Contest aims to raise awareness of sleep disorders

Snoring sound clips could capture prize

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It could be a grizzly bear growling, or it might be the whine of a chainsaw. But if these sounds keep you up at night, don't worry: It's probably just your partner snoring.

Maria Johnson made these comparisons, and she has heard more than her fair share of snoring. For the past seven years, Ms. Johnson has worked at the Excela Advanced Sleep Center in Westmoreland County. Since March, she has been its lead polysomnographer, testing patients for sleep disorders.

Ms. Johnson insists that snoring is no laughing matter. To get Pittsburghers to take the issue seriously, Excela Health is partnering with local FM radio station Star 100.7 and Mattress Discounters for the "Snore to Score" contest June 9-13. They are asking the loved ones of snorers to record them while they sleep and to post the sound clips online. Besides a new mattress and box spring, the winner will receive free testing for sleeping disorders at the Excela Sleep Center, a procedure that would cost patients $750 to $2,000 if they paid out of pocket.

These polysomnograms will most likely detect sleep apnea, a disorder associated with snoring that affects 8 million men and 4 million women in America, according to the UPMC website.

Sometimes your tongue, tonsils or throat muscles can relax too much while you sleep -- the tissues close in and can block the airway, especially in a narrow throat, Ms. Johnson explained. This is especially common in people who are overweight, when fat can compress the neck and block the windpipe. As snorers attempt to breathe through this tight passageway, the negative pressure of each inhalation can suck the airway shut. Apnea, or stopped breathing, occurs.

The brain gets alarmed at the lack of oxygen, startling you into taking an extra big breath.

"It's like somebody's revving the engine all night long," Ms. Johnson said.

As many as 600 apnea events can occur in a single night, said Patrick Strollo, director of UPMC's Sleep Medicine Center. "People end up having more apnea than sleep."

Besides sleep deprivation, these interruptions also can contribute to emphysema, hypertension, strokes and heart attacks.

Daniel Shade, director of the Allegheny Health Network Sleep Institute, likes the idea of the contest because it raises awareness of sleep apnea.

"We do have an older, more obese population in Western Pennsylvania," he said. "Those are both risk factors."

The word "polysomnogram" might sound threatening, but it's a relatively painless procedure -- sort of like a sleepover with a lot of electrodes.

The beds at the Excela Sleep Center are not hospital beds, and the walls are decorated with pictures of birds and trees. Once settled in, the patient will have wires stuck onto the scalp to pick up brainwaves and just below the collarbone to measure heart rate. Wires on the neck will detect snoring, and those on the legs will track kicking. With a clip on the finger for blood oxygen level and tubes under the nose for breathing patterns, the patient will be ready to tuck in for the night.

And Ms. Johnson will have the honor of diagnosing Pittsburgh's loudest snorer.

Eric Boodman: or 412-263-3772.

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