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Get The Facts About Sleep Apnea

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Young man with eyes closed at laptop computer.
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which there are one or more pauses in breathing, or shallow breaths while you sleep. These pauses can last from a few seconds to several minutes and can occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing resumes with a loud snort or choking sound.

Sleep apnea causes the airway to collapse or become blocked during sleep. It is more common in people who
are overweight and children with enlarged tonsil tissues, but can affect anyone.

Here are some common myths and facts to help you determine if you or a loved one should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Myth: Sleep apnea is just a fancy diagnosis for snoring.

Fact: Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea. Then again, it might just be an annoying sound that your bed partner makes throughout the night because the muscles in his or her throat relax too much.

Myth: People with sleep apnea know they have it because they’re jolted awake when their breathing stops.

Fact: Most people are unaware they have sleep apnea because they are sleeping when symptoms occur.
(Bed partners, pay attention.)

Myth: Sleep apnea is no big deal.

Fact: Unfortunately, sleep apnea is chronic and doesn’t allow the body to get the deep sleep it needs to function at its optimum during waking hours. Left untreated, it increases the risk of serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. It is a chronic condition that requires long-term management.

Myth: People who are old or overweight get sleep apnea.

Fact: Sleep apnea can affect people of all ages and sizes. However, people who are overweight may be able
to reduce symptoms by shedding pounds.

Myth: Alcohol is a good remedy.

Fact: Sorry, a nightcap may make you drowsy, but it does not promote good quality sleep. Instead, it relaxes
the muscles in the back of the throat, blocking the airway. Sleeping pills have the same effect.

Fact: Effective treatments could include lifestyle changes, specially fitted mouthpieces, or breathing devices such as the CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, which blows a steady stream of air into the airway during sleep. Some people get relief by sleeping on their sides to keep the throat open. Surgery to remove tonsils should be the last straw and is not effective for everyone.

Resources:

For more information on getting healthy sleep and sleep disorders, go to http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Sleep/ 

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute talks about why sleep is good for you:  In Brief, Your Guide to Healthy Sleep


"You may not realize that sleep is as essential for your well-being as food and water."  Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep (NIH) (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) explains why you may feel sleepy or "zoned out" during the day.

Test your Sleep IQ (NIH) (The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research) with this interactive sleep quiz.