Sleep is an essential human function, but one we tend to take for granted until it goes wrong or we're not getting enough of it—much like breathing. Breathing is of course an important part of sleep, and is an involuntary mechanism that our brains take care of even when our minds are elsewhere. But when breathing is impaired through sleep, it can mean more than just annoying snores or restlessness: sleep deprivation can be life-threatening. Sleep is essential to our well-being, supporting and enabling healthy brain-function, emotional wellbeing, memory, and overall physicality. When we sleep, our bodies repair our cells and slowly restore us—literally. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to accidents & injury, obesity, heart disease, depression, suicide, kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, and more. All that from not catching enough Zs!
FDA recently-approved a medical device that offers an interesting new solution to this problem. Specifically, for central sleep apnea, which is when the brain neglects to properly send signals via the phrenic nerves to keep the diaphragm moving, and in turn keep air moving in and out of lungs. When a person experiences this type of sleep apnea, their heart rate increases while they cease breathing, and once the nerve function kicks back in and tells the diaphragm to move (and thus the lungs to fill), there is a period of rapid breathing—sort of like the body is catching up to get all that oxygen it missed.
Respicardia Inc.'s device is called Remedē® System. This nerve-stimulating device is an implant that monitors and regulates nerve activity when the patient is asleep. It can either be set to send these pulses at regular intervals, or send them only when it detects that the patient isn't breathing. Although the implant is in the patient around the clock, safeguards are in place so that it is only used when the patient is sleeping. It is also monitored by the patient's doctor. The company says that the device is implanted by a cardiologist using only local anesthesia as needed. A small generator goes under the skin, and the long thin wires are then threaded through veins near the phrenic nerves in order to stimulate them, and in turn the diaphragm.
Try not to hold your breath while you watch this video:
This device is meant to treat moderate to severe sleep apnea of this specific type. It's important to note that this sleep apnea is different than obstructed sleep apnea, where an airway obstruction causes the disruption in breathing, and for which we have CPAP and BiPAP machines. Every type of sleep apnea is of course problematic and can be life-threatening, and it's cool to see how medicine can really narrow in on specific problems and come up with innovative solutions like these!
Previous Med Device Monday posts on sleep devices: