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Sleep clinics help the weary find relief


March 20, 1997
Web posted at: 7:15 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Al Hinman

Editor's note: This story is part four of a week-long series on sleep deprivation's impact on society.

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Most people seeking treatment for sleep disorders wind up at their regular doctor, who often doesn't know enough about sleep disorders to give them an effective treatment. If you're having trouble sleeping, sleep experts say, it may be better to put yourself in the hands of experts at a sleep clinic, where your problems may be a cinch to solve.

Christian Treend had been trying to catch some shut-eye for 30 years. He couldn't sleep at night, so his life was a living nightmare.

"I was falling asleep at the wheel," he said. "...Anytime you'd get me in a position where I was in a relaxed mode, sitting in a car, sitting in front of a desk, doing administrative work, I would find myself nodding off," he said.


At the University of Chicago's sleep clinic he finally found a team of specialists who diagnosed an easily treatable disorder that disrupted his deep sleep. He began treatment with a mild sedative.


Now Treend wishes he'd gotten help earlier. "Even as a little kid I wouldn't get 100 percent of a good night's sleep, because I would sleep walk," he said.

At least one-third of the people in the United States, regardless of age, do not get a good night's sleep, estimates show.

For many, the treatment may be as simple as mild sedatives, or a diagnostic test called a polysomnogram. The test helps doctors pinpoint when a patient is having trouble with sleep, and usually, the cause of the problem.

Theresa Turner says she tried and failed to get treatment with countless doctors, and as many different pills, before she wound up in the Chicago sleep lab, where she was given a polysomnogram. Before that, no one ever said, "'Let's find out what the problem is, or test you,'" Turner said.

Her doctor, Dr. Michael Saribalas, said he's heard such stories before. "I think unfortunately a lot of people go to their primary care provider and they are often given medication," Saribalas said.


There is nothing wrong with sleeping pills, per se, he said. The problem is that they're often prescribed without the real cause of the sleep disorder known.

Doctors concede they cannot always find an easy solution for every patient's problem. At the University of Chicago, some of the world's leading sleep researchers are trying to find help for more people, by better understanding how and why we sleep.

Sleep clinic testing can be expensive, but insurance usually covers most or all of it. For those who know the human cost of sleepless nights, the cure is worth it.

"For the first time in my life, I am going to sleep, and waking up when the alarm goes off," Treend said.

For him, he says, such a mundane experience is what real dreams are made of.


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