The number of studies that Aspen Valley Hospital (AVH) performs to diagnose locals’ sleep disorders has more than tripled since 2008.
Sleep studies, which are ordered by physicians, monitor patients’ vitals overnight in order to diagnose possible sleep disorders, said Lori Maloy, clinical director of outpatient services. They measure sleep cycles by recording blood oxygen levels, body position, brain waves, breathing rate, electrical activity of muscles, eye movement and heart rate, she said.
In 2008 AVH performed 14 studies, according to Maloy. That number rose to 46 in 2011 and there have been about 37 performed so far this year, Maloy said.
Hospital officials are responding to the jump in the number of studies by including two rooms in the hospital’s expansion dedicated to performing the tests, said AVH CEO Dave Ressler.
Currently, the sleep studies are done in rooms that are intended for patient care and sometimes the tests have to be canceled or delayed, because the hospital doesn’t have any beds, Maloy said.
The new rooms will be homelike to provide better comfort to patients undergoing the tests and there will be an adjacent room for technicians to monitor them, Maloy said.
Hospital officials aren’t sure why the number of locals undergoing the study has increased so drastically over the past few years, but they have some theories.
For one, patients used to have to travel to Glenwood Springs to get them done and it’s probably taken a few years for people to figure out they can do the study at AVH, Maloy said.
Another guess is that people who live at altitude have a more difficult time breathing and a significant portion of the local population is reaching advanced age, Maloy said.
The majority of patients treated are over the age of 60 and have sleep apnea, which refers to pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing during sleep, Maloy said.
“Sometimes people don’t know it, they don’t know why they’re waking up in the middle of the night,” Ressler said. “But it’s because they literally stop breathing. ... At high altitude we tend to have more issues with it.”
Maloy said that creating rooms dedicated to performing sleep studies is one way hospital officials are trying to accommodate the aging population.
“That’s something that we talk about a lot in our leadership meetings,” Maloy said. “But I think our primary focus is prevention in the community.”
Unhealthy and overweight people tend to have more difficulty breathing and suffer from sleep apnea, Maloy said. That’s one reason why it’s important to make sure people are proactive in maintaining their health. Still, many people in Aspen meet the health-nut stereotype, she said.
“We’re a relatively healthy population,” she said. “Our patients usually don’t die from heart attacks, they die from trying to climb fourteeners.”