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Sleep Disorder FAQs


What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that causes soft tissue in the rear of the throat to narrow and repeatedly close during sleep.  The brain responds to each of these “apnea events” by waking the person in order to resume breathing. Since apnea events can happen hundreds of times each night, sleep becomes broken and ineffective.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Sleep apnea can be treated in a number of different ways.  The type of treatment is usually decided upon based on balancing the severity of symptoms against desirability of therapy.  Clearly, a less symptomatic person will wish a less aggressive form of therapy.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): CPAP consists of a portable machine that blows pressurized air through a mask that is worn over the nose.  The pressurized air holds the airway open and thus prevents apneas.  CPAP is extremely effective, but since it can be a bit cumbersome, a decision to use CPAP is dependent on balancing the severity of symptoms against lifestyle. However, because of its effectiveness, CPAP is the most common type of treatment for symptomatic sleep apnea.

Could I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea affects 18 million people and is more common among overweight males over age 40.  It has also been known to affect otherwise healthy men, women and children of any age group. If you are frequently tired upon waking and throughout the day or if you have trouble staying asleep at night, ask yourself these questions:

  1. I’ve been told that I snore.
  2. I’ve been told that I stop breathing when I sleep, although I don’t remember this when I wake up.
  3. I have high blood pressure.
  4. My friends and family say they have noticed changes in my personality.
  5. I am gaining weight.
  6. I sweat excessively during the night.
  7. I have noticed my heart pounding or beating irregularly during the night.
  8. I get morning headaches.
  9. I have trouble sleeping when I have a cold.
  10. I suddenly wake up gasping for breath during the night.
  11. I am overweight.
  12. I feel sleepy during the day even though I slept through the night.

If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, you could have sleep apnea, and it is important that you discuss such symptoms with your doctor.

Are some people at greater risk of having sleep apnea than others?

Risk factors for sleep apnea include:

  • A family history of sleep apnea
  • Excess weight
  • A large neck
  • A recessed chin
  • Male sex
  • Abnormalities in the structure of the upper airway
  • Ethnicity (African-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Mexicans)
  • Smoking and alcohol use

Sleep apnea can affect both males and females of all ages and weight, including children.