PROVO -- Sleep technicians at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center are spending their nights analyzing volunteer patients' sleep habits as they prepare for the opening of the hospital's new sleep center.

The center consists of four rooms with equipment designed to monitor patients' brain activity, breathing and leg movements throughout the night in hopes of diagnosing sleep problems.

"We are basically checking for sleep disorders or parasomnias," said Wayne Woodward, a sleep technician at UVRMC. "Sleep apnea, sleep walking, sleep talking or night terrors are all sleep disorders."

When a patient checks in for a sleep study they are asked to complete their normal pre-bedtime routine, after which the sleep technician will begin the process of hooking up the monitors.

More than 20 electrodes are applied; two to each leg, one on both sides of the chest near the collarbone, three across the chin, one on each temple, one in the middle of the forehead and nine on various locations on the head. A snore microphone is taped to the patient's neck to monitor loudness and frequency of snoring, and nasal cannula are inserted to monitor air flow. Two stretchable belts are placed around the chest and stomach to monitor lung expansion, and an oxygen sensor is placed on a finger.

Then patients try to sleep.

"We use your brain activity to determine if you are asleep, not if your eyes are closed or you are not moving, because some people sleep with their eyes open or move around while they are asleep," said Brooke Anderson, a sleep technician at UVRMC. "Brain waves get slower and bigger when a person is sleeping."

Most of the beds at the sleep center are queen-sized beds with comfortable pillows and soft sheets, and patients only have to ask if they need anything else to make them comfortable -- fans in case the room is warm, a water bottle for the bedside and extra pillows.

"We are self aware of the experience," Anderson said. "We want to make an uncomfortable situation as comfortable as possible."

Patients' breathing, brain activity and movement are monitored all night, both through the electrodes and a camera placed in the room.

Sleep apnea is the No. 1 things doctors and technicians are looking for when patients complete a sleep study. Sleep apnea happens when a patient stops breathing several times during the night. Commonly caused by an airway blockage caused by throat tissue collapsing, sleep apnea interrupts sleep and makes it difficult to get enough rest.

"It has been recorded that patients with sleep apnea have the same risk for car accidents or the same reaction time as someone who has been drinking," said Dixie Harris, director of the new sleep center. "They get sleepy and can have micro-sleeps without even realizing it, and their attention and reaction time is diminished."

In addition to feeling tired throughout the day, people with sleep apnea are more likely to have heart failure, heart attacks or strokes because during the time when a person stops breathing at night their heart works harder to get oxygenated blood throughout the body.

"When looking for sleep apnea we check to see if breathing is interrupted or if there are any spikes in brain or heart activity," Anderson said. "A person's chest may be rising and falling, but they could still not be getting enough oxygen."

Sleep apnea is treated with a mask that blows air into a person's airway and keeps the throat from closing.

"We do know that patients with untreated sleep apnea will have higher levels of stress hormone the next day because it is like partially suffocating all night long. The body is being stressed," Harris said. "With treatment, blood pressure medication dosages can go down and that infers that [sleep apnea] is causing a lot of stress on your body."

Following the sleep study a doctor will analyze the data and create a sleep report for each patient, a process that can take one to two weeks.

Other disorders that can be diagnosed by a sleep study include narcolepsy and insomnia.

Patients must be referred by their primary physician to qualify for a sleep study.

"Usually a patient will mention to their doctor that they are always tired or that they don't sleep well," Woodward said. "But if your bed partner witnesses apnea it is a one-way ticket to a sleep study." UVRMC will be hosting an open house for the sleep center from 3 to 5 p.m. on Jan. 17. Sleep technicians will be on hand to answer questions and there will be screening questionnaires available to help a patient see if they may need to participate in a sleep study.

"I think it would be great if people came and checked out the new facility and the brand-new equipment and get a feel for what a sleep study is about," Harris said.

The sleep center will be officially open to the public following the open house.