Skip to content

Solving the snooze problem

FARMINGTON – Sometimes Teresa Johnson-Skaggs doesn’t say what she does for a living. That is, unless she’s got time to listen.

“When people find out what I do, they all have a story to tell me,” she said. “A lot of people have problems sleeping.”

Johnson-Skaggs is a Registered Sleep Technologist who will open “Skaggzzz Sleep Institute” Monday in Farmington.

The National Sleep Foundation issued a report Tuesday that finds 75 percent of those it surveyed had symptoms of sleep problems that included difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night, experiencing fatigue during waking hours or snoring.

The sleep trouble can translate into poor health, lower job productivity, more danger on the roads and even a poor sex life.

The poll shows respondents got an average of 6.9 hours of sleep a night. Many experts say adults need 7 to 9 hours. It’s not just the hours, but the quality of sleep that’s worsened over the years.

“It’s a society problem and it’s a broad field that is not going away,” said Gay Wilkinson, Director of Respiratory Care at Mineral Area Regional Medical Center. For three years, his department has included a sleep lab that’s run by Dr. Jurgen Ratliff, a polysomnographer who measures sleep habits.

“We have quite a few patients and I would say that’s a combination of being diagnosed more often and the problem getting more common,” he said. “We primarily see people with obstructive sleep apnea where the relaxed tongue blocks the airway during sleep and causes a snoring sound. You jerk, snort and get air going again. But you may have times when you are not breathing.”

He said not all snoring is a result of sleep apnea and the snoring can be treated in a variety of ways.

Among the study’s other findings, six in 10 of those surveyed say they have driven while drowsy in the past year. Three-fourths of those surveyed say their partner has a sleep problem and the most common is snoring. Americans most often compensate for lack of sleep by drinking caffeine – as much as four caffeinated beverages a day. More than one in four respondents are at risk for sleep apnea.

Causes for sleep trouble vary. Men with a neck that’s over 17 inches and women with a neck over 16 and a half inches can have a higher incidence of sleep trouble because their airway collapses when they lie down. Being overweight is a factor and with obesity on the rise, both Wilkinson and Johnson-Skaggs said that could be one reason why sleep problems are increasing.

Treatment may include something as simple as losing weight. The sleep center will also have “acu-laser treatments” that may help patients beat insomnia, stop smoking or lose unwanted pounds.

Johnson-Skaggs has been in the “snooze business” for 16 years. She said research shows 40 million Americans have some form of sleep disorder. Her business is to help them find out why.

“We put 25 electrodes on you as you sleep,” she explained. “We will look at your brain waves, your breathing and the way your heart works.”

The electrodes are attached to elaborate computers that graph brain activity to show when the patient is dreaming, when he’s awake and even the amount of oxygen in his blood. Once she treated a 15-year-old patient whose oxygen level dropped to just 17 percent while he was sleeping when it should be 98 percent.

“That kind of thing causes your body to ‘jar itself’ and you don’t wake up, but your sleep is disturbed,” said Johnson-Skaggs.

She had a patient with narcolepsy who fell asleep at the wheel between the time she placed her order at a fast food restaurant’s drive-thru speaker and the time it took her to get to the pay window.

“Luckily, she’d put her car in park, but the workers came out to knock on the window to wake her up,” said Johnson-Skaggs. “They thought maybe she’d died.”

With three beds in surroundings designed to be restful and relaxing, the staff at the institute on Doctors Drive in Farmington will attempt to diagnose sleep troubles at any age.

“We find children diagnosed with ADHD may really have sleep problems,” said Johnson-Skaggs. “Lack of sleep in a child can make him hyper-active whereas in adults, it makes us lethargic.” She said patients should first talk with their doctor about sleep problems if their lives are being affected by them in any way. Then, the doctor may refer them to a sleep clinic. She’s trying to educate doctors about the role sleep problems play in overall health, as well.

“It doesn’t matter how many hours of sleep we get if they aren’t restful hours,” said Johnson-Skaggs. “We spend half our lives asleep we ought to get the best rest possible.”

Leave a Comment