Sleep Troubles Could be Serious

For millions of americans, a good night's sleep is hard to come by, and the sleep they do get could be putting their health at risk.

That's because they suffer from sleep apnea. It's a condition affecting some 12 million Americans where they stop breathing. Dr. Shawn Magee, medical director of the Stormont-Vail Sleep Center, says the upper airway can relax too much when you're sleeping at night and close. The result is the patient has difficulty breathing and that causes brain arousals.

Magee says it's more than annoying. If left untreated, he says sleep apnea can put you at higher risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes. He says the breathing pauses usually create a significant drop in oxygen level which stresses the body and activates the sympathetic nervous system, making your heart pump harder, your blood sugar higher, and your blood pressure higher.

Most people with sleep apnea will snore heavily or wake up gasping for air. The most effective treatment uses a mask-type device for continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. Magee says it uses pressure to physically hold the airway open, getting rid of the snoring, the pausing of breathing and, hopefully, also the arousals and low oxygen levels.

Magee says 70- to 80-percent of people respond to CPAP. It not only protects their health long-term, it helps them feel better now.

"There's no reason to go thru life feeling tired all the time," he said.

If you think you have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor who can refer you for a specialized sleep study.

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