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Lullabye, and good night

PATIENTS AT WHITNEY SLEEP CENTER are hooked up to machines that read brain waves, respiratory and heart activity as well as leg and arm movements. Those tiny movements can sometimes indicate big sleep problems.

Having trouble falling asleep at night?

Forget counting sheep; it might be more productive to count the number of known sleep disorders.

"There are 84 of them," says Susan Gunwall, director of operations at Whitney Sleep Diagnostics and Consultants and Whitney Sleep Therapeutics.

Known to most around Detroit Lakes as "The Sleep Center," Whitney's has been helping people from all around the region wake up simply by helping them fall asleep.

"We complete sleep studies for individuals who have identified issues sleeping, are tired during the day, maybe they snore and it's disruptive to family, they quit breathing or pause in breathing during the night," says Gunwall.

"These individuals do not feel well during the day. They are lethargic, some suffer from migraines or headaches...others absolutely cannot deal with large things in life because they can't even deal with the small things."

So why wouldn't somebody who is so tired of being tired go in to get studied?

"Some people just don't know that they can feel differently; they just think this is how people feel," says Gunwall, adding that it's often times loved ones or friends who insist on a sleep center visit.

"Many of them are not invited back to hunting camp because they snore and keep everybody up," laughs Gunwall, who also says sleep disorders are really no laughing matter.

Lack of good, quality sleep is attributed to a host of dangerous ailments, including high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and depression.

"If you are pausing in breath or snoring such that it's comprising your airway, what happens is your oxygen levels can fall," says Gunwall.

"You're working harder when you're sleeping than when you're awake and you cannot get into your deep recovery stages of sleep either, so what happens is your brain function diminishes. It's hard on your organs and this is repetitive each night."

Gunwall says another dead giveaway for a sleep disorder is somebody in his or her 30s or 40s who seems to be forgetful or have a hard time just making it through the day.

"We've all had those days where we haven't had much sleep and it's so hard the next day -- this is how these people feel every single day," says Gunwall, adding that diagnoses starts with either a referral from a family doctor or a visit to Dr. Whitney in the clinic portion of the facility.

From there, patients are scheduled for a sleep study, where they check in at around 8:30 p.m. and are hooked up to machines designed to monitor every move made.

"We monitor brainwaves, respiratory, heart, leg and arm movements," says Gunwall.

The patient then has a follow-up with Dr. Whitney about a week later, where he reveals the results and diagnoses.

Gunwall says the most common sleep disorders are sleep apnea or central sleep apnea, which requires PAP (positive air pressure) therapy or CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) therapy.

"You'll hear people refer to them as blowers, but they are little computers that are set by prescription to deliver a pressure of air that is going to keep your airway open so that you don't snore, you don't obstruct -- basically you can breath when you sleep," says Gunwall, adding that masks now-a-days are so much smaller and less invasive than they used to be.

However, not everybody who has sleep apnea will be cured with the mask, as Gunwall says often times people suffer from more than one sleep disorder.

"We live in a society where we have a high degree of insomnia, and if we don't treat that, they're not going to make it on CPAP because they either can't get to sleep or they can't stay asleep," says Gunwall, noting that insomnia can be attributed to many things, one of which is obesity.

"What happens if you're obese is that the layers of fat on your upper body collapse into your neck, and weight loss will help that and sometimes resolve it," says Gunwall, adding that 30 to 40 percent of insomnia patients do not have height or weight issues, but can probably blame heredity.

Unlike the physical conditions that keep people from sleeping well, there are also the cognitive conditions that are tackled in a different way.

Some require behavioral sleep therapy.

"Maybe they have huge stressors in life, family dynamic, maybe they don't have a clue what's waking them up or keeping them up, but what happens is they wake up multiple times, they lay in bed for hours or they fall asleep immediately but wake up over and over again," says Gunwall, adding that therapy will then include breaking it down and finding the root of the problem.

Behavioral therapy is intended to give a patient tools that help them fight whatever it is that's keeping them awake -- whether it be thoughts and worries or bad habits.

Insurance typically covers sleep studies and treatments just like it would any other medical condition.

For more information, call the Whitney Sleep Center at 218-844-6150 or log on to