Having trouble falling asleep? Try counting polysomnographic technicians leaping over your bed. Still can’t doze off? Maybe it’s more than just a late night frolic with that last slice of cold pizza. Maybe you suffer from sleep apnea; if so, you are not alone. An estimated 22 million people in the U.S. are plagued with this most common of sleep disorders to one degree or another.

Jared Johnson, senior director of ancillary services at Texoma Medical Center, is charged with addressing these problems though the hospital’s sleep lab services.

“It’s a place where we bring people in who are having trouble sleeping,” Johnson said of the sleep lab. “We do an investigation or test to determine whether or not they have a sleep disorder. It could be sleep apnea, which is choking in your sleep, or insomnia or narcolepsy. We do the tests to help diagnose these problems on referrals from a patient’s primary care physician.”

Testing often consists of spending a night in the lab where technicians — those leaping polysomnographic experts — monitor sleep patterns with electronic sensors and video observation. Based on the results, sleep experts can recommend different types of solutions to set things right.

Problems sleeping can lead to a myriad of other medical complications.

“People with sleep disorder breathing problems, sleep apnea, are at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke, and even various forms of sexual dysfunctions,” Johnson said. “The symptoms of depression are similar to the symptoms of sleep apnea. We spend a third of our life asleep, and so the potential for problems generated or exacerbated by sleep disorders are significant.”

So what is sleep apnea?

“As we go to sleep, the muscles in our throat relax,” Johnson said. “As they relax, our breaths become shorter and more shallow, and it’s very easy for all those soft tissues in our throat to get stuck together and collapse. When that happens, there is a cessation of breath and we awake with a snore or a snort or a gasp for air.”

As soon as the throat closes, the body realizes that the oxygen levels are too low and you blood pressure starts to drop.

“Then, when you take that sudden gasping breath, your heart rate shoots up and your blood pressure shoots up,” Johnson said. “It’s these fluctuations over the course of the night that causes the problems. The heart of a sleep apnea patient works harder when they are asleep than when they are just sitting in a chair.”

Once diagnosed, sleep apnea can be treated with various mechanical devices or in some cases surgery. It is up to the patient and his physician to determine the best course to follow.

Of course, not all sleep problems are caused by sleep apnea, and for most people, a simple readjustment of the conditions faced nightly can lead to better and more restful sleep. This is called sleep hygiene, and the experts at TMC offer five tips for better sleep:

• Evaluate your environment.

• Develop a sleep schedule.

• Regulate eating, drinking and exercising.

• Check your medicines.

• Put light in your life.

Wayne Conn, a registered polysomnographic technician and supervisor at the TMC Sleep Lab, said an alarm clock with red numbers is best.

“Blue and green lights inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone that aids in falling asleep,” he said on the hospital’s website. “Your doctor may also recommend a sleep study, which can detect underlying problems.”

Do this, and perhaps you will be better able “To sleep, perchance to dream … .”

Edward Southerland is a feature writer for Best of Texoma. For more information, visit BestofTexoma.com or www.facebook.com/BestOfTexoma.