Having trouble sleeping? According to a UIC study released this month, people spend an average of 7.5 hours in bed trying to sleep, but end up only getting 6.1 hours of sleep. The study examined sleep habits of 669 adults between 38 and 50 years old.

Some factors preventing a good night’s sleep may be health-related. The most common sleep disorder is sleep apnea, which affects roughly 18 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Oak Park Sleep Center, 1515 N. Harlem Ave., opened in January to help patients suffering from sleep apnea and other disorders. The sleep center is one of two that will open up this year in Oak Park and River Forest. Merit Health Care, based in Lombard, will open a center in River Forest later in the year.

Both centers will offer patients in-office assessment or see patients referred by their primary doctors. The centers will also offer standard sleep studies for patients 12 years of age and older.

Drs. Girgis and Associates, an Oak Park and River Forest practice that includes ear, nose and throat specialists, opened at the North Harlem location in January 2005. The practice expanded to include sleep disorders a year later.

For more modern sleep centers conducting overnight or even daytime sleep studies, the idea is to give patients a feeling of comfort that doesn’t always come from a traditional hospital setting, according to Dr. Joan Coker, chief sleep specialist for Girgis and Associates and the Oak Park Sleep Center.

“That’s probably the main difference between us and most hospitals that do testing,” said Coker, a board-certified physician. In many of them, you sleep in a hospital bed, which can be quite uncomfortable.

Most people, she said, don’t sleep well in a hospital setting, making a sleep study that much more difficult. The Oak Park Sleep Center has hotel-style rooms with a TV and, in some cases, a private bathroom.

“This gives you more of a feel of being in a hotel,” said Coker. “The patients, they like that much better.”

According to most estimates by heath experts and the federal government, about 70 million Americans have some form of problem sleeping. Other sleep disorders include narcolepsy-excessive or uncontrolled episodes of sleep-and “restless leg syndrome,” where the person constantly moves their legs during the night.

A severe case of apnea, Coker said, is a condition known as obtrusive sleep apnea (OSA).

In common incidents of apnea, a person has bouts of shallow breathing, where he or she loses about 50 percent of their breath taken during the night, or if the person stops breathing completely. As the person tries to breathe, they wake up. Having more than five bouts an hour is considered to have obstructive sleep apnea.

Treatments, depending on the disorder, can vary. OSA patients, for instance, may require a device called the CPAP-continuous positive airway pressure-that helps regulate oxygen in patients via a mask worn during sleep.

For patients needing a more extensive solution, surgical procedures may be necessary and can involve removing the tonsils or even resetting a patients’ jaw.

Out of the 10 patients Coker sees-and she sees about 18-20 patients a day-about 50 percent are candidates for some kind of surgical procedure, she said. Most, though, respond to the CPAP, she said, requiring no surgery at all.

Coker said some patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea also have other health conditions relating to the heart, blood pressure or obesity, the number one cause of sleep apnea.

Patients suffering from any number of sleep disorders can live normal lives, but disorders if untreated or improperly treated can be fatal.

Football Hall of Famer Reggie White died in December 2004 from “fatal cardiac arrhythmia,” due in part to obstructive sleep apnea.

Merit Health Care, based in Lombard, will open a sleep center later in the year in River Forest. The River Forest center will also offer overnight and daytime sleep studies, as well as in-office patient evaluations.

All hooked up and nowhere to go

I asked to have a sleep study done at the Oak Park Sleep Center for a first-hand experience. The center conducts sleep studies twice a week. There are two overnight technicians who can watch up to two patients a night. The night I went, July 6, I was the only sleep study patient.

Patients arrive at around 8:30 p.m. The study officially ends at 5 a.m. Patients are also dissuaded from taking anything with caffeine during the day, which could affect the results of the study.

The rooms, as advertised, look like small hotel rooms with a table and recliner-like sofa chair. On top of the night table next to the bed is the CPAP. This room had its own bathroom with a shower.

The room was also fitted with a medium-sized, flat-screen television. It had most of the comforts of home-except for a view from the window. Not that it was a bad view-just no view at all. The rooms do have windows, but because they’re fitted for soundproofing, there’s only a brick wall behind the curtain with a faint light illuminating from around the sill to simulate daylight.

After filling out some paperwork, patients change into their sleeping attire and you’re literally “hooked up for the night.” It takes about a half-hour to place 20 electrodes on a patients’ body, which are glued into place. Eleven go on the head, neck and face. The leads on your left and right temple, for example, check for Rapid Eye Movement, as my technician, Chanda Stover explained. The ones behind your ear check for brain waves. A microphone is attached to the neck to detect snoring. A nasal airflow sensor is attached to the nose.

Leads are also placed on your legs-to check for restless leg syndrome. Two straps are placed around the chest and abdomen to check the heart rate and breathing patterns.

After the hook-up, patients can prepare for a normal sleep time, but the center requires all lights and television sets off by 11:30. I voluntarily turned everything off by 11:30, and was actually off to sleep by a quarter to. There are many questions some may think of as they read this-I’ll answer the most likely one: going to the bathroom is easy. The technician unhooks a couple of leads, including the one on your finger, and you’re “good to go.”

“Most people think they’re not going to sleep,” said Chanda as she hooked me up. “Only two people I’ve ever had just couldn’t sleep.”

The technician observes the patient from an adjacent room, watching all of their sleep activity and data on monitors.

I apparently woke up three times, twice knocking off my nasal sensor. The technician comes in to put any lead or sensor back in place. I vaguely recall Chanda coming in the one time.

The full results of a sleep study are sent to a patients’ primary physician within about a week after the initial study.

According to a preliminary assessment of my study the next day, Chanda said I slept fine without much incident-and my brain waves were very good, she noted.

-Terry Dean

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