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Adventures in Sleep

Medical Marijuana
July 17, 2014 11:10 AM by Penny Mehaffey

I am curious about the opinions of my peers regarding medical marijuana. It's a hot topic lately and especially so in my area. Our governor was in for a visit last week to underscore his support of continuing research in the use of marijuana to help treat seizures in children. Our pediatric neurologist is very interested in researching cannabidiol with his severe patients. He has one child who has upwards of 60 seizures a day.  

I live in the Bible Belt and change does not always come easily or quickly here. I am in support of the research. I think the stigma attached to marijuana research is legitimate, but I also believe we shouldn't let that stop us from investigating the benefits to be derived from cannabidiol. 

Marijuana is not the first drug of ill repute to be harnessed for medicinal purposes. I think in this day and age we should be open to finding the facts or seeking the truth about this drug and how we can use it to our patients' benefit. It is, after all, a chemical just as the rest of our medications are.

The potential for, and history of, misuse for this drug is a fact, but that is true in many instances -- consider the myriad of narcotic pain medications we have today. 

There are 20 or so states that have legalized medical marijuana. It has been demonstrated to have medical benefits for AIDS/HIV, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, asthma  and breathing disorders, Crohn's disease, epilepsy/seizures, glaucoma, hepatitis C, migraines, multiple sclerosis/muscle spasms, nausea/ chemotherapy side effects, pain, psychological conditions and Tourette syndrome. Let's try and think clearly and objectively about this research and not limit it based on the stigma it currently carries.
Challenged by BRPT Exam
July 10, 2014 11:34 AM by Penny Mehaffey

I mentioned before that I attended the FOCUS spring conference in Florida. My main goal for that event was to attend the sleep educator workshop presented by the BRPT. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and I did learn a lot; it was worth every penny spent. 

Now, I am tasked with passing the associated exam. I attempted it a day or so ago and am disappointed to say that I did not pass on my first try. I had heard that this was the case with a lot of students, but you never think it will be you.  Fortunately, the BRPT has extended the deadline for testing and has allowed a third attempt at the exam...

I guess I fell into the trap of thinking that since I've been in sleep long enough, I should know this stuff; I did not expect to have any trouble with the test. I mean, I'm a smart girl. Boy, was that notion a mistake. The exam is very challenging.  And since I am not handling stress very well right now, I wanted to sit down and cry and have a big ol' hissy fit when I saw my score. But I didn't. 

I'm taking a deep breath and planning to retest this weekend. In retrospect it was probably a bad idea to try to do the test while I was at work even though my boss promised not to bother me. Still, I was interrupted about 25 times. That's my fault. I am really glad now for the extra time to test and for the third attempt. Looks like I may need it too. Good luck to everybody taking this exam, and remember, nothing worth having ever really comes easy. 

Independence Day
July 3, 2014 10:36 AM by Penny Mehaffey

I hope you all have a safe and fun time as our nation celebrates another birthday. I'd like to suggest that we take time to think of freedom as it relates to our health today. We have open access to doctors in our country and readily available medications, equipment and medical supplies. We have volumes of information streaming in from multiple media. We have hospitals, urgent care centers, primary care centers and retail walk-in care centers on almost every corner.

Yet, we don't take care of ourselves. This frustrates me to no end. We have for the most part access to safe places to walk or exercise ... gyms and parks and school playgrounds, church programs and support groups that lag by the wayside. And let's just skip the endless access we have to food.

Are we so rich that we don't see it? Are we so overloaded with information that we are unable to sort through the fodder and pull out what's right for us? What can we do?  I say exercise your independence. You have the right and responsibility to be in charge of your healthcare and your body.

Exercise your rights: exercise and take your medicines every day, check your blood sugar and blood pressure and bombard your physician with those numbers. Dust off that CPAP machine and liberate the treadmill from the pile of clothes that now oppresses it. Put on your tenny shoes (southern speak for sneakers) and take a little walk. Turn off the television and go to bed, you owe it to yourself to get a good night of sleep every night. Encourage your patients to do the same. 

I believe motivation -- or the lack of it -- is the main culprit. And I know it's hard to stay motivated day after day; sometimes it feels almost impossible. But it's worth it.  There's only one you and we have only one shot at this life. Let's do it right!!

Enjoy your Fourth of July and be careful not to get carried away while celebrating.
Cancer and Sleep Woes
June 26, 2014 10:10 AM by Penny Mehaffey

I was thinking about an article I saw a while back about cancer patients and the sleep disturbances and cognitive loss that they experience. I have read before that CPAP was helping to improve memory and function during the day for some patients. I have a wonderful sister-in-law, who is a breast cancer survivor. I remember talking with her about this very thing when she was going through chemo and radiation. 

