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Unlocking the secrets to a better night’s sleep

Amanda Holt Miller
Post Independent Staff

Without regular good sleep, people risk developing high blood pressure, heart disease, injury and death in motor vehicle accidents, not to mention a generally decreased quality of life.

The fact that a lot of people don’t get good sleep has inspired a few pioneers to try to figure out why. Mark Spoon is a polysomnographer for Mobile Sleep Diagnostics and conducts sleep studies at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and Grand River Medical Center in Rifle.

“Polysomnographer is just a fancy name for sleep study guy,” Spoon said. “We hook the patient up to something like a head-to-toe polygraph machine to take measurements while they sleep.”



There are 83 official sleep disorders, Spoon said. But about 90 percent of the people Spoon sees suffer from the same one ” obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is the name for a disorder that interrupts a patients breathing every minute or so while they’re sleeping, preventing them from getting to the deeper levels of sleep.



There are three levels of sleep before the rapid eye movement, or deepest, stage of sleep in which dreams occur and muscles are paralyzed.

“It’s basically a plumbing problem,” Spoon said. “When a person goes to sleep, they’re pipes close up. It could be a number of things ” big tonsils, the tong gets in the way of the air passage, the soft pallet flops down. For whatever reason, when a person lays down and their muscles relax, something gets in the way.”

Sleep apnea is usually treated with a continuous positive airway pressure mask that holds the airways open.

Sleep apnea causes people to be excessively tired and sleep deprived. When they visit their doctors nowadays, physicians often recommend they do a sleep study.

Spoon tries to run tests so that the timing is as close to the patient’s regular routine as possible. He measures brain waves to determine the level of sleep, heart rate, respiration, snoring and leg movement.

Restless leg syndrome is another of the slightly more common sleep disorders Spoon helps patients with. It causes patients to kick and keeps them from slipping into the deeper levels of sleep. It’s usually treated with medication.

Another common problem is insomnia, which Spoon said is a little harder to study since patients typically have trouble getting to sleep for him to take measurements.

Sleep studies are becoming more routine tests. Spoon started doing this sort of work in 1992.

“At that time, probably no one had ever heard of sleep studies or sleep apnea,” Spoon said. “Now there is definitely more awareness.”

It’s not just doctors who tell their patients to go to a sleep study but patients who have read articles or seen television programs about sleep disorders who suspect they have a problem.

Spoon said he sees about three patients a week at Valley View and since the hospital is adding more space, he expects to do about six studies a week there soon. And there is about a month’s wait, not just at Valley View, but at hospitals around the state, for sleep studies.

Contact Amanda Holt Miller at 625-3245 ext. 103

ahmiller@postindependent.com


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