Log in Newsletter

Sleepless in Fayetteville

By: Sarah Onken

It is the time of year when many become reinvested in their desire lose weight, get healthy, or have a more successful year at work. However for some, trouble sleeping through the night or excessive daytime tiredness leaves them hardly able to function, let alone able to turn over a new leaf.

The Cape Fear Valley Sleep Center has been helping the community’s drowsy for over 15 years. It is kind of like a hotel with clean sheets and a comfortable bed, but where every movement, down to eye rotations and muscle spasms, is carefully monitored on a complex charting system by trained sleep technologists.

Nationally, the number of sleep centers has doubled in the last 5 years. Heightened awareness, along with research and science developments, ha­s made this relatively new field an important part of today’s healthcare.  Doctor Samuel Fleishman, founder and physician at Cape Fear Valley Sleep Center explained, “People now realize how important sleep is and the impact it has on your health and well-being,” and continued, “And not only from a wellness standpoint, getting your sleep and being able to perform throughout the day, but its impact on medical problems and how it can make a lot of things worse.”­

Cape Fear Valley Sleep Center started in 1995 and has since grown into its own clinic and 3 separate sleep labs, the largest of which is just a short walk from the clinic in the rehabilitation center at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.

Every weekday, sleepy Fayettevillians walk through the doors of the sleep center with concerns of daytime tiredness or fatigue, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night, excessive snoring or irregular breathing patterns while asleep. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, each patient is evaluated at the clinic, where they go over their medical history, do a physical exam and when appropriate; schedule a sleep test in the lab.

In a sleep test, or polysomnogram, each patient comes in the evening and is directed to their room by a sleep technologist. “The rooms are like a relatively nice hotel room, not like a hospital room, but not the nicest hotel room either,” Doctor Fleishman explained. In order to monitor the patient’s brain waves, rapid eye movements (REM), muscle movements, airflow, respiratory effort, oxygen levels, heart rate and limb movements the sleep technologist places a series of censors on the patient. The whole observation process takes about 7-8 hours—the recommended number of hours the average adult should be sleeping at night.

A typical patient might have a disorder called sleep apnea, which is characterized by infrequent or shallow breathing while sleeping, or insomnia, which makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep during the night. Less common, a patient might have narcolepsy, which is excessive tiredness, or parasomnia, which is characterized by abnormal sleep behaviors (i.e. sleep walking).         

Weight can play a big role with obstructive sleep apnea, one of the most common disorders detected and treated in this particular sleep center. The upper airway obstruction, which often results in snoring, is caused by the relaxation of the muscles along the airway that keep it open while awake, but relax and allow it to contract while sleeping. While weight gain tends to make it worse, losing weight can improve or even cure certain types of sleep apnea.

Insomnia is also very common, especially among women. Short term and long term insomnia can develop as a result of stress, medical problems or pain from injury. Short-term insomnia can disappear after injury recovery or as the stress disappears. However, long term, chronic insomnia can last for months, years or even decades. Complex cases of insomnia require deep examination of sleep habits, medication management and, when needed, a reeducation on how to sleep. “We do proscribe our fair share of sleep medications, but we really work on ways to improve or modify behavior,” said Doctor Fleishman, “More medication is not always the answer, as each come with their own set of problems.”

The consequences of letting a sleep disorder go untreated, vary depending on the disorder but can be serious. Moderate to severe sleep apnea, if left untreated, for example, increases your risk for high-blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and heart arrhythmias. Insomnia is often associated with mood disorders, depression, anxiety and chronic pain. Daytime sleepiness issues can make it difficult to learn, pay attention at your job or cause you to fall asleep behind the wheel.

Sleep deprivation also has a significant impact on your dietary habits. Erratic sleep patterns lower your satiety hormones (leptin) and increase your appetite hormones (ghrelin). This means that your body will be less likely to release leptin, which sends a signal to your brain when you have had enough to eat, and will be more likely to release ghrelin, which tells your brain that you are still hungry.

“Not everyone that has a sleep problem needs specialized care, but you need that source in your community,” Doctor Fleishman explained. The Cape Fear Valley Sleep Center prides itself on being the main source of sleep medicine in this community, by providing a highly trained effective staff to evaluate and take care of each patient and their needs.

“I personally could not ask for a better support staff and group of providers to work with,” said Sonja Politsch, office supervisor and billing coordinator for the Cape Fear Valley Sleep Center.

The sleep center currently employs 2 sleep physicians, 2 physician assistants and a support staff that consists of 5 access coordinators, 2 medial office assistants and 11 registered sleep technologists. Doctor Fleishman said confidently, “It is a great team effort, but clearly our focus is to take care of patients and that has led to our success.”