Studying Sleep

By McKenzie, Kevin | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), October 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

Studying Sleep


McKenzie, Kevin, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


Within the past two weeks, a simple idea has made research news: Sleep might clear the brain of toxins.

It's a notion that makes sense to Jim Donaldson.

Talk to the first winner of the Sleep Technologist award given by the Tennessee Sleep Society, and the potential seriousness of sleep disorders hits home.

"Because sleep apnea causes right-sided heart failure, they'll have a lot of irregular EKG patterns," Donaldson said, explaining why electrocardiograms that track heart activity are one of an array of sensors used during a sleep study.

Sleep disorders are a serious safety and business matter in metropolitan Memphis, where the transportation industry employs about 50,000 workers. Pilots, and truck and bus drivers are among those walking through the doors of the Methodist Sleep Disorder Center, where Donaldson is a supervisor.

Daytime sleepiness is often the issue for these workers. The test: Sitting in a fairly dark room every two hours to see if they can stay awake for 20 minutes. "You would be surprised at the number of people that can't stay awake for that 20-minute period," Donaldson said. "Typically it's because they have been sleep deprived."

The Tennessee Sleep Society, set up in Nashville in 2000, allied with the Tennessee Society for Respiratory Care and successfully lobbied for a 2007 state law leading to licensing and regulation of those practicing polysomnography, or sleep studies.

More recently, the sleep society's efforts to educate the public include working with the Department of Transportation to help convince truck drivers with sleep apnea about "keeping the pressure on," said the sleep society's treasurer, Massey Arrington, in Atlanta.

Donaldson said sleep apnea results from the soft palate and the dangling uvula fall over the windpipe, temporarily blocking a person's breathing. …

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