Insomnia, sleep apnea, night terrors -- they all can be diagnosed at Bayhealth-Milford Memorial Hospital's new sleep center.

Old home remedies such as counting sheep or drinking warm milk are supposed to help people get to sleep, but they won’t help those suffering from apnea, restless leg syndrome or any of the myriad other disorders that interfere with normal slumber.

Bayhealth-Milford Memorial Hospital may be able to help with a new sleep laboratory that opened its doors April 24 at 611 S. DuPont Highway, Milford.

The new Bayhealth Sleep Care Center offers state-of-the-art testing for common disorders such as sleep apnea, where patients stop breathing during the night, narcolepsy, which causes people to fall asleep while doing mundane things such as waiting for a traffic light, sleepwalking and night terrors.

In all, the staff can test everyone from young children to senior citizens and can probe for up to 80 different kinds of sleep disorders, said Terry Thompson, Bayhealth’s director of respiratory care and neurodiagnostics.

People who have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep shouldn’t just shrug off the problem, she said. Sleep troubles interfere with a body’s natural rhythm and can be the cause of many other problems.

“We all sleep and we all need sleep,” Thompson said. “It’s a restorative part of the healing process. During extremely deep sleep, the body repairs itself and heals itself. It needs that downtime.”

The majority of cases seen at Bayhealth’s sleep centers – there are six others throughout the state – result from a prospective diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes the sleeper to stop breathing. It’s a problem seen in many overweight people, she said.

“As a society, we’ve not only supersized our meals, we’ve supersized ourselves,” Thompson said. Fifteen to 20 years ago, the average American woman was a size 6; that’s ballooned up to a size 14, she said.

“Not only do we gain weight in the normal places, we build up fat in the back of our throats,” Thompson said. “That soft tissue collapses when you sleep and it blocks or partially blocks the airway.”

“What is so disruptive about sleep apnea is that your body needs oxygen and when it can’t get it, you take these involuntary, deep gasping breaths. That interrupts the sleep cycle and your body can’t get the deep, restive sleep it needs for that restorative effect,” she said.

Obstructive sleep apnea can lead to problems such as diabetes, hypertension and even death, which is why it must be diagnosed and treated as quickly and as accurately as possible.

Testing for apnea and other problems is completely painless, Thompson said. The patient is connected to a series of electronics that monitors everything from heart rate to oxygen saturation to involuntary jerking of the lower legs. The patient then goes to sleep in a comfortably furnished room much like an ordinary bedroom while a nurse keeps remote track of the readings from a nearby office.

“The most painful thing you may have to go through is not having any caffeine the date of the test,” Thompson noted.

If the situation warrants in apnea cases, the technician will wake up a patient during the night and give them a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to aid in sleeping. This machine uses a mask that supplies air at a pressure high enough to keep the airway from becoming blocked, Thompson said. Many tests often result in the patient using a CPAP at home to help solve the apnea problem.

The sleep center also has specialized beds for overweight people and for those who cannot lie flat when they sleep.

Pediatric patients undergoing tests for problems such as night terrors or sleepwalking can have their parents stay with them.

“Children often feel more secure if mom or dad is there with them,” she said.

To obtain an appointment for a sleep study, Thompson recommends patients talk to their primary care physician who will refer them to a specialist, if needed.