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Montana sleep specialist explains testing, techniques to help with sleep disorders

Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea
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Posted at 1:23 PM, Mar 20, 2023

BOZEMAN — Many of us are still trying to get used to Daylight Saving Time, and it may be more challenging as kids go back to school after spring break.

We talked with sleep specialist Dr. Rodolfo Soca, who offers advice on what you should do to get a better night's sleep, along with a tour of the sleep lab.



Donna: How crucial is sleep?

Dr. Soca: We die without sleep. Nobody has ever survived without sleep. There's no such thing as training our body and thinking, “Oh, I just need to do this. And then eventually I'm going to learn how to function with four hours. that doesn't work.

But probably on the things that are modifiable, light is one of the most important ones, like controlling light. I remember when I was a kid, our TVs used to be 20 inches. But the TVs are 50, 60, 70, 90 inches. The amount of light, blue light, that we get exposed to after sunlight is huge.

Minimizing that light, getting like, you know, darkness, being active during the day. Don't drink coffee at 6 p.m., trying to eat your dinner a little bit earlier, being active, avoiding stressors, trying to balance your life, things that are more medical, but those are harder to control.

Some of my patients are in their twenties. They might need a little bit more guidance. They're at college university. They're trying to maybe achieve 26 or 27 hours worth of activities in a 24-hour day. That's not possible.

I have some patients who retire and then all of a sudden they have a lot of free time and then they might think, well, they want to sleep 12 hours. The frequent trips to the bathroom—I would say planning your liquid intake—sleep apnea, breathing problems. Those are quite common around here because of our altitude.

Donna: So our morning show people have to get up in the middle of the typical night. But for shift workers and for people who work a different traditional day, how do they deal with that in the best way and try to live like a regular life on the weekend?

Soca: You should keep hours that are similar, that are not that different, that you don't shift completely. Let's say working nights and then for three days and then working the opposite hours for another three days.

It causes a lot of trouble, like not only at the station, you know—firefighters, police officers, health care workers—anybody who is in the 24/7 industry faces that.

In the Sleep Lab:

Electrodes. This is how a sleep study works. And this is just a portion of all the things that we collect. It's a very involved test. There's a lot of connections and activities like the electroencephalogram or the EEG we get for the electrocardiogram. We usually have to glue all these little things to the person and then it's hard to fall asleep.

Donna: And so does this do a printout for you during the night, or how do you read?

Soca: Sleep study has usually said 20-something channels, then that's collected nowadays with the computer and it generates one page every 30 seconds.

So this is our control room. And this is Daniel, actually, one of the sleep technicians that stays. He's the one who makes the magic.

Donna: Have you ever done a sleep study?

Daniel: Yes, I have sleep apnea.

Donna: You do?

Daniel: Yes. So I wear the CPAP. My father had it really bad. He wouldn't get it treated and it killed his kidneys. He had hypertension so bad he had to go on dialysis. So me being a man and not wanting to admit there's a problem, finally, when I was 40 and I was falling asleep driving the car, I went for sleep and sure enough, I had sleep apnea. So I understand the patient, what they're going through. That makes me compassionate now.

Soca: Recently we had to plan the kid that was—they live around 350 miles from here. They came all the way here. The girl was tired and, you know, five years old, the mom and dad tried their best and she was, “No.”

They didn't want anything to do and so they ended up having to go back home in the morning. And then we sent them a whole bunch of test things for her to play with it for three, four months so that this would become a routine. She got used to it. She's now, this is kind of her bedtime toys almost. And once she was familiar with that...the second test went super well.

Donna: If you or your partner snores, how can you still get some sleep?

Soca: We have options, dental treatments that are like machines that are used for snoring. If you look at what we have nowadays to treat snoring and breathing problems up to 40 years ago, we've made some progress. I mean, in the middle of the night, snoring could be quite loud and quite disruptive.

I sometimes joke with my patients as well, this is going to bring happiness to you, your spouse and the neighbors!



The U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists key sleep disorders as:

  • Insomnia, where you can't get to sleep or stay asleep.
  • Narcolepsy, with excessive drowsiness and sleep attacks.
  • Restless leg syndrome, with irritating sensations that awaken you or keep you from falling asleep.
  • And sleep apnea, which snoring can be a sign of. and treatment depends on what's causing it.

If you struggle with sleep on a chronic basis, you may need help from a sleep specialist.