Promoting health by helping patients get a good nights sleep

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Norman Roseman may be the one finally getting treatment for his sleep apnea, but the benefits are being shared with his wife, Arline. For years, Arline tried to go to bed ahead of her husband because if she didn’t his snoring would prevent her from falling asleep.

Even worse, she’d lie awake and hear him stop breathing. “It’s frightening when someone stops breathing like that,” she says. “I would poke him and shake him till he woke up. I would say, ‘You’ve stopped breathing.’ As soon as he went back to sleep, it would happen again.”

She finally convinced him three years ago to talk about it with his Winnipeg doctor, who referred him for testing. “Who believes it? I’m sleeping,” says Norman, 66, adding he thought his snoring was caused by a broken nose that never got fixed. “That’s the whole problem, because it’s something you don’t recognize.”

He was finally tested after a lengthy wait. When he awoke during the testing, the technician came in and told him to put on a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device and he went back to sleep. “In the morning, she showed me that I had stopped breathing in the first part about 50 to 60 times an hour, whereas the rest of the time with the CPAP machine it was once or twice during the whole time.”

The portable device – a mask fits over his nose connected to an air hose – is provided to him free of charge and he uses it nightly. “You don’t know that you’re having bad sleeps,” admits Norman. “I assumed, okay, I’m getting older, crankier. I found once I started using this, I did have more energy in the morning. Prior to that, I wouldn’t have known.”

Now more people like the Rosemans are now getting a good night’s sleep. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has officially opened the Sleep Disorder Centre at Misericordia Health Centre, which consolidates services that used to be performed at two other health facilities. Each facility had four beds in its sleep labs, but tests weren’t done every night. The new centre has added two beds for a total of 10, and tests are conducted seven nights a week. The additional beds, a computerized scheduling system and centralized intake process and patient database have already cut median wait times by 90 per cent.

The merging of diagnosis, treatment and follow-up at one centre is also expected to increase the number of sleep studies by 1,800 by the end of 2009. Manitoba Health Minister Theresa Oswald points out that the centre addresses a “quality of life” issue in health care. “How can you live your day-to-day life when you cannot sleep, it’s debilitating,” Oswald said at the centre’s opening.

When the provincial government made the commitment to bring down wait times for the publicly funded sleep testing, the wait was an average of 169 weeks, she notes. “I even look at that number twice because it’s painful to me,” Oswald says, adding the median wait is now about 13 weeks.

Sleep Disorder Centre manager Sharon Brown says having one location streamlines every aspect from referral to testing to treatment such as machines or medication. “From the start of the study to treatment is now six weeks.”

The centre has more than 35 staff and a yearly operating budget of close to $5 million.

“Knowing the centre may help about 3,600 patients each year is satisfying for the staff. Sometimes (patients’) personalities change over time because they’re just tired. If they’re not tired and they’re well-rested, their spouses can tell the difference. You become the old person you used to be so that’s very positive,” says Brown.

The Rosemans would agree. “It’s made a difference. I don’t snore, do I?” Norman asks his wife. “No, not at all. It was totally different right away,” she says. “It’s 100 per cent better.”