The WellSpan Spotlight


A life-changing sleep test you can do in the comfort of your own bed 

A life-changing sleep test you can do in the comfort of your own bed

When Matt Burkholder started dating his wife, she thought he was bored with her. He often fell asleep if they were watching a movie or sitting somewhere quietly. 

He also sometimes fell asleep at hazardous or surprising moments: at red lights while driving and, after he got married, at his stepdaughter's dance competitions, an improbable place to doze off due to the decibels emitted by the many cheering young girls. 

Oh, and he snored like a chainsaw. His wife, Angela, tried to go to bed ahead of him so she could fall asleep first due to the racket. But she still was awakened when silence would fall during the night because Matt had completely stopped breathing. She urged him to get checked out for sleep apnea. 

Thanks to a convenient, easy home test, which the 47-year-old Ephrata native did while sleeping in the comfort of his own bed, he discovered he suffers from this potentially dangerous sleep disorder. He now uses a breathing machine at night and feels much better. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is an increasingly common chronic disease that is more prevalent in men than in women – estimates are that 15% to 30% of men and 10% to 15% of women in North America have the disease, or about 29 million people in the U.S., according to the America Academy of Sleep Medicine. About 80% of those cases are undiagnosed. 

"Sleep apnea can destroy your health in the long term, increasing your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and depression," says Melanie Diperna, a physician assistant at WellSpan Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine. "It's about much more than not getting a good night's sleep. It impacts your entire well-being." 

Matt had all the common warning signs for sleep apnea, including snoring and choking, gasping, or silent breathing pauses during sleep, when he scheduled an appointment with Diperna. She recommended a sleep test, which Matt was relieved to hear he could do in his own home. 

"I didn't even know they had home tests. My first thought had been, 'What if I have to go to an unfamiliar place and they hook me up to stuff? I am not going to be in my own bed. I am not going to be able to sleep,' " he says. "When I heard I could do this at home, I said, 'Let's do it!' " 

The test was easy, consisting of a finger sensor, a wrist band, and a sensor he attached to his chest before he went to bed. The next day, he shipped off the monitor that collected all the data for analysis. The results were worse than he imagined. 

"I was actually shocked," Matt said. "I stopped breathing like 16 times an hour." 

After his diagnosis, Matt was fitted with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which uses mild air pressure to keep his breathing airways open while he sleeps. After adjusting to the machine, he finally got a good night's sleep, noting, "It was the first time in a long time that I actually slept the whole night through. I hadn't done that in years." 

Matt says the treatment of his sleep apnea vastly improved the way he felt, boosting his mood and giving him more energy for his job as a manufacturing engineer and his hobbies, which include restoring Chevy Novas and keeping up with his family's new puppy, Bentley. The treatment also erased other symptoms he did not even realize were related to the sleep disorder. 

"I would wake up a lot of mornings with an annoying dull headache. Starting your day off with a headache is horrible," Matt says. "Now, waking up every morning and not having a headache is great. The day starts off so much better." 

And now, Matt notes, "I can get through something without falling asleep!" 

His wife is also thrilled with the transformation. 

"The CPAP machine has made a world of difference in OUR sleeping," Angela says. "Not only would Matt's snoring keep me awake at night, but also just felt like I was always waiting for him to take a breath after a long pause. The person you love may not know this is happening to them. They just know they wake up tired. Encourage them to get tested. You may be saving their life!" 

Diperna notes that home sleep tests may not be appropriate for some people with underlying disease such as heart failure, chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, or a history of strokes. The home tests also only can assess sleep apnea and so someone who has other sleep-related issues, such as restless leg syndrome or nightmare disorders, still requires a sleep center study. And if a test comes back negative and a provider still suspects apnea, they might order a sleep center study to take a second look at the patient. 

"Most people probably qualify for a home study, which is more convenient, more cost saving, and has opened people's minds to having a test," she says. "More people are willing to do a home sleep study and we are glad, because we can diagnose them and help them finally get a good night's sleep and improve their health in many ways." 

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