Harbor sleep clinic helps patients rest easy Center aims to open eyes about danger of disorders

March 31, 1996|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

At first, Clara Beam shrugged off popping awake in the middle of the night, attributing it to stress. But when she began drifting off during the day, only to snap awake talking to someone who wasn't there, she went to her doctor.

Dr. Shobha D. Reddy, referred her to the new sleep center at Harbor Hospital Center. Wednesday night, Mrs. Beam was lying in a quiet room, electrodes attached to her jaws, sides of her eyes, forehead, nose, neck and shoulders. A small machine recorded her breathing, heart rate, eye movements and chest expansions.

Harbor opened the center in January because of the lack of such centers in the area.

"When our medical staff needed to have one of their patients studied, there were only a few sleep centers around to refer them to and it would take them weeks to get studied," said James R. Clements, manager of the center.

Other hospitals that have sleep centers include Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in East Baltimore, Howard County General in Columbia and Liberty Medical Center in northwest Baltimore.

Harbor's sleep center, on the ground floor of the hospital, has had 35 patients since it opened. It contains two bedrooms decorated with chairs, night stands and armoires and a bathroom with a shower.

A general sleep test at Harbor costs $1,150, Mr. Clements said.

The most common disorder technicians at the center encounter is obstructive apnea, which causes a person to awaken frequently during the night because air passages are obstructed. Technicians also test for insomnia; nocturnal myoclonus, in which frequent leg jerks or movement disrupt sleep; and narcolepsy, a frequent and uncontrollable desire for sleep. The disorders are dangerous because people whose sleep has been disrupted at night are likely to fall asleep while driving a car or operating equipment during the day, Mr. Clements said. The worst is narcolepsy, he said.

"That's where, boom, at the drop of a hat people will fall asleep, and that can be dangerous," he said.

Sleep apnea is caused by extra flaps of skin that block airways. It can be treated with a plastic mask that fits over the nose of the patient and delivers forced air from a compressor, which keeps airways open, Mr. Clements said.

But no one knows what causes narcolepsy or nocturnal myoclonus, and there is no way to treat them, according to the American Sleep Disorders Association, based in Rochester, Minn.

Mrs. Beam said her doctor referred her to the Harbor Hospital center to make sure no physical problems were causing her sleeping difficulties.

"I'm not getting a good night's sleep," said the retired medical secretary. "When I wake up in the morning I feel tired, like I could go back to sleep. My doctor says she thinks I don't reach that deep sleep."

While Mrs. Beam slept, a sleep technologist watched her through an infrared camera, which hangs unobtrusively in a corner.

Mrs. Beam said she stirred only a few times during the night.

When she arose shortly before 5 a.m. Thursday, she thought she had been asleep only four hours, though the technician turned out the light in her room at 11: 20 p.m.

In seven to 10 days, the center will send the results of her test to her doctor.

Mrs. Beam said she is hopeful the results will help her doctor find out how to help her get a good night's sleep because she has tried everything she can think of and "nothing seemed to help."

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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