All In A Night’s Sleep: Respiratory therapy and sleep center of NNY

A technician places polysomnography sensors on a patients head.

BY: Olivia Belanger
Sleep takes up one-third of your life, but many people don’t know exactly what happens to their bodies while they do it. 

    Before the 1950s, most people believed sleep was a passive activity, during which the body and brain were dormant. But, it turns out, sleep is a period that the brain is engaged in a number of activities necessary to life, closely linked to a person’s quality of life. 

Throughout your time asleep, your brain will cycle repeatedly through two different types of sleep: rapid-eye movement sleep, or REM, and non-REM sleep, according to an article from John Hopkins’ medicine.  

    The first part of the cycle is non-REM sleep, which is composed of four stages. The first stage comes between being awake and falling asleep. The second is light sleep, when heart rate and breathing regulate and body temperature drops. The third and fourth stages are deep sleep, important for learning and memory.  

    As you cycle into REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly behind closed lids and brain waves are similar to those while you’re awake. A person’s breath rate also increases and the body becomes temporarily paralyzed as we dream.  

    The cycle then repeats itself, but with each cycle, you spend less time in the deeper stages three and four of sleep and more time in REM sleep. On a typical night, you’ll cycle through the stages four or five times.  

    To study this, sleep centers and laboratories began popping up around the 1960s. A sleep center is certified to look at any sleep disorder, while a sleep lab is only able to look at breathing problems while sleeping.  

    Accredited sleep centers are hard to come by, but in the north country, there has been one at Samaritan Medical Center since 1999.  

    The hospital’s Sleep Disorder Center, located in the hospital’s main campus at 830 Washington St., is able to identify 26 sleep disorders — changes in sleeping patterns or habits that can negatively affect health.  

    Dr. David P. Rechlin, medical director of the center, said the most common ailment they see is sleep apnea, where breathing repeatedly starts and stops during sleep.  

    Dr. Rechlin said it’s one of the easier disorders to treat, but if not treated, it can lead to serious complications.  

    “We’re not just talking about snoring, because believe it or not pretty much everyone snores. When it becomes a problem is where your breathing becomes so significantly abnormal that you aren’t able to sleep well,” Dr. Rechlin said. “There are significant connections to what happens in the day as well, like blood pressure, stroke or diabetes.”  

    If you’ve ever felt foggy after a poor night’s sleep, it’s because of sleep significantly impacting brain function. A healthy amount of sleep is vital for brain plasticity — the brain’s ability to adapt to input. If we sleep too little, we become unable to process what we’ve learned during the day and we have more trouble remembering it in the future.  

    Researchers also believe that sleep may promote the removal of waste products from brain cells, which occurs less efficiently when the brain is awake.  

    But sleep is vital for the rest of the body, too, as Dr. Rechlin said. When people don’t get enough sleep, their health risks rise. Immunity is also compromised, increasing the likelihood of infection and illness. Additionally, sleep plays a role in metabolism, which means even one night of missed sleep can create a pre-diabetic state in an otherwise healthy person.  

    “All these things are associated with fragmentation of sleep, so your grandmother was right: you do need a good night’s sleep,” Dr. Rechlin said.  

    After someone realizes they aren’t sleeping well and come to the center, Dr. Rechlin said their visit starts with a consultation. From there, it’s determined whether they need a change in their sleep habits, or if they need sleep testing.  

    Stephen Doe, director of respiratory therapy and sleep for the center, said there’s a fair amount of patients they see that just need to change their habits before bed to achieve that deep slumber.  

    “When people go to bed, you’re supposed to fall asleep within 20 minutes,” Mr. Doe said. “But, we’ve all had a lot on our mind and lied in bed thinking about that test or about a guy or girl, and you’re awake for two hours in bed.”  

    Mr. Doe said they teach those people to get out of bed when they can’t fall directly asleep and encourage them to do something tedious, tiring them out. Once they are actually tired, they should head back to bed. Other habits such as drinking caffeine at night or eating late can also play into how you sleep, he said.  

    If it’s determined the patient needs a sleep test, Dr. Rechlin said they either have in-lab or home testing. Home testing is only for patients thought to have sleep apnea, while in-lab testing allows for a more in-depth look at sleep patterns.  

    “There’s a montage of measures. We can put something like 37 wires on someone at one time in the lab,” Dr. Rechlin said. “We look at everything. Even if the doctor that sent you may think you have one thing, we can look for everything.”  

    Patients will come in around 8 p.m. — unless they are night-time workers, then they would come in during the day — and are encouraged to fall asleep by about 11 p.m. The technicians need at least six hours of sleep data to review.  

    The center has several patient sleep rooms, designed to look like a hotel room to provide comfort for the patient. Along with a bed, there is a recliner, dresser and TV.  

    Dr. Rechlin said once settled, the patient will be wired with the censors. While asleep, a technician is able to view the censor data, as well as watch the patient’s movements through a video camera in the room.  

    The next morning, Mr. Doe will review the technician’s notes and the data itself to come to a diagnosis. Treatment can range anywhere from a sleep machine to therapy.  

    “It depends on what’s going on. Some conditions have very specific interventions that are tried and true,” Dr. Rechlin said. “The others maybe not so. There are sleep disorders that require medication, require consultations from neurology, psychiatry. We try to point people in the right direction.”  

    To book a consultation or to learn more about the sleep center, call 315-786-4930 or visit