New Tool Helps People Rest Easy

For millions of Americans, a bad night's sleep isn't just a nuisance - it's a real medical problem.

Ron Harbaugh is among them. The former WIBW-TV early morning news anchor noticed he'd get a good night's sleep, but still be tired all day.

"I just thought - it shouldn't be like this," he said.

Harbaugh has since taken a new job with more normal hours, but he was still feeling fatigued. That's when someone suggested he be checked for sleep apnea.

Cotton-O'Neil nurse practitioner Angie Brockman, ARNP, says sleep apnea is when a person stops breathing during sleep. Officially diagnosing sleep apnea takes an overnight sleep study, which can be pretty involved when you're not quite sure.

That's where the Apnea Link comes in. It's a small device patients take home for one night. They sleep with a small monitor strapped to their chest, a device taped on their finger and a tube at their nose to check breathing. The next day, the information is downloaded into a report showing oxygen levels, chest movement and breathing stoppages. Brockman says it's a way to get information so you know whether to send a patient on for further diagnosis. It can also convince a patient who doesn't believe he or she has sleep apnea and doesn't want to commit to the overnight study to go for the further evaluation.

Harbaugh's Apnea Link showed he stopped breathing 38 times an hour. An overnight sleep study confirmed he had sleep apnea. Left untreated, over time, the condition could have impacted not just how a patient like Harbaugh feels, but also their overall health.

"It's hard on the heart," Brockman said. "It can be associated with hypertension, stroke, heart attack, diabetes."

Harbaugh now uses what's called a C-PAP machine. He sleeps with a mask that puts pressure on his airway, keeping him breathing while he rests easy.

"It's like night and day," he said. "I wish I would have done it a long time ago."

Besides fatigue, other signs of sleep apnea include snoring or pauses in breathing during sleep. People who suspect a problem should talk to their doctor, who can refer them for a sleep study or the Apnea Link.


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