Sleep Lab at Southwestern
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Cancer and Sleep Disorders
According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 45 percent of cancer patients experience sleep problems. Some risk factors associated with sleep disorders include:
- Increased muscle mass
- Anatomic abnormalities
- Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
- Chronic nasal congestion
- A family history of stroke, heart attack or diabetes
- High blood pressure
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing, or instances of abnormally low breathing, during sleep. Sleep apnea and other sleep problems can lead to fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, anxiety and depression. Also, recent research reveals that the inadequate supply of oxygen that characterizes sleep apnea may promote increased vascular and tumor growth in cancer patients.
Sleep Lab at Southwestern
Directed by Dr. Larry Altshuler, the Sleep Lab at CTCA at Southwestern Regional Medical Center (Southwestern) helps treat sleep disorders so you can get the rest you need to fight the disease.
“Quality sleep has a significant impact on helping our patients improve their overall quality of life. The Sleep Lab is a valuable adjunct in our efforts to combat a variety of symptoms from cancer and its treatment, including insomnia, fatigue, narcotic side effects and many more,” says Dr. Altshuler.
What’s Involved in a Sleep Study?
If you experience symptoms of sleep apnea or other related sleep disorders, your doctor will refer you to the Sleep Lab for a sleep study. Sleep Lab services are available on Monday through Thursday evenings.
During your overnight stay, a specially-trained technologist will apply sensors to your body and monitor your progress continuously throughout the night. The digital monitoring devices record your level of sleep and measure brain waves, eye movements, muscle tone, heart rate, respiration, blood oxygen levels and more.
If abnormalities are detected, the technologist will apply a breathing mask to find the treatment level necessary to correct your symptoms. Sometimes this cannot be done in the same night, so an additional study may be necessary.
Diagnosing Sleep Disorders
After your overnight stay, a physician who is board certified in Sleep Medicine will interpret the results, including the type and cause of your sleep condition. You will be evaluated for narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, hypoxemia (low oxygen) and other sleep disorders.
There are over 90 sleep disorders listed in the latest edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD). Some common sleep disorders include:
- Insomnia (inability to fall asleep and stay asleep)
- Sleep apnea (sleep-disordered breathing)
- Restless legs syndrome
- Excessive sleepiness
- Disorders of the sleep-wake cycle
- Partial waking
Sleep disturbances may be caused by the effects of tumor growth, certain cancer treatments and medications (e.g., opioids), and/or treatment-related side effects, (e.g., pain, shortness of breath, GI disturbances, hot flashes, anxiety, depression, etc.).
Treating Sleep Disorders
After the sleep study is complete, Dr. Altshuler will evaluate the results and discuss your treatment options with you. Treatment of sleep disturbances may involve a combination of pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic approaches.
Sometimes treating the cancer itself and/or treatment-related side effects resolves the sleep problem. Your doctor may also adjust your medications or treatment regime.
Other treatment options may include cognitive behavior therapy, stimulus control therapy, ventilation therapy, relaxation techniques, naturopathic therapies, and lifestyle changes (e.g., establishing a sleep routine, changing sleep environment/habits, managing stress, anxiety and fatigue).
The Benefits Are Real
Many of our patients who were diagnosed with sleep apnea and received treatment report a significant increase in energy, feel more relaxed, and feel better overall. Most are amazed at how different they feel and are glad they were diagnosed and treated properly.