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When Grace Davenport woke up face down in a plate of spaghetti, she knew she needed help.
“I was eating dinner with the TV on and the next thing I knew I woke up face down in my plate, with spaghetti in my hair and all over the place,” laughed the 79-year-old Douglasville resident. 

“I was always so tired and sleepy –but this was when I knew I had to do something.”

No stranger to sleep issues, Davenport had not had a good night’s rest for 15 years. And she’s not alone: According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders. An additional 20 million people experience occasional sleep problems.

“I felt like I never got any sleep at all,” she said. “I was exhausted.” And it’s no wonder: Family members would tell her she would snore loudly, and even scream in her sleep. 

Her family physician referred her to the Sleep Center at WellStar Douglas Hospital for a polysomnogram.

The test, which requires an overnight visit, measures parameters like breathing pattern, electrical brain and heart activity, eye movement and chin and limb muscle movement.

Chirag Patel, M.D., the WellStar pulmonologist who treated Davenport, explained that the studies “measure all the variables and building blocks of sleep using electrodes and continuous vital sign measurement.”

Davenport said staying at the Sleep Center was like visiting a very nice hotel. “I was so impressed,” she said. “They offered all the amenities – even little bottles of shampoo, coffee and TV. Everyone went out of their way to make me comfortable and relaxed. And, Pam Woods, the sleep test technician, was the best. I was scared, but she explained everything she was doing in so much detail, she calmed me down. She kept a constant check on me.”

Davenport was diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea; sleep apnea is a common, but potentially dangerous disorder, in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. It can increase a person’s risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Symptoms include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Morning headaches
  • Poor concentration and decreased
  • Short-term memory
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

Davenport’s prescribed treatment was continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. A CPAP machine delivers pressurized air through a mask placed over the nose or whole face while sleeping. The pressurized air ensures that the upper airway passages remain open, preventing apnea and snoring.

Davenport believes the Sleep Center at WellStar Douglas Hospital literally saved her life. “It’s a whole different world for me now that I can sleep,” she said. “My short-term memory is better. And there is so much difference in the way I sleep – instead of waking up seven to 10 times per night, I only get up once, to use the bathroom.”

Though she did have to switch CPAP machines to find one with which she was comfortable, Davenport says the device she has now is ideal for her.

“When I visit family, they always ask, ‘You’re bringing your sleep machine, right?’” she laughed. “They don’t want to hear me snoring or screaming.” She recounted a story of visiting her sister and finding her college-age roommate sleeping on the floor in the living room the next morning. “I scared her to death with my screaming and snoring – she couldn’t share the room with me.”

Davenport wishes her brother, who died in 2010, had had a sleep study. “He would always fall asleep in his chair, snore and stop breathing,” she said. “We would shake him awake.”

Happily, Davenport is no longer falling asleep in the wrong places. The active retiree is grateful the WellStar sleep specialists close to home at Douglas Hospital have helped her regain her energy and zest for life.

“WellStar is the best place for sleep disorders,” said Dr. Patel. “We use a comprehensive and patient-centric approach from the moment the patient enters our doors. I credit our nurses, sleep techs and CPAP clinic providers with creating a nurturing environment for the lifestyle changes needed to treat sleep disorders successfully.”