Mayo Clinic Health System in St. James began offering sleep studies in November 2013, and they held an open house March 31 so local residents could learn more about the work that takes place in the Sleep Medicine Department.

Dan Tews, Sleep Medicine manager for MCHS-St. James, and Ryan Smith, MCHS-St. James administrator, discussed sleep medicine, and then the husband and wife duo of Ryan and Elizabeth Mattison--who take turns monitoring the Polysomnograms (PSG’s) when they’re offered on Thursday nights--gave a tour of the room and explained the technology.

Smith said MCHS-St. James was “really excited to be able to offer this in the community, so people don’t have to drive so far for a pretty common problem.” Seven studies have been conducted thus far, and Smith was the first trial patient.

Sleep apnea occurs when the throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep and partially or completely block the opening of the airwave; it cuts across all ages and both genders--although it’s more common in men, and women are more likely to develop it after they’ve gone through menopause--and the main symptoms are loud snoring (although Tews said one can have sleep apnea and not be a snorer) and excessive daytime sleeping.

Patients taking part in the sleep study are covered basically head-to-toe in a plethora of wires, but it usually only takes one night to determine if someone has sleep apnea, Tews said. Though the ensuing consult and follow-up appointments need to be done in Mankato, Smith is hopeful that can soon be offered here locally like the study itself.

Tracy Hurley, of St. James, attended the meeting out of concern for her sleeping difficulties. Though she said she has never noticed the effects, her husband, Craig Hurley, said she’ll be breathing soundly during the night, only to be interrupted by moments of seeming to stop breathing, punctuated by letting out rushes of air.

She did have a sleep study done years ago, but those administering the test didn’t diagnose her with anything abnormal, so she’s interested in taking another test for a more definitive result--or, at least having the medical personnel here review the results from her prior test, she said. She believes her “huge tonsils” may be part of her problem.

While Ryan Mattison showed off the two belts that strap across a subject’s chest and abdomen and the numerous wires that cover one’s body, Elizabeth Mattison discussed the computer monitors and other pieces of medical technology. She said it usually takes roughly two hours to determine if someone has sleep apnea--at that point, they are fitted with a Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) mask, which delivers air and keeps the upper airway passages open while a person sleeps--and he added that the in-home sleep monitoring is done via data cards, which are eventually returned to a clinic for analysis.

The best readings during the test are achieved when the subject is on his or her back and in their deepest sleep, Elizabeth Mattison said. People with sleep apnea have pauses in their breathing while they sleep; when one stops breathing, the level of oxygen in the bloodstream falls--sometimes to dangerously low levels.

The complete story was published in the April 3 print edition of the St. James Plaindealer.