Dr. Sandman Is In Clinics cater to those who toss, turn, or snore
By Julie Sloane

(FORTUNE Small Business) – We are a people obsessed with what goes on between the sheets. If you're young and frisky, that would be sex. If you've passed a certain age, all you may really want is to sleep, perchance to dream.

Or at least that's the word coming from the nation's sleep clinics, where the weary are lining up in droves with woes that range from insomnia to sleepwalking. They have one thing in common: lives made miserable by an inability to get a good night's rest. Even those who get the prescribed eight hours may not be getting deep, quality sleep. But now, thanks to new research and treatment advances, the insomnolent finally are getting relief.

Some 3,000 centers have sprung up in recent years to treat sleep disorders, which are epidemic, according to Stanford University's William Dement, M.D., widely considered the father of sleep medicine. Still, getting a bed at a clinic can be a challenge. Many facilities have lengthy waiting lists. You can stay up nights wondering about your admission to the University of Pennsylvania's Sleep Disorders Center in Philadelphia: It can take four months to get in.

Most clinics require an overnight stay so patients can be monitored during sleep. But don't expect to snooze when you're first admitted. First, patients undergo a comprehensive exam by physicians. Most clinics take a team approach to treatment, combining expertise in neurology, psychiatry, and the respiratory system. From your mental stress to your physical woes, you may not even realize how many of your problems affect how you sleep.

When you do get into bed, it's an experience that will mortify all but the boldest. Every patient gets a single room, but the quarters are anything but private. First, the patient is hooked up to a polysomnograph by means of a dozen or more electrodes stuck to the skin. The machine records feedback about respiration, movement, brain waves, and muscle tension. An infrared camera allows technicians to observe every patient during the night. Every one of your resonant snores will be caught on tape. (The data are particularly helpful in treating REM behavior disorder, a rare condition in which people act out their dreams. Some have even tried to strangle their spouses during sleep.)

Using this data, doctors map out treatment options. Medication may help control problems such as narcolepsy, a disorder characterized by an overwhelming urge to sleep, even during the day, or restless-leg syndrome, in which limbs tingle uncomfortably, a feeling relieved only by moving around. Others may require more drastic measures. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, in which breathing stops during sleep and causes the brain to signal a startle reaction, doctors may recommend surgery to trim tonsils or (here's one you won't have predicted) a too-large tongue. Or patients may be advised to use a machine that blows air into a facemask at night. The air pressure keeps breathing passages open.

A sleep study typically costs $1,500 to $2,000. Insurance usually covers it. But even the uninsured may consider this a reasonable investment. Says J. Michael Smith, a physician's assistant at the Baylor College of Medicine's Sleep Disorders Center in Houston: "Getting a good night's sleep is the difference between living in black-and-white and living in color."