She said that at times it felt like her brain was on fire. She was fortunate that she happened to live in a village where there was a major cancer research and treatment center. She received excellent care and it was very inclusive in that they treated mind, body and soul with traditional medicine and holistic therapies. 

Cancer patients have a host of sleep issues, pain, insomnia, anxiety, respiratory disturbances, hot flashes.  The article I read reported that some improvements in response to therapy and alleviation of some symptoms was achieved when CPAP was used. I totally believe this. I am a proponent of CPAP. I love mine and my husband's. I think the majority of us could benefit from a little CPAP. 

I  believe the cancer patients were being treated with behavior modification and sleep aids. But I wonder how they would respond to mild CPAP. I'm thinking about the soothing hum of the device as it gently delivers the low pressure and the rhythmic sound of their breaths as they breathe in and out. CPAP could be incorporated as part of the breathing exercises for relaxation.

Expanding Sleep Resources
June 19, 2014 10:08 AM by Penny Mehaffey

There are a lot of good resources available to us today that even 10 years ago we did not have.  I encourage you to read the various e-magazines and periodicals and keep up with what's happening in sleep. There is constantly new and exciting research being published and changes going on in government that greatly affect us. 

I have some very saavy people attending our  AWAKE  support group who show up with a lot of good questions and suggestions. I am proud of them for investing in learning about their sleep problems in this way and for bringing what they've learned to the group. (This must be how teachers feel when the light goes on in the student's brain.)  It's a good thing. 

This week of interest to me was an article comparing CPAP to oxygen and CPAP to exercise. The benefits of regular use of CPAP come as no surprise to those of us who work in sleep, but it is nice to see it in black and white and now almost on a daily basis. The report said that in patients with OSA who have a cardiovascular risk, CPAP proved more beneficial than giving oxygen at night. The same held true of CPAP versus exercise. Obese people with elevated CRP levels who wore CPAP at night had results that were similar to a weight-loss intervention in reducing the inflammatory maker -- very interesting.  Check it out on MedPage Today; it's full of research  and continuing education information.



Sleep Study 101
May 29, 2014 9:59 AM by Penny Mehaffey

There's a conversation going on in LinkedIn revolving around this question: Does a sleep study require a doctor's order? It's been an interesting feed to follow. You would think that this is a no-brainer, right?  It's a medical test, so it requires a physician's order.

But what's curious to me is why so many people even ask this question. I mean, they don't ask if they need an order for an x-ray  or a lab test, so what's going on here? Is it a lack of understanding about what a sleep study is, fueled by all the media information available? Is it a lack of respect for the discipline of sleep medicine and thinking that "it's just a sleep study, I don't need an order for that"?

Or is it just a simple question. I take several calls a week for this question. My feeling is that people in general have several motivations. I think the biggest is financial. Let's face it, copays aren't what they used to be and if you add up all the required visits that are now associated with having a sleep study, it could be a car payment. 

And that's only for diagnostics; we won't even talk about CPAP. I think the requirements we have to adhere to seem more like barriers to care for the patients. This was my comment to the feed.  All the new requirements imposed on us by all the insurers make us look like part of the problem. I want to be an advocate for my sleep patients, not an obstacle to overcome. 

I confess I feel very frustrated by the current environment in which we must operate and I don't trust insurers to have the best interest of my patients at heart, yet my hands are tied.

What to do?

Hurray for FOCUS 2014
May 22, 2014 12:32 PM by Penny Mehaffey

Well, we have another FOCUS meeting behind us.  nd what a great meeting it was: action packed, star studded and uber-educational.  Hats off to everyone involved in putting this first-class event together. The meeting was held at the Coronado Springs resort at Disney World, near Orlando, Fla. It's an idyllic setting, as is everything at Disney.

I attended the Sleep Educator workshop and I am very excited about this area of practice. I was encouraged by the talks relating to insurance regulations and projections relating to where sleep is going. It was encouraging to hear positive directions for our field -- not just the usual doom and gloom. 

The CSE is actually a program of and by the BRPT. It and an Asthma Educator workshop occurred the day before the FOCUS conference started. If you have not attended an educational meeting this year, I highly recommend this one as there is typically a meeting in the fall as well.  You can find an organized listing of meetings and conferences right here at ADVANCE  as well as on the BRPT web site. It is money well spent and an investment in your professional self.





Can Ambien Be Linked to Murder?
May 8, 2014 9:42 AM by Penny Mehaffey

I read with some horror an article, Murder: Another Ambien Side Effect?, by John Gever in MedPage Today.

Oh my goodness. I was aware of the bizarre behaviors reported with Ambien use: cooking while sleeping, having sex and not remembering... and driving while asleep. Still, I must admit this article shocked me. 

It also generated a lot of questions, like:  Isn't Ambien supposed to be a short-term drug, meaning you take it for a couple of weeks and then investigate other treatments?  Aren't Ambien users supposed to be followed closely by medical professionals?  If you take a medication differently than how it was prescribed, aren't you asking for trouble? 

