light to the rooms to make sleep easier to achieve during testing.
Monteagudo, who is a Registered Polysomnographic Technologist works with patients to help manage their symptoms at the hospital. He brings a personal understanding to his work because he suffered with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea for many years and knows exactly what they are suffering with, including loss of memory and loud snoring.
“It’s not a joke anymore,” Monteagudo said of snoring.
Monteagudo was a respiratory therapist in 1996 when a position opened up at the sleep center in the Florida hospital where he was working.
After learning about sleep apnea, it dawned on him: “I think I have this,” he said at the time.
Perry, who has central sleep apnea, appreciated the understanding and patience Monteagudo and the other staff members brought to his case. He was referred to the center by his primary care doctor and was determined to adjust to the treatment after learning it could lead to congestive heart failure.
Perry had to return three times for testing and struggled to sleep with the sensors.
Eventually the clinic sent him home with a bilevel positive airway pressure machine, also known as a BIPAP, to prevent his breathless episodes that starved him for oxygen for up to 42 seconds at a time. The machine uses positive air pressure to help keep his airways open.
It took months to get used to wearing a mask at night and the sound of the machine, he said. But he has noticed a real difference in his energy level.
“I’m not having that terrible afternoon let down,” he said.
As the understanding of Perry’s condition and the far more common obstructive sleep apnea has grown so has the center’s ability to diagnose it.
In October, Cortez doctor’s started sending patients home with kits to test for obstructive apnea in their own bed.
At-home testing can cut the cost of testing by a third for patients, Monteagudo said.
“Insurance oftens drives the way we prescribe sleep testing,” Razma said.
However, at-home sleep testing is not as thorough as testing in the lab and does not pick up other conditions like restless leg syndrome, he said. If doctors suspect a patient has a complex sleep disorder they will require a test in the lab.
The center is also working on becoming accredited with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and hopes to achieve it by the end of the year, Razma said.