A trip to the sleep lab

By Erika Mahoney

May 31, 2013 Updated May 31, 2013 at 7:27 AM EDT

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Doctors recommend getting about eight hours of sleep every night.

That means people spend a third of their lives in their beds, unless they're are one of the 40 million people in the United States who has a sleep disorder, the most common of which is sleep apnea.

"Sleep apnea is when people partially or completely stop breathing during their sleep and that spoils their sleep quality," said Dr. Zia Shah, Lourdes Hospital Director of Sleep Lab.

Dr. Shah says sleep apnea affects nearly 24 percent of men and 9 percent of women. The disorder can increase the risk for high blood pressure, heart problems, strokes, diabetes and depression and or anxiety.

Like most sleep disorders, it can go unnoticed.

But during the warmer seasons, symptoms can get even worse.

Shah says this connection is especially prominent in children.

"If nasal allergies are severe and noses get plugged up and so forth, that's likely to make sleep apnea worse."

Symptoms include loud snoring, pauses in breathing, frequent awakenings, morning headaches and fatigue.

"Those are the kinds of things that we look for and watch for here," Tracy Jewett, Registered Sleep Technicians said. "We find out what's disturbing your sleep."

The Lourdes Hospital Sleep Lab has eight rooms, each designed to look like a hotel room, with private bathrooms, TVs and queen-sized beds.

The lab is open six days a week and the rooms are typically filled.

Jewett says the patients arrive around 7 p.m. to unwind and relax.

Once the patient is feeling comfortable, a technician wires them up.

"We watch your brain activity, your facial muscles, your eye movements, and your EKG so we can watch your heartbeat," Jewett said. "We also put some wires in your leg to watch your leg movement. Once we get you in bed, we have a few more things to attach to watch your breathing and air flow."

Jewett says a lot of patients are concerned it might be hard to fall asleep knowing they're being observed.

"Everybody says the same thing, but typically once they come in, they unwind a little bit, get used to the rooms, it's usually not a problem."

For those found to have sleep apnea, Shah says the best treatment is a mask.

"It kind of sits inside the nose, we call it nasal pillows," Dr. Shah said. "So the idea of all these interfaces is to deliver some air pressure to balloon up the throat a little so the throat doesn't close during sleep."

In this case, a good night's sleep could save your life.