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For more information on sleep studies and sleep disorder treatments, call the Southwest Sleep office at 505-716-4180.

FARMINGTON — Sleep disorders don't merely contribute to daytime yawns. If left untreated, they can also lead to serious health problems.

And that has prompted an increase in sleep studies, which measure what happens to a person's body as they doze.

David Padgett, president of Southwest Sleep at 3401 N. Butler Ave. in Farmington, said sleep studies are becoming more popular.

"Sleep disorders can have serious consequences, such as heart attack and stroke," he said.

Factors such as smoking, using narcotics, drinking heavily and being overweight can contribute to sleep disorders, as can the use of prescription and over-the-counter sleep aides.

One of the most common sleep problems Padgett and his team encounter is obstructive sleep apnea, the temporary stopping of breathing during sleep due to blockage of the upper airway. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that obstructive sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of sudden cardiac death.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include daytime drowsiness, increased irritability or depression, morning headaches, memory loss and concentration problems. Loud, consistent snoring is also a sign.

When it comes to toddlers and teens, sleep disorders can affect a child's ability to learn.

"Parents will sometimes notice their toddler loudly snoring, or coughing or choking," said Karen Gelfand, a pediatrician with San Juan Health Partners Pediatrics. "The child might even stop breathing a few times during the night, and the parents have to tap them to get them breathing again,"

These symptoms may indicate obstructive sleep apnea. Behavioral problems, such as irritability and inability to pay attention, are by-products of the disorder.

"When little kids get tired, they get irritable. They're not going to say 'I'm tired,' they just get irritated and can seem fussy all the time," Gelfand said.

Gelfand said that with toddlers, the apnea is often caused by enlarged tonsils, and a tonsillectomy can frequently correct the problem.

With teens and adults, obesity is usually the cause of sleep apnea. Teens may fall asleep at school and have attention problems. Bed-wetting may also occur with both toddlers and teens.

The lack of breathing is only temporary, because when oxygen levels get low enough, the body wakes itself up, but not completely. The constant drop in oxygen and the lack of being able to achieve deep sleep can be dangerous because it can eventually lead to high blood pressure.

If parents suspect their child might have a sleep problem, Gelfand suggests a sleep study. If the study is recommended by a physician, insurance normally covers it, she said.

During a sleep study, electrodes and sensor belts are attached to the patient's body to measure breathing rate, oxygen levels, leg movements, teeth grinding and heart rate. The patient is allowed to sleep for several hours while technicians in another room observe measurements sent by the electrodes to a computer.

David Padgett, president of Southwest Sleep at 3401 N. Butler Ave., shows the results of a sleep study on Thursday in Farmington.
David Padgett, president of Southwest Sleep at 3401 N. Butler Ave., shows the results of a sleep study on Thursday in Farmington. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

"We really explain (to patients) what's happening before the sleep study actually begins, and show them everything so they'll become comfortable with it," said Monica Sanchez, a sleep technician at Southwest Sleep, which has several sound-proofed rooms equipped with comfortable beds.

In the case of apnea, if it appears after several hours of sleep that the patient is not receiving sufficient oxygen, he or she will be woken and fitted with a device that provides a continuous stream of air pressure to keep the airway open, such as a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, mask. The patient resumes sleep while the technicians continue to monitor the data. If medication, weight loss or other treatment is needed, patients will be referred back to their physician.

In addition to sleep apnea, Southwest Sleep has seen an increase in patients with narcolepsy -- extreme, overwhelming sleepiness during the day -- and restless legs syndrome.

Lacey McCarty sought the help of Southwest Sleep earlier this year after realizing she was having sleep problems.

"I had never been a good sleeper and never felt very rested in the morning," she said. "My husband told me I talked in my sleep and tossed and turned a lot. I never felt like I was getting deep sleep."

After sleeping for four hours, technicians woke up McCarty and told her she had restless legs syndrome, which is characterized by aching, itching, tingling and burning in the lower legs, requiring the sleeper to move around for relief. McCarty was referred back to her physician, who prescribed her medication.

"It helped a lot, and I'm sleeping much better now," she said. "I was surprised how much they can do at the sleep center. It goes way beyond just sleeping better. They're helping with blood pressure and other conditions."

Padgett says the work he does is rewarding, and he hope to help more people discover and treat their sleep problems.

"It's been really satisfying doing this work," he said. "Especially with the kids, because you can see an immediate change. Teachers will call and say they've noticed the change. It actually can change their whole future."

Leigh Black Irvin covers health for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and lirvin@daily-times.com Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.