And given all the press surrounding Ambien since it hit the market in the 1990s, shouldn't we be better at eliminating those who are not good candidates for this drug?  

I have spoken with people who self-report they have been taking Ambien "for years."  They usually don't report any strange behaviors though, they probably save those for the MD or may not be aware of any. I believe the drug and many drugs can cause us to do and say things we normally would not. Yet I have a hard time leaping to the conclusion that certain actions (murder, automobile accidents, violence) are not one's fault because of it.  And even if you know you are taking a drug that can potentially cause you to drive while asleep, what are you to do? Would placing the car keys in a hard to get to place be enough to prevent a sleeper from driving? 

This was a very interesting article; it also offered CME credit. Take a look, it's a quick read and I would be interested to hear your opinion. Has anyone had any experience with Ambien either personally or through patients, family or friends?



Acclimating to a CPAP Mask
May 1, 2014 10:39 AM by Penny Mehaffey

There is a good discussion going on this week on the LINKED-IN network. It was started by an AlaskaSleep Clinic blogger and is titled "How Can I get used to this CPAP Mask?"

This topic remains continually relevant because acceptance and/or success with the mask is imperative to compliance with therapy. I wonder if sometimes as professionals we forget that while this may be our ten thousandth mask fit, for the person sitting in front of us, it's foreign and obtrusive.

I like to read other's blogs and am always happy -- or maybe comforted is more accurate -- when I see that techs in other labs are doing things the same as I am. Helping a patient accept that they stop breathing during sleep and convincing them that CPAP is the best treatment for them can be a struggle. But the good news is that it's a struggle that we can win most of the time. It's struggle that's worth it for the patient.

The aforementioned discussion also brings up some interesting opinions regarding alternatives to CPAP, such as oral appliances and various types of meditations or breathing techniques to help lessen the fear or stress created during the acclimation process. I am advocate of stess-relief techniques such as breathing exercises prior to sleep. We had a yoga demonstration at 2 of our A.W.A.K.E meetings, and several people dozed off and snored!

Take a look at the discussion. See what you think.

At Long Last: Spring!
April 10, 2014 9:54 AM by Penny Mehaffey

Spring is trying so hard to manifest here in Augusta. I keep hoping it will happen any day now. The past couple of days have been so pretty, sunny and warmish-cool. My assistant Brittany texted me this morning to say that she thinks we should have a day set aside when we are allowed to call off "because it's just too pretty to work." I second that! 

Here in our area it's very warm in the sun but also very cool in the shade, maintaining a need for jackets. Our flowers are late blooming, so the "garden city" is not quite living up to it's name yet. The Master's golf tournament is underway and that, of course, is the main event in town. I guess the weather is pretty good for golfing right now. 

My son Noah, is trying to get out of Turkey and return home to start his civilian life after spending the last six years in the U.S. Air Force. He has been met with delays all along the way, and now is becoming frustrated. He's stuck in "transition limbo." I am very excited that he will be home this Saturday night.  Woohoo!! That is my main event. My birthday is next week and I could not ask for a better gift than to have my son back. I have missed him.

I hope spring comes forth for all of us very soon. We've endured the winter storms and are now ready for the renewal that is springtime. Don't give up hope, it will surely happen.
Election Time
April 3, 2014 12:04 PM by Amy Reavis

I am excited to see the elections this year. There are many new people on the ballot and the desire to bring new blood into the AAST and for more people to be involved is very exciting. I have also seen more people volunteering for committees. This again is exciting as our field grows and changes. 

Why am I so excited? Well, it came on the heels of an experience my dean had when he visited a hospital. It appears there are still many people who believe that the field of sleep is going away. A program director at a local hospital told him that the field is dead and that there is no hope of a future. Of course I do not believe it. I believe that our field is growing and changing and that there isindeed a future. It is this belief that others also have that leads them to volunteer for the association. 

Are there labs closing? Absolutely -- labs that were not designed to be successful but instead were designed to diagnose sleep apnea only or test a patient and never follow up. I also know labs that are growing. They are labs that understand that sleep education and follow-up is part of the role of the technologist. They understand that the new credential is going to be a necessary part of the field. They understand that support groups and clinics are the best way to grow a lab. 

The labs that are growing need to share their success. The labs that are struggling need to be open to new ideas. I think that lack of being open is going to go away (just like those who were in respiratory therapy and refused to sit for their certification no longer work in the field). And those who are not getting their registry will have difficulty gaining employment in the future. It is about looking to the future and growing rather than looking at the present and the past and saying I am good enough as-is. 

