Slumber Company: Area Firm Tackles Sleep Disorders

Article excerpt

For five years Gertrude Jennings woke up in the morning tired, her hands so tight she had to massage her fingers to loosen up. All day long she felt run down and irritable.

The snoring, which left her throat raw in the morning, was so loud that her husband would leave the bedroom and shut the door.

"I was in denial. I just thought I was tired," said Jennings, 65, of Homewood, a retired special education teacher in the Wilkinsburg School District.

But she was suffering from a sleep disorder. The disorders affect an estimated 70 million Americans, according to the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, in Washington. They result in an annual $1.6 billion in health care expenses and $50 billion in lost productivity in the workplace, the Institute of Medicine reported.

"Our research shows that over 50 percent of the people in the United States would be classified as problem sleepers," said John L. Miclot, CEO of Respironics, Inc., the Murrysville, Westmoreland County-based manufacturer of breathing devices.

Respironics is focusing research on the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when breathing stops during sleep. About half the company's business comes from sleep therapy products. Sales last year totaled $911.5 million, up 20 percent from a year earlier.

Respironics broke new ground in 1985 when it released the first continuous positive airway pressure device to treat sleep apnea.

Jennings sought help at a sleep therapy clinic. Now, she uses a continuous positive airway pressure device that delivers air into her airway through a specially-designed nasal mask. The air flow keeps airways in the nose and mouth more open while sleeping.

Miclot said Respironics is working to develop new products to treat sleep disorders. It recently launched a new REMStar series sleep system, a portable medical device that tracks a patient's breathing and lowers the amount of pressure delivered during exhalation.

It created a new business unit, Sleep Well Ventures, to focus on other sleep disorders. And it formed the Respironics Sleep & Respiratory Research Foundation, a $4. …