How are you celebrating National Sleep Awareness Week (March 5 - 11)?
The folks at Loyola University's Center for Sleep Disorders will be encouraging those of us who snore loudly, gasp for air or wake up tired to go to a sleep clinic and get evaluated for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is no joke — it is a potentially deadly disorder that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke for at least 18 million Americans.
It is also easy to treat.
Gregory H., 59, of Berwyn, Illinois, caught it in time by going to Loyola, where he found out he had obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common type of sleep apnea, in which throat tissues collapse and block a person's airway.
Before getting treatment, Greg felt tired all day long. At night, his snoring woke up his wife. Mrs. H. noticed that Greg sometimes stopped breathing and then gasped for air. Neither got enough sleep.
After a sleep study indicated that Greg had sleep apnea, Loyola prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. Now, Greg and his wife get a good night's sleep and both are more alert during the day. "Sleep apnea temporarily stops a person from breathing, possibly hundreds of times each night," said assistant professor Dr. Nidhi Undevia of Loyola University Chicago's Stritch School of Medicine.
"With no air coming in, your brain automatically wakes you up and you choke and gasp for air," she said. "This stresses the heart and can increase blood pressure. Once breathing returns, you might go back to sleep but only until the throat tissues again collapse. This cycle can repeat every few minutes, interrupting your sleep."
Someone with sleep apnea can be groggy and tired even after spending eight hours in bed. "A person might fall asleep while driving, watching their children or attending a business meeting," said Undevia. At the very least, they will have trouble concentrating.
The sleep apnea test requires only a single overnight stay to monitor a person's brain waves, oxygen levels, breathing, heart rate and leg movements.
Undevia cautions that people who live alone may not know they have sleep apnea because outward signs of the disorder - interrupted breathing, loud snoring — occur during sleep.
Although anyone can have sleep apnea, it is more common among people who have high blood pressure, large tonsils, nasal congestion or are overweight. It is particularly common in men over age 40.