Whether working in the field of sleep or in respiratory, it is essential that we grow and volunteer and continue to look toward the future. It is why you need to vote in the elections and volunteer for committees. And I hope to talk to you during one of the teleconferences soon.
Review, Review, Review!
March 20, 2014 8:33 AM by Amy Reavis

The one thing I can tell you as I teach is how much reviewing the rules is important. I have recently taught scoring and titration. As I am going through the curriculum it is always helpful to remember that reviewing the rules makes me a stronger technologist. 

Titration is the heart and soul of our profession. As we were reviewing proper titration I was reminded how important educating our patients is. Anatomy and physiology of sleep apnea and why CPAP works helps to make a patient more compliant. Finding the right mask and trialing more than one mask may not make our nights easier, but it will make the patient compliant over the long term; the real reason we do sleep studies. 

Using proper titration, minimal pressures, pressure relief and ramp helps make the night more successful. We also need to remember how long between increases in pressure and that according to the AASM the pressure should be increased by only 1cm with a wait of at least 5 minutes between titrations. 

Scoring is a little more difficult to teach. The rules are black and white, but the studies are never quite so clear. This is as much an art as it is a science. We look at sleep onset and discuss epochs. Then the thought is shared, maybe one or two epochs in the grand scheme of a study is not enough to make us crazy. It became more a discussion of what do each of us think and ultimately a consensus of what is right. The bigger challenge is when there is differences between EEG and sleep and the questiond arise as to how we are able to tell what is alpha and do we have time to count waves when we will be scoring 5-8 studies a day or score on the fly. 

What I learn doing this teaching is how much I gain from my students when I review the rules and review studies with them. I remember that I gain so much more skill from them and am able to be a better technologist for my patients.
Asleep During 'The Week'
March 13, 2014 12:26 PM by Penny Mehaffey

We just concluded Sleep Awareness week 2014.  I am ashamed to say that I completely forgot about it this year. This year I was too distracted and was not even aware until the last day. But I will make up for it next week by hosting a belated event.  After all, it is spreading the word and awareness for sleep apnea that is important --  not a specific date that matters.

Normally I take this time to host an open house in the lab. We have assorted refreshments and invite the hospital staff to drop in throughout the day. It creates awareness of who we are and what we do. It also provides a good opportunity to talk to a variety of folks about sleep apnea. 

We give a tour of the lab and have little goodie packets that include sleep quizzes, OSA pamphlets and details for how to make an appointment.  

 Hopefully I was the only one who suffered amnesia (smile). How did everyone else observe the week?

Alternatives to CPAP
March 6, 2014 4:49 PM by Penny Mehaffey

All of my experience in sleep having come from the sleep lab, I do not have any hands-on experience with oral appliances. I have done a few sleep studies with appliances in place but that is the extent of my exposure. 

I am comfortable supporting the oral appliance in theory. I think it is an excellent option and/or alternative. Thinking of the patients who just cannot tolerate CPAP -- what do we do? Do we tell them in no uncertain terms that CPAP is what they need and they need to try harder to use it? I don't think that's realistic and it's very not very user-friendly. 

I think we should embrace new therapies and try to have several options to present to patients. Is a little CPAP better than no CPAP at all?  Is an oral appliance better than no intervention ever? Yes! 

And can we also concede that while CPAP is the gold standard of treatment for sleep apnea, it is not always practical? Why not have the appliance available for times when CPAP is not practical or convenient, such as when travelling or flying (the oral appliance fits in your pocket) and when camping (no power or water is needed). If a patient has difficulty acclimating to traditional CPAP but really needs intervention should they not be given an option?  I think most practitioners would say yes. But I see very little actual implementation of alternatives. I wonder, what are other techs seeing?

Community Service Is Necessary
February 27, 2014 9:20 AM by Amy Reavis

We are all in fields that need a little more representation. We are not nurses, doctors or x-ray technologists. Our fields are often misunderstood by those outside our field. As a program director for a neurodiagnostic technology program I have learned that almost no one knows what that is and that the word polysomnography is nothing more than a tongue twister. So how do we change the lack of knowledge of the fields? Volunteer in your community!

I have gathered a team to participate in the Epilepsy Association of Central Florida walk. During that time my team will be wearing our college logo and we will be there to answer questions. I have similarly volunteered with my students as well. It is always nice to educate people about our field of study. I am also involved with my respiratory therapy department where we are also doing a walk for the Lung Association. 

In addition, we are doing a community health fair at our school. This chance to give services to people who many not have the opportunity or the chance to be educated about health conditions will not just help the people who visit but will also help to educate the community about our fields of study. The goodwill goes a long way in the community when residents may need our services due to health issues. It is important that they know what an EEG tech, sleep tech and respiratory therapist does and how much education we have. And the best part is maybe one of the children will see what we do and decide that might be a good opportunity for the future.


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    Adventures in Sleep
    Occupation: Sleep technicians
    Setting: Various sleep facilities
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