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News 5 spends the night in a sleep lab

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When it comes to being healthy, diet and exercise are normally the first things that come to mind, but one crucial element often overlooked is sleep.

Doctors say it's not only crucial to people's immediate well being, but long term as well, which is why sleep labs are becoming so popular.

A lot of people think sleep labs are only for people with sleep apnea, which means you actually stop breathing in the middle of the night. But sleep labs watch for all kinds other of things that could be ruining your sleep, and the tests can be pretty intense.

Being a little tired every once in a while is pretty normal, but when it's all the time, coffee and energy drinks can only do so much.

"If you're not sleeping and you're sleep deprived, your productivity is going to drop," said Dr. Marcel Junqueira, who works at the Sleep Disorder Center at St. Mary-Corwin in Pueblo.

When people finally realize that, they often look to change things and many turn to sleep labs for help.

"We are getting busier and busier. We now run our sleep lab with five beds and we go every night of the week," Junqueira said. "Most of the people that come in have loud snoring, daytime fatigue, or restless sleep."

But how does a sleep lab actually work?

For that, I became a patient at the Sleep Disorders Center at St Mary-Corwin in Pueblo. First they showed me all the equipment, starting with the breathing machines. They had machines just for the nose, and others for both the nose and mouth.

"Sometimes if you're real claustrophobic you might think bigger is kind of more scary, but in the end if you're a mouth breather it's a lot more comfortable," Brandi Martinez said.

The hope is to not need a machine at all, but to figure that out, I had to get all wired up. Workers rigged me up with sensors starting with my head for monitoring brain waves, to my face for breathing and eye movement.

"These ones that I'm going to put by your eyes are so we can see when you have REM sleep -- rapid eye movement. The eyes go back and forth left and right," Martinez said.

On my throat, I wore a special snore microphone.

"Where we get the most vibration from vocal cords is where we're going to put this snore mic," Martinez said.

They even put wires on my legs, to test for restless leg syndrome. Once I was all wired up, it was time to shut out the lights and go to sleep, but first they had to check and see if all those wires were working.

"I can actually see him blinking right here. Blink blink blink," Martinez said while looking over the live results.

With all of the machines working properly, the only thing I had to do was fall asleep, and surprisingly it didn't take long.

"For you to fall asleep it took you only three minutes. You feel asleep right away," Junqueira said.

And for the most part I stayed that way until they woke me up the next morning, which is pretty rare. Doctors said my breathing was fine, so no need to bring in the machines, but they did notice one issue and apparently it was pretty obvious.

"You snored in every position. It started out soft and got very loud," Martinez said.

But, she said it wasn't bad enough to be considered a problem. As for the quality of my sleep, even though I slept through the night, the results show my sleep is far from perfect.

"You see all this fragmentation in your sleep. Whenever it's happening so often and you have many arousals, you end up tired during the next day," Junqueira said, which explains a lot because I'm normally pretty tired -- probably because my schedule is all over the place, working three days during the day and two days early in the morning. But for the most part, doctors said I passed.

"In your case, everything looks good," Junqueira said.

Depending on what problems you have, the lab has a number of different solutions from breathing machines to mouth guards even certain medications.

There's also a lot of simple things you can do at home that the doctors call "sleep hygiene," and this goes for everyone:

  1. Keep your sleep schedule consistent. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day so your body can get into a routine.
  2. Don't eat a large meal right before bed.
  3. Don't read or watch TV in bed. Doctors say it is good to read before bed but don't do it in bed because it trains your body to think its ok to stay awake even if you're laying in bed.

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