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Do You Have Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea, also called obstructive sleep apnea, is a disorder that causes interruptions of normal breathing during sleep. Symptoms include:

  1. Heavy snoring
  2. Periods of not breathing
  3. Waking frequently during the night or experiencing fitful sleep
  4. Feeling sleepy or not well-rested during the day

Depending on how often and for how long you stop breathing, sleep apnea can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. It affects both men and women, can occur at any age, and has been linked to an increased risk of fragmented sleep and restlessness, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Even mild sleep apnea can cause associated sleep disturbances, leading to depression, irritability, sexual problems and impaired learning and memory. Common factors linked to sleep apnea include being overweight or obese; having an anatomical abnormality in the nose, throat or elsewhere in the upper airway; use of certain medications, particularly sedatives; sleeping on your back; and using alcohol before bed.

There are many options available to help address apnea, including lifestyle measures to lose weight and simple medical devices that can be worn at night to keep the airways open. Dr. Weil recommends these tactics for tackling sleep apnea:

  • If you're overweight, lose some of the excess pounds. According to the American Sleep Foundation, even a 10 percent weight loss can reduce the nightly breathing interruptions.
  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime.
  • Talk to your pharmacist about the side effects of any medications you are taking.
  • Discontinue use of sleeping pills.
  • Develop good sleep habits, including sleeping on your side, getting enough quality rest, and developing - and sticking to - a bedtime and sleep schedule.

In addition, get your blood pressure under control through diet, regular moderate exercise and healthy lifestyle choices.

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Reader Comments (7)

I had this for years with my wife waking me up and telling me i wasent breathing. Finally I went to a sleep center, twice and aparently stopped breathing 167 times in 6 hours. I eventually received a Bipap breathing machine with a full face mask. It was difficult to get use to and id wake up and toss the mask across the room but after 2 weeks that all stopped and I setled in to breathing like I should. No more snorring, no more waking up gasping for air. I aparently not only have the obstructive apney but Central apney where the brain tells the body to stop breathing, Go Figure that one!

September 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Riddle

I have had sleep apnea for over 5 years and am not over-weight or a smoker. I have found efficacy from a simple device prescribed by my dentist that fits in my mouth but is not hooked up to ANY electronic device (I avoid such disturbing devices). I wrote about this at my Huffingtonpost blog:

September 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDana Ullman, MPH

I have had sleep apnea for just over a year (probably longer, but I did nothing about it).....after I took the "sleep test" and found out I had stopped breathing over 80 times in 5 hours, and after the sleep tech explained what sleep apnea can do to you in the long run, I grudgingly gave in to the "machine." I couldn't get used to the mask over my nose, so I now use the nasal pillows, which are much more comfortable. I would NEVER sleep without my machine now.....I can't tell you how much better I feel overall! If you are reading this and not sure about the machine, please use it! You will be amazed how much better you sleep!

September 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobinA

I was diagnosed several years ago with sleep apnea through a sleep study, and was also told that I was waking up hundreds of times over about five hours. I was initially given a c-pap machine that used the nasal pillows. I, as opposed to the person who posted above me Robin, could not get used to the pillows in my nose and kept taking it off. I finally confessed to the person who prescribed it to me at the c-pap supply center that it was not working for me and she showed me the mask that just goes over your nose. I got it and it works MUCH better for me. I also now NEVER sleep without my cpap machine and am so incredibly grateful for the wonderful nights sleep I get every night, no matter what. I no longer feel exhausted every day and my memory has gotten better I think. It's definitely a life saver, as sleep apnea can cause so many life threatening problems.

September 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

A pathetically short article about a very serious, life threatening problem. I was completely unaware that I had sleep apnea. I would fall asleep at work, at my home computer, at symphony concerts, at movies... But I had never even heard of sleep apnea. I developed a horse throat and went to an otolaryngologist who immediate ordered a sleep test. It saved my life as I started nodding off while driving. The five options listed to address sleep apnea are ridiculous. If you snore and are tired to the point of falling asleep in inappropriate places, have your doctor schedule a sleep test and evaluation. It could save your life.

September 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSFPhoto

I too agree that the article is not helpful for those with true sleep apnea. Yes, losing weight helps (but is not easy, especially because the apnea is working against you). Avoiding alcohol is also a good idea but is NOT a cure. The cure is the machine, or possibly the dental appliance (which I could not get used to, I gag when anything presses against my tongue that I can't swallow).

I've used a CPAP off and on for nearly ten years, struggling through the first years when my skin reacted to the mask material, and I refused to wear it after awhile (with the resulting consequences), but I finally got a new mask and upgraded machine two years ago which is absolutely amazing. I can't sleep without it. Now I've got enough energy to practice taekwondo and walk/run 5ks every weekend, which isn't getting rid of the stubborn weight (Armour Thyroid isn't working well for me; also looking into gluten intolerance), but is keeping me at least fit and heart-healthy.

September 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Glad to have come to this site via

I lately woke up from a dream that I was losing air, my lungs seemed to have stopped breathing, and I thought I would just have to give up and die, and snapped… I woke up, I was greatly terrified!

I’m having this episode at times, though not too frequently. I have bradycardia and thought abnormal breathing comes naturally with abnormal heartbeat. I think I should also discuss with my doctor my breathing disorder during sleep. Thanks for the info.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterInternal Medicine

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