September 8, 2013 Updated: September 8, 2013 at 1:49 pm
Soldiers, dependents and retirees no longer must travel to the Air Force Academy to have their sleep evaluated, thanks to a new lab recently opened at Fort Carson.
The four-bed sleep lab inside Evans Army Community Hospital opened in July and operates Monday through Saturday nights.
So far, it has seen more than 150 patients, many of whom report symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing such as snoring, gasping and choking in their sleep, said Dr. Jonathan Olin, a civilian who runs the lab.
Patients sleep in hotel-like rooms, where their sleep is recorded by video cameras. Sleep technicians record a variety of patients' vital signs via electrodes, chest belts and a nasal cannula.
Many patients are diagnosed with, and treated for, obstructive sleep apnea, Olin said.
"We're thankful that the Army has built a very nice facility," said Olin, who used to work at the academy's sleep lab. "We've hired very good staff. We're proud of our equipment. We can run high-quality studies."
For those who live on or near post, Fort Carson's sleep lab should provide better data than the one at academy, Olin said.
That's because the closer patients sleep to home, the more likely they are to sleep normally, said Olin, adding that there's nearly a 1,000-foot elevation difference between the labs.
When those who suffer from sleep-disordered breathing sleep, "their airway will close repeatedly and frequently," Olin said.
"They may have fatigue, excessive daytime sleepiness and are more prone to develop hypertension, high blood pressure, cognitive impairments, mood disorders, diabetes, cardiac problems and are actually even more prone to car accidents because their sleep is fragmented throughout the night."
Many patients are prescribed continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machines that keep their airway open by applying constant air pressure via a mask.
"A lot of people just say 'this is how I am, this is how I sleep' until they get on the machine and realize the benefit of it," Olin said. "Then they're like, 'Why wasn't I put on this five or 10 years ago?'
"We take our sleep so much for granted," he said. "Until folks are analyzed, they don't know any different. It is life changing."
Fort Carson's sleep lab only sees patients who have been referred by their primary care clinician.
People with symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing should ask their doctor for a referral to the lab, Olin said.