While you’re sleeping.
In this article, I give a brief history of the evolution of sleep studies. I’ll also take a little peek into the future and think about what’s to come. So keep in touch, as I’ll be adding on to this information, and more, as I continue to study this fascinating field.
Of Rabbits and Monkeys
Researcher’s in the 1700’s demonstrated that living tissue has electrical properties. This paved the road for further work into recording brain activity, known as electroencephalography, or EEG. And by the mid-1800’s scientists were hooking up electrodes to the heads of rabbits and monkeys. Thus making the first recordings of brainwaves.
Where We’ve Been
It was 1925 when Dr. Hans Berger plugged a person in and recorded the first human EEG. Up until this time, sleeping was thought of as a state of unconsciousness; a merely passive process where we just rested. Now, however, sleeping is known to be a very active state; with a number of things going on.
Then in the 1950’s, Dr. William C. Dement, considered the father of sleep medicine, conducted the first sleep studies. These studies identified the different sleep stages and the discovery of REM sleep.
However, sleep studies weren’t very popular in those early days. Not only because medical science had not yet embraced this field as something even worth noting. But researchers had to stay up all night and monitor a sleeping person. Yet, in spite of all that, the field grew. With more sensors being added as we learned what to look for. And that evolved into what we see in the sleep lab today.
In 1965, Obstructive Sleep Apnea was first described. And treatment for sleep apnea at that time was a tracheotomy. A tracheotomy involves making a surgical opening through your neck into your windpipe; thus allowing you to breathe.
And in 1978 a small group of sleep professionals met, with the goal of forming an organization; now known as the American Association of Sleep Technologists, or AAST. One of the first things they did was create an education and examination board; known as the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists or BRPT. Together, these organizations provide us sleep professionals with standardized testing as well as ongoing training.
But it wasn’t until 1981 that Dr. Collin Sullivan, from Sydney Australia, invented the first CPAP machine. This revolutionized the treatment of sleep apnea. And advancements in both diagnosing and treating the various sleep disorders continues.
Where We’re Going
The gold standard for diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea is an in lab overnight sleep study. However, insurance companies are now giving the O.K. For home sleep testing, or HST’s. However, most HST’s can’t determine when you’re sleeping; they only monitor breathing. Therefore, they’re not very accurate in evaluating sleep disorders. However, further advancements could change that.
One of the ways this might come about is with the advancements in smart homes. Imagine downloading the sleep lab app, and apply whatever type of device we’ll have by then, and presto! An in lab quality sleep study done in the comfort of your own home, complete with live monitoring 24/7! And then, of course, your in-home follow up Doctor visit via the internet.
As a Sleep Technologist, I see the field evolving before my eyes. It’s quite exciting to think about where we’ll be in 10-20 years; and beyond. And being a Star Trek fan, I imagine (in the far future) sleep studies being conducted on a holodeck. Even though that technology might, realistically, be impossible, it’s fun to imagine.
And of course just keeping the public up to date via the internet or other forms of media is critical. Knowledge is power. And a well-informed public is more likely to access the help that they need. For us Sleep Technologists, this means keeping up with advancements in sleep medicine and taking on the role of educator.
Up til now, we’ve taken a rather short journey into the history of sleep studies. We’ve seen how our ideas of sleeping have changed. As well as took a look at where we could be going. I’m doing ongoing research and will share with you some of the highlights of this fascinating field.
If you have any questions or concerns about the ever-expanding field of sleep studies and how it might impact you, please leave a comment below.
Till next time…Blessings.